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How To Sit: Ergonomic Seating Facts

An Informative Report for Back Pain Sufferers

Most of us are seated for a major part of our waking hours. Whether it is behind the wheel, at a desk, using a computer, in front of a television, eating a meal, on an airplane or train, in class - you name it.

As a consequence of not sitting properly, more and more people are experiencing lower back pain, neck and shoulder complaints and a variety of other physical discomforts. The reasons for these complaints more often than not stem from poor posture and from not moving the body from time to time while seated, occasionally getting up to move around.

First, recognize that for most people being seated is a passive activity characterized by a slumped, slack quality which, in fact, puts a great deal of stress on the body. This passivity permeates the seated body and produces a compressive effect on the joints - particularly in the lower back.

To shift this passivity when seated to dynamic, active sitting, we need to look at some of the differences between the two modes of sitting. From this understanding we can learn how to change from one to the other

Passive Sitting

In a typical version of passive sitting, the pelvis is slightly rotated under the body. This causes load bearing on the tail bone (Coccyx) and on the back of the sacrum. This, in turn, contributes to a rounding of the lumbar curve and increased curving of the thoracic region of the spine (the area of the rib cage).

As the two lower curves of the spine are positioned into one large curve, the neck is forced to be compressed when the head is lifted as it is when driving, looking at a computer monitor or a movie screen, etc. The result is that the neck and shoulders are tensed in order to support the head.

Another mode of passive sitting occurs when a person bends over toward a desk and leans the head forward or supports the head on a bent arm.

The two curves of the back are again bent into one curve, with the result that a lot of strain is put on the lower back and in the area between the shoulder blades.

Furthermore, if the person rests the head on a bent arm it puts extra compression on the shoulder of the supporting arm as well as in the carpal region of the wrist.

If the head is bent forward and is unsupported when reading, the neck becomes over-extended and the shoulders grip in order to support the head.

Disadvantages that can arise from passive sitting:

  • Weakens back muscles
  • Compresses spine
  • Reverses natural alignment of the lumbar curve
  • Can lead to back pain and chronic back problems
  • Stress on the muscles involved leads to fatigue

Active Sitting

Sit squarely on the pelvic bones with the weight evenly distributed from side to side and from front to back. Sitting in this manner allows a wide range of motion - forward, backward, side to side - enhancing the ability to easily return to a centered position.

From this mobile yet stable pelvic foundation, the spine can be lifted upward, creating a powerful, supple column composed of the three counterbalancing curves of the spine. This interplay of the lengthened and now active spinal curves results in a springy load-bearing ability and transforms sitting into a dynamic, strengthening activity.

The BackFriend is designed to help you develop these healthy, active sitting habits.

Advantages that arise from active sitting:

  • Strengthens back muscles
  • Helps maintain the natural lumbar curve
  • Helps prevent and relieve back pain
  • Helps prevent sitting fatigue

Proper Sitting in Your Car

Head and neck

The head should "float" comfortably above the spine, allowing free and independent motion of the head and neck without involving the shoulders. The head is thus able to turn 90 degrees to the left and right more easily. The rear view and side mirrors should be adjusted so that they may be seen easily by moving the head and neck freely, without strain.

Torso and spine

Car seats, by and large, are notorious examples of poor ergonomic design, so one must usually make the most of a bad situation. First, bring the seatback as close as possible to a perpendicular, upright position. If possible, elevate the seat itself so that the knees are slightly lower than the hips. The concave shape and soft, pillowy nature of most car seats encourage poor sitting habits, which the BackFriend is designed to correct by providing firm support for the pelvis and guidance to properly align the head, neck and back.

Shoulders and arms

Keep upper and outer shoulder muscles relaxed so they drape down off the spine. Minimize the involvement of the deep rotator muscles in the shoulder, and allow only small movements of the elbow when steering. Whenever possible, move the arm as a whole, without involving the shoulder. When reaching for a manual transmission shift, keep the hand lower than the elbow and pivot forward from the hip joint, rather than twisting or torquing the lower back, which causes compression of the vertebrae. Release tension in the legs and buttocks and feel the sit bones being firmly supported by the seat.

Hands

The hands, like the arms, should remain in a state of active rest relaxed while doing the minimum amount of work to accomplish the task required.

Legs and feet

In car seats, the lower the knees are in relation to the thighs, the better. When using either a manual or automatic transmission, both heels should be kept relatively stable and evenly supported by the floor or pedal. When one foot is lifted, don't compensate by dropping other parts of the body. Lead with the big toe, not turning the feet inward or outward, which causes excessive torque of the spine when other movements are added, such as reaching for a gear shift or control panel. Many drivers tend to drop their weight onto the right hip, which when done repeatedly can cause compression and distortion of the spine. BackFriend helps prevent that by providing firm support for the sit bones and guidance to properly align the spine.

Check your sitting habits against these criteria for minimizing the stress of prolonged sitting in your office, in your car - or elsewhere.

To help you develop the correct seated posture order a BackFriend back and base system. It will give you the support and guidance to help you employ these techniques and to sit with true comfort.

Sitting in Your Office

Head and neck

The head should "float" comfortably above the spine, allowing free and independent motion of the head and neck without involving the shoulders. The top of a computer screen should be placed at about 10 degrees below "straight ahead," so that the back of the neck extends, curving slightly up and over. Ideally, the neck should be elongated and full, not compacted or tense. Place a picture behind the screen on the wall (or pick an object outside the window) so that you can look at each of the 4 corners and relax the eyes frequently. Staring for prolonged periods at the screen or any object at a fixed distance keeps the neck fixed and rigid. Standing up, walking or stretching every 15 minutes is recommended, as is the use of a headset telephone.

Torso and spine

Ideally, your office chair and positioning should allow fluid, effortless pivoting motions — a gentle bending at the hip joint, as opposed to the dipping, spine-compressing torque that is common when reaching for a telephone, for example. Most seats throw the spine backward and off-center which makes fluid bending difficult and encourages the user to slump or overarch the back. It also cuts off blood circulation in the legs. A firm seat and flat, rigid seatback, like those provided by the BackFriend, encourage upright, natural positioning of the spine and allow you to develop your own natural lumbar curve.

Shoulders and arms

Keep the upper and outer shoulder muscles relaxed so they drape down off the spine. Minimize the involvement of the deep rotator muscles in the shoulder by moving the whole arm when typing or writing. The elbow should move only slightly when controlling a mouse or writing tool. A computer keyboard or writing surface should be placed so that the wrist end of the forearm is about 5 degrees below parallel to the floor.

Hands

Rather than flat, straightened fingers, a curved, relaxed shape is recommended, with the majority of muscular work taking place on the underside of the hand. The pinkies especially should remain curved. Roll the forearm to move the whole hand small amounts, rather than lifting fingers or twisting them laterally to reach various keys. Visually check to see that muscles on the back of the hand and between thumb and forefinger are almost completely still. Every 5 to 15 minutes, drape the hands palms-down on the top of the legs, relaxing the fingers and the muscles on the back of the hands. Consider purchasing a MouseBean wrist support to ensure that you have no forearm or wrist pain with use of the computer mouse.

Legs and feet

­The feet should rest comfortably on the floor, soles flat, shoulder-width apart. Ideally, the seat cushion will be high enough so as to allow the thighs to angle slightly (about 5 degrees) down from the hips so that the knees are an inch or two lower than the hips. Provision of an angle and height adjustable footrest will ensure your hips, knees and feet are well supported.

The Cost of Low Back Pain

Low back pain is a symptom that will affect 80% of the population, at some point in their life.

• Eight out of ten people will experience severe back pain at some point in their lives.

• Back pain is the second most common reason for visits to primary care doctors.

• Your back actually endures more stress when you are sitting than when you are standing or walking.

• Each disc in your back bears 165 lbs. of pressure when you’re lying down.

• When you stand, each disc in your back supports 220 lbs. of pressure.

• When you sit, each disc in your spine has to tolerate between 300 and 400 lbs. of pressure.

• Low back pain is the most prevalent cause of disability in people under age 45.

• Postural stress has been identified as a leading cause of back pain.

• The Number 1 recommendation for the prevention and treatment of

occupational postural stress injury is the ergonomic adjustment of workstations – including seating.

­ Put back pain to rest in any chair, anywhere with a BACKFRIEND!



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