Your health with Physio & Therapies: Are you sitting comfortably?

The Sit Stretch
The Sit Stretch

Are you sitting comfortably? As far as your spine is concerned, the answer is probably no.

Chairs that feel comfy to you may be encouraging you into poor posture and increasing your risk of future back pain.

The type of seat you require will depend on many factors including your shape and size, the task you are performing and the length of time you will be sitting.

Think of a barstool for example - it’s fine for a swift half at the bar, but no good if you are watching a three-hour epic at the cinema.

So you need to select your chair carefully; it should support the inward curve at the base of your spine, your feet should be on the floor, or on a footrest, and your hips should be slightly higher than your knees.

In recent years, much research has been applied to office chairs as people realised how important correct posture is in the prevention of back pain and repetitive strain injuries. For any work chair, it is important that the seat is angled with the back of the seat five to eight centimetres higher than the front. If your work chair is not like this, you can easily improve things with a wedge shaped cushion. You also need to consider the height of the seat relative to the floor and the work surface. The backrest should be relatively upright, support your lower spine and high enough to reach the bottom of your shoulder blades. Some companies even make individual office chairs to your measurements to encourage correct posture and minimise pain.

There are several types of office chair that may suit you. These include the kneeling chair, which can be useful for short periods but does place pressure on the knees; the saddle stool which is excellent for people who do dynamic seated work like dentists and beauty therapists; and the Swiss ball, which is like a large beach ball and has the inbuilt incentive that if you slouch you fall off.

However, what suits one person may not suit another. A Chartered Physiotherapist can offer advice based on your body shape and the job you do and at Physio & Therapies we have different chairs for you to try out.

Sitting problems don’t just occur in the workplace. That fashionable soft leather sofa may look great in your lounge, but does it support the curves in your back?

Everyone knows that a supportive mattress is essential for a good night’s sleep and a healthy spine. The same applies to a sofa - if it is too soft it doesn’t aid relaxation and may be doing more serious damage in the long term.

So what do you need to look for? Firstly you should be able to get your bottom to the back of the seat and still have your feet on the ground.

The backrest should be high enough to support your entire spine and should not be raked so far back that you need to hunch over to read, eat or drink. Also the seat should be supportive and have a level surface without dips and bumps.

Until you can afford to buy a new sofa, you can make improvements by using small cushions behind your back or shoulders, place a sheet of 20mm plywood under the seat cushion to make the seat firmer and more level and try not to sit for too long - it’s bad for your back, your circulation and your general fitness.

Desk stretches to

keep you mobile

The Sit Stretch

Long periods of sitting with your knees and hips flexed can cause the muscles at the back of your legs (hamstrings) to shorten and become tight.

To counter this, perch on the edge of your seat and stretch your right leg out in front of you. Rest your heel on the floor with your foot pointing upwards. Lean forwards slightly from your hips and look straight ahead.

You should feel a gentle stretch but no pain along the back of your right leg. Hold the stretch for 20 seconds, repeat three times then swap legs.

Chair Twist

Regular movement can help ease back problems and other aches and pains.

Nothing beats getting away from your desk for a walk, but when that’s not possible mobilise your spine and reduce feelings of stiffness in your back with this simple stretch.

Sit slightly forward in your chair and rotate your head and upper body to the right. Take your left arm and cross it over your body so that it meets your chair’s right armrest. If this feels difficult, rest your left hand on the side of your right knee.

Keep your feet flat on the ground while performing this stretch. Hold this position for 20 seconds, repeat three times and then switch sides.