By Tracy Lapreziosa, MA, OTR/L
Did you ever visit someone’s home and they have this huge comfy couch that they direct you to sit on?
Looks comfy, so you sink yourself down onto the cushions. You sink down in and your hips are slightly below your knees and your back is not against the back of the couch. You feel like you are sitting in a bit too much of an alert posture so you push yourself back in search of the back support. However, as you move backward, the back of your knees hits the end of the seat so unless you want your legs sticking straight out like a child, you are kind of stuck. So you lean back to rest against the back of the couch. Now you find yourself in an awkward uncomfortable position of having the top of the pelvis tilted back and the bottom forward causing you to slouch big time.
Of course, now your host offers you a drink or snack. Do you stay in this position or wiggle your way back to the hyper-alert position? If you stay in the slouched position, you may end up having difficulty swallowing your food or drink and of course you can’t reach anywhere to set your items. You wiggle forward to the very front edge of the seat so your knees are lower than your hips and you can refrain from slouching and hopefully have access to a coffee table to set your beverage. More importantly, you may need the table to push yourself back up to standing when it’s time to leave!
Does this sound familiar?
Why does posture matter?
Positioning is so important for our comfort, physical health and ability to function at our best. Recently, we have all been reading and hearing about how sitting too much increases our risk for cardiovascular disease and diabetes, so we now are focusing on the need to get up and move and take breaks. However, there are a number of things to keep in mind when choosing a seat that we need to sit on for longer periods of time to complete activities, work tasks or even relaxing with a friend.
First, we need to consider the height of the seat. If our feet can rest flat on the floor, it will provide a strong base of support for greater stability for maintaining appropriate posture and using our hands to do work. Our knees, hips and ankles should be at approximately 90 degrees. Have you ever sat on a higher stool type chair with no rung to stabilize your feet? It gets quite fatiguing and you begin to feel the pinch of nerves on the back of your thighs. Do you remember having that seat in grade school where your feet didn’t touch? What did you do? Most young children who are not given appropriate seat heights are either wiggling all around due to fatigue or have their legs and feet wrapped around the chair legs to give them a stable base.
Next we need to think about the depth of the seat. If the seat is too deep like the comfy couch, we will not be able to rest our feet on the floor for support and have access to a back support at the same time, which will promote slouching and poor posture and all the difficulties that develop with malalignment of the spine when trying to complete basic life activities, work tasks or leisure pursuits. Our hips/ backside should touch the back of the seat while feet are flat on the floor. When we are in the proper position, our arms and hands have greater stability and control to complete work or fun leisure activities.
Our body should always be directly facing and aligned to whatever activity we are doing. If using a work surface, it should be below chest level and materials placed where we can best see them without flexing our head forward too much. If we try to complete our daily activities with poor posture, it can lead to health issues, aches and pains, limited mobility, attention and energy to get through the day. Posture does matter during work, school, everyday life activities, and play!