Proper Seating Isn't Just Good Posture, It's Good Health, Too
By Jerry Porter, DC
The body can easily withstand bending, lifting and otherwise physical actions well enough to not be the major causes of subluxations. On the other hand, simple things like sitting wrong, wearing improper shoes and sleeping incorrectly can cause untold damage to structural integrity. The correct sitting position is one that does not allow your body to slump. In order to do this naturally (without thinking about it) you need to have your hips slightly above your knees. How does it feel to sit right? It takes no effort. Your entire body just wants to stay upright naturally and easily.
Sitting Body Mechanics
When you sit with your hips lower than your knees your pelvis tilts backward. This pelvic tilt forces your lower back to arch backward and your upper back and neck to lean forward in compensation. In other words, sitting incorrectly forces bones out of their normal position, in a direction where there are no muscles behind them to pull them back into their proper position. So, if you sit in a position that causes your body to slump, you will always have some bones out of place that need to be fixed. Unfortunately, most chairs, sofas and cars do not allow you to sit up straight without effort from your muscles and so the tendency is to slump whenever you sit. In fact, most sofas and recliners are made to slump in; whereas car seats and many chairs are unintentionally designed in a way that makes you slump. In either case, because you are slumped, your body is put under a lot of pressure in certain areas and this can cause pain. You may or may not feel discomfort while you are sitting there, but typically you will feel worse later. This often makes it difficult to pinpoint exactly which places you are sitting that are making you worse.
You can often notice the effects of sitting slumped simply because it is harder to get out of the seat you are in. Have you ever struggled to get up off of a sofa or a recliner? This is why. Slumping while sitting also explains why people get fatigued and achy after driving for a distance or flying in an airplane. In this slumped position, the muscles in your body are working harder and using more energy just to keep you as upright as possible. Your body also has to twist around to shift the pressure off of injuries. This makes you fatigued, achy or can cause pain in those areas.
Where Can You Sit?
I know that you want to be able to sit anywhere and not have it cause you any problems, but this is not possible. Very few places we sit are built with correct structural posture in mind. Chairs, sofas, recliners, cars and airplanes are all built lower in the back, putting your knees above your hips. And, many of them have head rests that push your head forward as well. The standard for building chairs is to have the back of the seat one inch lower than the front. Chairs do vary some from this but seldom do you find one that is built up enough at the back part of the seat to be level, or ideally, above level. Car seats are usually two inches or more lower in back.
ALL car seats that I have checked (over a thousand), and most chairs, must be corrected so that your body does not slump. The way to do this is to sit on a firm, wedge-shaped cushion, with the high part of the wedge in the back. By raising the back of your seat, this wedge shape brings your hips slightly above your knees, which lifts and stabilizes the rest of your body. If the cushion is not firm enough, it will compress when you sit on it and not be much help. Along with in your car, these wedged cushions are necessary in theaters, restaurants and at sporting events. You can use them on some office chairs, but not all.
Ergonomic office chairs with all of their bells and whistles for making adjustments generally have flaws. The shape of the seat, sometimes made like a saddle, is difficult to sit on properly. I need to add more information here on sitting in cars. The best sitting position in your car is to be sitting on a firm wedge without any lower back support (if your car has an adjustable lumbar support then back it out). Keep your seat in a comfortable, upright position. Do not have your headrest leaning forward, as this pushes your head forward.
Unfortunately, sofas and recliners are made to slump in. I have not seen anyone with back or neck problems that can sit on one and get away with it. I have tried many ways to fix them but have not been successful. The same goes for propping yourself up in bed to read or watch TV. I recommend lying on your side with your head propped up above level if you want to do these in bed. Test these sitting ideas. Try sitting the way I suggest with your hips a bit above your knees. Use a book or towels on a chair to get your hips up a bit. Feel how upright you are, and just let your body go loose and see if you slump forward. Then, take out whatever you were sitting on and sit back down. Let your body go loose again and notice if you slump or if it takes more effort to sit there.
Profiting From This Sitting Technology
Much of the previous article on the mechanics of sitting is excerpted from the booklet, "Owner's Manual For The Body" which is available for your patients in bulk quantities from the author. Doctors often give these booklets to their patients when they begin care. In my practice and many others, patients purchase a seat cushion as a necessary part of care. Simply stated, I tell them that I can still fix their body without them getting a seat cushion but they won't feel much better because they will constantly be causing new problems that need to be fixed. This sitting technology should be used with all of your patients. They will be happy for things they can do to take control of their pain themselves. This doesn't alter their need for care, but rather empowers them to take some responsibility for their spinal health.
Dr. Jerry Porter, a 1981 graduate of Palmer West College of Chiropractic, has been in private practice for 30 years in Spokane. He assisted with the development of Chiropractic Biophysics™ and became a certified instructor. In 1998 he learned Advanced BioStructural Correction™ and has taught standing, sitting, and sleeping technology at many ABC™ seminars. For additional information contact Dr. Porter via his website, www.ezpostureproducts.com.