7 Ways to Improve Your Spinal Health While Seated

Patient Expert
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Do you sit in an office chair most of your day? Is your chair giving your back enough support? Is the chair tilted in a way that it’s not compressing your sacrum?

I would venture to guess that most of these questions are not on the forefront of your mind when going about your day.

But, maybe they should be.

We know that sitting isn’t the best for us, but did you know it’s been shown to increase anxiety, increase cancer risk, boost liver disease risk, and so much more?

Having a form of autoimmune arthritis, such as psoriatic arthritis, often we end up sitting for long periods of time. Achy joints, swollen knees, flare-ups in our sacroiliac (SI) joints — there are times we want to sit and not be active. But perhaps we should be giving the way we’re sitting a second thought.

A study looked at 28 patients and the impact on their body of sitting in an office chair. Participants were split into four groups — one group sat in a regular chair, one had a lumbar support, another group had their seat pans tilted, and the last group had chairs with a backrests for scapular release. Taking x-rays of these patients sitting in the chairs, the study compared the curvature of their spines.

What was the outcome? The study showed that 70 percent of the patients had maximized flexion of their spines, consistently across all chairs. Sitting with the seat pan tilted, and to some extent having a lumbar support, improved some posture. But, even with these modifications, there was still flexion of the lower spine.

To completely understand this study, I talked with Dr. Steven G. Yeomans, a highly respected, third-generation chiropractor, who has been in practice for more than 38 years and serves as the managing editor for Chiro-Trust.org.

Dr. Yeomans explained that whenever we stand with poor posture or slouched over, we get about 50 to 60 percent flexion in our spine. To have 70 percent flexion right off the bat, just by sitting, puts our spine at an immediate disadvantage. Increasing the stress on our spine increases our susceptibility to injury and can cause problems with our discs. Sciatica, bulging discs, back pain — there are endless problems that can be direct results of sitting. And just think: If you have autoimmune arthritis, you’re even adding more risk to the equation with chronic inflammation.

Sitting in a chair isn’t ideal, but for many, it’s a necessity. So, what should we do?

The following 7 tips are Dr. Yeomans’ go-tos for patients:

1) While seated, sit straight up on the front of your chair. Try your best not to use the backrest and keep your chin tucked in a little. If you’ve ever played an instrument in the orchestra or sung in the choir, you’ll know exactly what he’s talking about! Proper posture while seated can play a big part in how your back feels.

2) Dr. Yeomans urges patients to set timers on their cell phones at different intervals during the day. Another idea is to download one of these suggested apps. When the timer or app goes off, get up and do a simple stretch or take a short walk. Doing this on a regular basis can help you avoid sitting all day long.

3) He also suggests opting for a standing desk, which can help reduce the amount of pressure in your discs, decrease the flexion of your spine and help your overall posture. Don’t have a standing desk? Take your computer and set it on top of books on your counter or ask if you can take a “walking meeting” instead of sitting in a conference room.

4) Invest in a back vitalizer inflatable cushion. This air pillow improves posture and helps you reduce your weight-bearing load as you to sit. Make sure not to over inflate it, though! You only need a little bit of air.

5) The ideal seated position in your chair is with your seat pan tilted forward. So, if you can, modify your chair to allow for this accommodation.

6) Incorporate seated exercises while you sit in your chair. For a few examples, check out these chair yoga postures that can easily be completed at work or at home. Dr. Yeomans suggests seated bends and twists.

7) Make sure to breathe from your diaphragm while seated. By incorporating deep abdominal breathing, you can improve your posture and overall health. Want a few examples? Try these.

Having autoimmune arthritis, we must be cognizant of our spine health and do everything we can to promote health and wellness. By modifying our seated positions, and incorporating some of these tips into our daily lives, we can help the curvature in our spine and possibly reduce the risk of problems down the line.