Are You Sitting Healthily In Your Office Chair? Why Right Angled Sitting Is Harmful

It seems that sitting all day in an office chair is slowly killing us all off if we are to believe recent reports and research into sitting.

According to professor Galen Krantz author of the book “The Chair: Rethinking Culture, Body, and Design” it's not that sitting is a bad thing rather it's the way we do it that causes all the problems.

There is an excellent interview with professor Krantz at the Body Conscious Design website called Beyond The Chair in which she explains what is wrong with the way we sit and how simple changes can help to improve things.

How you sit is important
Krantz draws attention to the perils of right angled sitting, where the body is placed at a harmful 90° angle for hours on end. She highlights the problems this creates:

  • It places your spine in an unhealthy C shape
  • Your chest caves inwards
  • Your pelvis gets crunched up
  • The lower back collapses
  • Your neck gets thrust forwards

All these debilitating postures end up giving us aches and pains due to the unnatural positions we get forced into. So how can we help improve things?

Setting up your work space properly
Simply getting your work area and how you address it sorted can make a big difference according to Krantz. And a lot of it is common sense too.

For example if you use the phone a lot then get yourself a headset. Without it the temptation to wedge the phone between shoulder and ear places enormous strain on your neck.

Adjust your screen so that the center is about 7 to 10 inches below your horizontal line of sight. And look away and focus on distant objects occasionally to keep your eyes healthy.

Set your office chair up so that your knees are below your hips. An angle of about 100° is good as it keeps your back's lumbar curve healthy.

Reposition your mouse and consider getting a vertically operated mouse if you suffer wrist and arm pain.

Switch between different types of chair, say an office chair and a kneeling chair or a ball chair. I alternate between a task chair and a knee chair and it's definitely beneficial. If you are on a tight budget a ball chair is going to be the more affordable option.

Do simple exercises when muscle start to tire. It will keep them toned and prevent them becoming chronically fatigued.

Finally takes frequent strolls even if it's just around the office or home.

The key to most of these suggestions is movement. Your body hates being fixed in one position for too long and this is why 90° sitting is so harmful.

If it's such a good idea why aren't furniture manufacturers making suitable products?
Krantz believes that the furniture industry is aware of what's needed. However she points out that the real problem lies in persuading customers to make the change and that's not easy.

And she is not afraid to argue against products she believes aren't good. She is a big opponent of the Aeron chair pointing out that the lumbar support was only put in because it's what people expect in a good chair. So what does she believe is needed?

Movement and variation of posture is key
Krantz is a big fan of variable height work surfaces. Particularly the ability to perch when sitting as it opens up the body allowing much healthier posture.

In terms of chairs, she likes the rocking action of the Balans chair and also HÅG's Capisco for its perching qualities and the Varier Gravity for lounging while computing. She also gives good advice for sitting in the home as well.

What you do at home matters too
Perching on a stool is good for back strength and she advises keeping the feet firmly on the floor. Work surface height is important and having it set just below elbow level keeps your wrists straight when chopping food for example.

In terms of altering posture Krantz recommends lying down on a hard flat surface with knees pointing upwards and breathing deeply for 15 minutes each day. This acts to relieve lower back pain and muscle fatigue.

Sitting cross legged on the floor is another beneficial posture and using a sloping cushion like the Zafu is handy as it conforms with your body angle.

Putting it all together
Let's look at the key points Galen Krantz recommends for healthy sitting and working:

  • Sitting isn't necessarily bad, it's how we do it that matters
  • Sitting at a closed 90° angle is bad for the body
  • Setting up your work area is important for a healthy posture
  • Doing simple exercises helps keep muscles toned
  • Taking walks around the office is good
  • Alternating working at different heights keeps the body active
  • Developing healthy habits at home is important too.

Further reading
Here's where you can find the Beyond The Chair interview with Galen Krantz. It's presented in a colorful PDF format with lots of useful illustrations highlighting the points in the article.

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4 Responses to “Are You Sitting Healthily In Your Office Chair? Why Right Angled Sitting Is Harmful”

  1. There has been a big uptick in articles about the health impact of sitting at work all day. Some ergonomics vendors are really pushing the sit-to-stand workstations. But even if you stand for half the time at work, you still need a properly made chair for the rest of the time. Employers just need to start investing in better equipment that supports both sitting and standing – but that’s easier said than done when money is tight.

    Daisy

  2. This is very true Daisy. I’m afraid quality office chairs still aren’t taken seriously by many employers, let alone sit stand desks.

  3. With a sit/stand desk, what general guidance can be offered regarding desk height when in the stand positon please (eg, when stood, how high should the desk be when typing, writing etc)?

    Do you simply change positons from sat to stand and back again as you wish or should you look for tiring signs in the body?

    Also, I too dislike the Aeron chair as it has offers no low back support. I do like the Sayl chair however – would I be correct to think the advancement of the Sal means it is likely to offer better low back support?

    Regards

  4. There is no exact height for working at a sit stand desk. It varies from user to user. Mostly people experiment until they find what works well for them.

    A good starting point for standing would be to address the work surface with your arms at right angles. Then set the desk top roughly about the height of the underside of your wrists and lower arms. From there just experiment until you find what’s comfortable for you.

    In terms of when to change positions I always suggest you let your body guide you so if you’re tiring then that’s a good sign its time to move.

    The Sayl chair should give you good lower back support as it has been designed to support the lumbar area.

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