Updated: May 25, 2021
It's easy to know if you are sitting properly in an office chair, but how do you properly sit on a couch, a recliner, or a kitchen chair? Sit back, relax and read on.
No matter what device you sit on, your spine needs to be in what is known as neutral position. This is when all three curves of your spine are in proper alignment, leading to the least amount of stress placed upon the structures. This allows them to function properly without damage and, therefore, without pain. If you watch a toddler walking or sitting, you will see perfect posture. They have not had to sit for years, developing tight muscles and bad habits. Their body just knows.
How to know
An easy way to get into neutral spine is to stand against a wall with your buttocks, middle back (shoulder blade height) and the back of your head touching the wall. You should have enough curve in your spine to put one hand between your neck and the wall and the other hand between your low back and the wall. It is important to have these curves because they absorb everyday shock your body goes through. Everyone is slightly different and there may be slightly more or less space, but it is important that the space is there.
Transferring that neutral spine
Now that you know what a neutral spine is and how to find it, it is important to transfer that to a sitting position. Couches and recliners are typically incredibly soft, and you tend to sink into the material which will flatten the low back. Putting a rolled-up dish towel or small pillow in the small of your back will keep that arch there without you thinking about it. This also works at the dinner table.
The position of the head is important as well. Having your head in a constant flexed position – as in a recliner tilted all the way back and then watching TV - tightens the muscles in the front and elongates and weakens the muscles in the back of the neck. It also flattens the neck where there should be a curve. Weak and tight muscles will cause problems over time. Try not to recline so much that the head must tilt forward for you to see. A rolled-up wash cloth behind your neck will give you biofeedback and help you hold your neck in the correct position. Make sure the back of the head is touching the recliner.
The position of the legs is important only if they effect the position of the low back. For instance, if you have tight hamstrings, sitting in a recliner or sofa and raising the legs up or putting your feet on an ottoman will pull on the hamstrings which can pull the hips into posterior pelvic tilt. This flattens the low back and puts it into a compromised position. If you must lean back when you put your feet up, you probably have tight hamstrings, and it is best for your back to keep your knees bent with your feet flat on the floor. If your legs are not long enough for your feet to reach the floor, put large pillows behind your back to push your body forward.
With these few tricks you can keep your spine in neutral, easing tension, and relaxing muscles. Just like a toddler!