Sit up straight! Stop slouching! It’s a familiar order barked at us since school days – and it remains the golden rule of how to sit.
Whether it’s balancing a book on your head, or imagining a piece of string pulling your shoulders towards the ceiling, we’ve all tried methods to practise ‘good’ posture.
Health officials have long warned that slumping, whether at a computer or in front of the television, is a sure-fire route to crippling back and neck pain – or worse.
How many times have you caught yourself slouched at your desk only to pull back your shoulders and readjust to a ramrod straight posture?
Our dedication to a perfect seated position has fuelled an entire industry, geared to getting us to sit up straight. We spend billions of pounds each year on posture correcting chairs, apps and even clothing – but emerging evidence suggests that slouching may not be so evil after all.
In fact, with research indicating that slumping may help to keep our spines in shape, experts are starting to advise against sitting up straight.
SLUMP TO EASE MUSCLE PAIN AND HELP JOINTS
It has been thought that sitting slumped, with the shoulders hunched and back arched, can put excess strain on the vertebrae in the spine.
This is because as the upper body leans forward, the weight of the brain and head increases, forcing the spine to carry a heavier load.
But a slew of studies now suggests this is unlikely to cause the cascade of back troubles previously predicted.
In fact, sitting slumped can keep the spine intact and even ease joint and muscle pain.
In one 2018 paper, slump-sitting postures were seen to help to increase the amount of fluid in between spinal discs, reducing stiffness. The posture was also seen to increase spinal height over time.
Physiotherapists at the University Hospital of North Tees in Stockton-on-Tees who carried out the investigation concluded that some slouching can ‘provide a valuable alternative to upright sitting’ in patients with lower-back pain.
In addition, Australian studies have found that when interspersed with periods of sitting upright, slouching can relax strained muscles in the core and legs.
London-based osteopath Gavin Smith explains: ‘There’s this cultural ideal, and even whole industries, that would argue slouching is not good for us and people now feel very guilty about sitting in certain ways.
‘But while sitting straight activates muscles in the abdomen, pelvis and back, slump-sitting relaxes them.
‘Because these muscles are chronically over-active in people with lower-back pain, some periodic relaxation of them is helpful.
‘Alternating between comfortable and relaxed upright and slumped postures is probably the best way to sit at your desk.’
Trying too hard to sit as we are told to at work – feet flat on the floor, back straight and shoulders back with an S-shape curve to the spine – can backfire, causing tension in the middle back and breathing problems over time.
Jack Chew, a spokesman for the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy, who works in the NHS and private practice, says: ‘Slumping is not an enemy to posture and back health, just as sitting upright and standing aren’t a solution to back problems.’
Source: The Daily Mail