2006 November 27 Monday
Conventional Wisdom On Good Posture All Wrong

Ever since I was a child I've read in low lighting conditions and continue to do so to this day. Yet as a kid I was repeatedly scolded and told that reading without lots of bright light would damage my eyes. I didn't believe these claims (having discovered that lots of things adults believe are not based on any scientific knowledge). Several years ago I came across an article which quoted a chairman of a medical school ophthalmology department who said that reading with little light will do no harm to your eyes and that claims to the contrary are just a popular myth.

I also sit with a chair tilted back and have also done that for as long as I can remember. I've been waiting for evidence that vindicated me on that choice too. Now researchers in Scotland think they've found evidence that the conventional wisdom on correct sitting posture is bad for your back and you are best off with a higher angle between your thighs and torso.

CHICAGO -- Researchers are using a new form of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to show that sitting in an upright position places unnecessary strain on your back, leading to potentially chronic pain problems if you spend long hours sitting. The study, conducted at Woodend Hospital in Aberdeen, Scotland, was presented today at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA).

Normal is bad.

“A 135-degree body-thigh sitting posture was demonstrated to be the best biomechanical sitting position, as opposed to a 90-degree posture, which most people consider normal,” said Waseem Amir Bashir, M.B.Ch.B., F.R.C.R., author and clinical fellow in the Department of Radiology and Diagnostic Imaging at the University of Alberta Hospital, Canada. “Sitting in a sound anatomic position is essential, since the strain put on the spine and its associated ligaments over time can lead to pain, deformity and chronic illness.”

Back pain is the most common cause of work-related disability in the United States, and a leading contributor to job-related absenteeism, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. By identifying bad seating postures and allowing people to take preventative measures to protect the spine, Dr. Bashir and colleagues hope to reduce back strain and subsequent missed work days.

“We were not created to sit down for long hours, but somehow modern life requires the vast majority of the global population to work in a seated position,” Dr. Bashir said. “This made our search for the optimal sitting position all the more important.” The researchers studied 22 healthy volunteers with no history of back pain or surgery. A “positional” MRI machine was used, which allows patients freedom of motion—such as sitting or standing—during imaging. Traditional scanners have required patients to lie flat, which may mask causes of pain that stem from different movements or postures.

The patients assumed three different sitting positions: a slouching position, in which the body is hunched forward (e.g., hunched over a desk or slouched over in front of a video game console); an upright 90-degree sitting position; and a “relaxed” position where the patient reclines backward 135 degrees while the feet remain on the floor. Measurements were taken of spinal angles and spinal disk height and movement across the different positions.

That bolt upright sitting posture shows the most sign of strain on the spine.

Spinal disk movement occurs when weight-bearing strain is placed on the spine, causing the internal disk material to misalign. Disk movement was most pronounced with a 90-degree upright sitting posture. It was least pronounced with the 135-degree posture, indicating that less strain is placed on the spinal disks and associated muscles and tendons in a more relaxed sitting position.

The “slouch” position revealed a reduction in spinal disk height, signifying a high rate of wear and tear on the lowest two spinal levels. Across all measurements, the researchers concluded that the 135-degree position fared the best. As a result, Dr. Bashir and colleagues advise patients to stave off future back problems by correcting their sitting posture and finding a chair that allows them to sit in an optimal position of 135 degrees.

“This may be all that is necessary to prevent back pain, rather than trying to cure pain that has occurred over the long term due to bad postures,” he added. “Employers could also reduce problems by providing their staff with more appropriate seating, thereby saving on the cost of lost work hours.”

What I still want to know: Should one lean back and have just the upper part of the back touch the back of the chair? Or should the whole chair back be tilted at the same angle as the back and touch the back all the way down?

By Randall Parker    2006 November 27 10:49 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (8)
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