How to Adopt the Right Sitting Angle and Reduce Back Pain
Work Wellness

How to Adopt the Right Sitting Angle and Reduce Back Pain

|Nov 18, 2020

When your lower back hurts, sitting all day is challenging. Unfortunately, as an office worker, there is no way around spending time at your desk. Fortunately, there are some tips to keep in mind if you need to make it through your workday. Finding the right sitting angle is one of the best ways to ease lower back pain. Here are some best practices for sitting that will bring relief to your back pain.

Get Your Sitting Angle Right

When you’re sitting, there are two crucial positions that you should focus on: the back angle and the knees angle.

The Backrest Angle

Contrary to what you’ve been taught about always sitting upright, if you suffer from back pain, recline the backrest of your office chair to at least 100 degrees. This reduces the load on your spinal discs to 20% relative to a 90-degree upright backrest.

Also, avoid slouching or hunching forward; this is the worst posture you can assume if you suffer from back pain. This posture compresses your spinal cord and exerts a lot of pressure on your back.

Although studies show that the ideal recline angle for reducing disc pressure to be 135 degrees, it’s not practical to work at that position. However, if you can take regular breaks, it’s the perfect angle to set your office chair’s backrest angle.

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The Knee Angle

The knee angle is also crucial in getting your sitting angle right as it dictates your entire lower body posture. To get the right sitting knee angle:

  • Don’t cross your legs when you sit, especially if you suffer from sciatica.
  • Bend your knees at 90 degrees.
  • Keep your feet flat on the ground and use a footrest if possible.

These guidelines may seem rigid, but the whole idea is to keep your body in a neutral position that prevents you from straining your back while encouraging good blood flow. If you start to feel restless at this posture, that’s a sign your body is telling you to get up and move a little.

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Avoid Overstretching and Twisting

Another crucial tip while seated is to not overstretch or twist your torso.

You overstretch your torso mostly when you have to access items that are too far away on your desk, such as the mouse, keyboard, and documents. This not only strains your shoulders, but it also exerts tremendous pressure on your spine as you lean forward.

Organize your desk into work zones and make sure the items you use frequently are within your “primary zone.” Next, raise your office chair and bring your mouse and keyboard close to you, such that your elbows are at an open 100–110 degrees angle and not wider.

Further, refrain from twisting your torso while seated. If you twist your torso repetitively, you can tear one of the large muscles or the ligaments surrounding your spine. This may cause lower back inflammation or spasm. Thus, when reaching for an object, turn your office chair along with your entire body. Also, refrain from twisting your waist while seated.

Avoid Overstretching and Twisting

Leverage the Armrests

Your Upper body comprises about 12% of your body mass. So, if left unsupported, all the burden goes to your spine, eventually causing neck, shoulder, and lower back pain. Always rest your arms on the armrests or your desk when typing or on the phone. Supportive armrests can reduce the weight on your spine by about 10% of your body mass.

Also, armrests are essential in offering leverage when you want to get up from your office chair.

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Maintain Proper Lumbar Support

Lumbar support pillows play a crucial role in helping your lower back maintain a natural position as you sit, this eventually reduces pressure build up on your spine.

Sit with your hips pressed against the backrest to establish if you need additional lumbar support on your office chair.  If there’s a considerable gap between your lower back and your office chair’s backrest, then you need additional lumbar support.

In terms of external lumbar pillows, research shows those with a cutout design work best in improving the comfort of those suffering from lower back pain and even healthy individuals.

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Switch Between Different Neutral Sitting Postures

If you suffer from lower back pain, alternating between different neutral positions periodically is crucial.

Photo of Switch Between Different Neutral Sitting Postures

Switching your sitting position shifts where the pressure points are located, giving other pivotal areas in your back and legs a quick break. Here are the 4 best neutral sitting positions you can adopt to ease lower back pain:

1. Standing

If you suffer from lower back pain, standing occasionally is effective in easing the load off of your spine, and improving blood circulation to your lower body. According to one study, switching between sitting and standing positions reduced neck and lower back pain by up to 54% among participants. To get maximum benefits from this posture, stand with a straight back.

So, what’s the best sit-stand ratio? According to a study by the University of Waterloo, the best sit-stand ratio for maximum health benefits is between 1:1 and 1:3. That means for every 20 minutes of sitting, stand between 20–60 minutes, no longer.

2. Declined Standing

A declined sitting position is characterized by a forward-angled trunk. In this posture, your forearms rest on your desk, your back remains straight, and your thighs are angled downwards. According to a study by A. C Mandal, a declined sitting posture can reduce your lower back pain significantly as it makes it easier to maintain the lumbar curvature, shifting part of your body weight on your thighs.

There are several ways to achieve a declined sitting posture. Certain office chairs, such as the ErgoChair 2 support forward tilting, though only slightly. To get the maximum benefits of declined sitting, get a kneeling chair or saddle chair with a 20-degree seat decline.

3. Reclined Sitting

A reclined sitting position is like a standing position. Because when you sit even with a small recline in your backrest, the sitting angle is similar to that of a standing posture, as shown in the diagram below:

This sitting position is characterized by a backward-angled trunk. Since the weight of your upper body is supported by the backrest, this posture has the lowest back muscle activity, so it reduces back fatigue.

So, when doing intensive tasks, set your backrest angle between 100 – 110 degrees. And when doing passive work, such as answering a phone call, set your backrest to 135 degrees. Studies show setting your backrest to 135 degrees exerts the least amount of pressure on your spine.

4. Supine Sitting

Supine sitting posture is characterized by laying near horizontal as you work on your computer. In this posture, you exert most of your body weight on your workstation.

According to studies, lying flat exerts the least pressure load on your spinal disc out of all-natural positions your body assumes. If you suffer from severe back pain, supine sitting is a more radical option that can offer the greatest relief. However, it shouldn’t be the only posture you adopt—alternate with other sitting postures mentioned above.

Final Thoughts

Many of us spend most of our workday sitting down. Poor sitting posture, especially at a desk, can cause lower back pain. However, by knowing how to adopt the right sitting angle and following a few simple guidelines, you can learn how to self-correct and eventually achieve a good sitting posture.

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