The Fitness Fixer
The Fitness Fixer

Don't Fall for "Don't Sit Up Straight"

An article getting much attention in news and blogs carries the headline, "Don't sit up straight." Many people have been overjoyed to read this. The news articles state that recent studies say not to sit up straight due to the pressure it puts on the spine. But this is misleading.

The studies don't mean, "don't sit up straight." They mean, "don't sit vertically." They say that leaning back reduces compression on the spine. The articles I have written about healthy sitting are in line with these studies, and say to lean the upper body slightly back - less vertical vector, means less direct axial loading. You still need to prevent rounding your back when leaning back, shown in the drawing at left.

It is not "sitting straight" that is the problem. My article Disc Pain - Not a Mystery, Easy to Fix shows how rounding the spine forward under your body weight mechanically opens space between the back of your vertebrae, and pushes your discs outward, over years, into this space. The article reminds:"Pull your chair in closer to the desk, and lean your upper back against the seat back." That way you can lean back without rounding. You don't need to be vertical to be straight rather than rounded.

The article The Cause of Disc and Back Pain shows a photo of someone sitting vertically - head is above hips - but they are rounding the spine forward, putting unhealthy pressure on the discs and soft tissues. They need to straighten their sitting to reduce the outward force on the discs and the overstretch on the muscles and supporting tissue.

The "Don't Sit Straight" study, and subsequent reports of it, missed that you have less vector force on your spine while sitting vertically at 90 degrees if you don't also round your spine, than if you lean back as they say but round your back. You can lean back and still pressure your spine by rounding. Look at the drawing, above left. The person is leaning back, as the study reports you should do, but the person is also rounding the lower back. This is one of the most common slouching there is. It is more pressure and more unhealthy than sitting vertically but not rounding.

Healthy sitting is simple when you understand, not just memorize a bunch of strange rules. More posts about healthy sitting to come. Until then, straighten your spine by not rounding forward. Move your chair in closer, and lift your upper body up to lean your upper back against the seat back. Yes, that does make your spine straighter - in a healthy way.


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Drawing of Backman!™ copyright © Dr. Jolie Bookspan from the book Fix Your Own Pain Without Drugs or Surgery.

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About the Author


Dr. Bookspan is an award-winning scientist whose goal is to make exercise easier and healthier.