How to Improve Your Upright Sitting Posture

9 Simple Steps Everyone Should Follow

Your mother was right: sitting up straight is good for you. It helps reduce lower back pain, aids with digestion, improves respiration, and relieves tension in your neck, upper back, and shoulder as you work at your desk.

Sitting up straight requires a stable, balanced positioning of the pelvis, hips, spine, shoulder neck, and head. Awareness about your ideal body alignment and core muscles is key to this.

This article takes a step-by-step approach to ensuring the optimal body position while sitting. It also offers tips and tools to maintain the correct position even if you are stuck behind your computer all day.

Computer worker diagram shows desk height, hip and knee angles and more
Andy Zito / Illustration Works / Getty Images

How to Sit Up Straight: Step-by-Step Guide

You may think that sitting up straight is a simple thing to do. And, it largely is. But, people often focus solely on straightening the spine, particularly the lumbar spine. This is a posture that is not only unsustainable (particularly if you sit at a desk for hours on end) but also places undue stress on both the upper and lower back.

From the perspective of protecting the stability and balance of the spine, you need to take into account your body as a whole.

Sitting up straight is ultimately a process that has to be learned. Once you have found a comfortable chair to sit in, you need to follow these steps to achieve the optimal postural alignment:

  1. Open your knees. Your hips should be at a roughly 90-degree angle.
  2. Keep your feet flat on the floor. If your feet don't reach, place a book or other flat object underneath them.
  3. Check your knee position. Your knees should be at a 90-degree angle level with your hips. If your seat is too low, you may need to sit on a pillow to achieve the right knee position.
  4. Find your sitting bones. Also known as the ischial tuberosity, these are two knobby bones on the underside of the pelvis. Feel around with your hands to find them.
  5. Adjust your pelvis. Shift your body so that your sitting bones are directly under your pelvis rather than situated too far back (which stresses the lower back) or too far forward (which leads to slumping).
  6. Check your spine. There should be a slight spinal curve, and you should be able to slip your hand between your lower back and the back of the chair.
  7. Check your shoulders. If your shoulder blades are pulled back or your shoulders are either lifted or curled forward, relax them into a neutral position. Your shoulders should be level and vertically aligned with your hips.
  8. Tilt your head back. We tend to tilt our heads too far forward while sitting. Adjust your head so that the neck is aligned with the upper spine. Your head should only be slightly tilted forward, with your ears aligned with your shoulders.
  9. Check for pain and discomfort. If you feel any pain, it may be due to structural imbalances of the spine, pelvis, or hips. You can often use a rolled-up towel or cushion to compensate for this. For example, if you tend to slump, place a pillow behind your lower back for support.

While it may take time before these 10 steps become a habit, with perseverance and practice, they'll eventually second nature.

Other Tips and Tools

You can certainly buy an expensive ergonomic desk chair that provides the right support in all the right places, but many people don't have this luxury.

Even so, it may be a good idea to invest in an economical desk chair if you sit at the computer all day. There are also useful tools and tricks to help you avoid back, hip, and neck pain.

Here are several for you to consider:

  • Buy wisely. You don't need all the bells and whistles for a desk chair to be good. Focus on key features like an adjustable seat height, lumbar support, and the correct seat depth (deeper if you are tall and shallower if you are short).
  • Use firmer cushions. If you sit on a cushion or use one to bolster your back or hips, don't go too soft. Soft cushions allow you to shift from one hip to the next, often without realizing it. They may eventually flatten and offer little support.
  • Raise your computer. There is no point in sitting straight if your computer is either too high or too low. You need your computer at eye level where you can maintain the proper head and shoulder alignment. If your computer is too low, place a book underneath it. If it is too high, you can raise the height of your chair and place a footrest under your feet to keep them flat.
  • Never cross your legs. Crossing your leg not only places stress on the opposite hip, thigh, and knee but will also wear you out faster. If your hips or legs are tiring prematurely, it is either because you're not sitting correctly or you're sitting in the wrong chair.
  • Change into the right shoes. You need to keep your feet flat on the floor while sitting. You are not doing this if you are wearing high heels or platform shoes. Prioritize posture over fashion and change into a comfortable pair of flat shoes while sitting at your desk.
  • Take regular breaks. Even if you buy a top-of-the-line ergonomic desk chair, you are not meant to be sitting on it—or any other chair—for eight hours straight. Get up at least every hour, walking and stretching to get your muscles and circulation moving.
  • Try a standing desk. Standing desks have become more popular in recent years and for good reason. If placed at the right height and position, a standing desk can ensure better body posture and reduce stress on the lower back.

Summary

Sitting up straight in your chair requires the conscious alignment of your hips, pelvis, lower back, upper back, shoulder, neck, and head. Doing so can reduce lower back pain, improve respiration and digestion, and reduce tension in your neck and shoulders, particularly if you sit at your desk for hours on end.

A Word From Verywell

If you follow these step-by-step instructions but still have back, shoulder, or neck pain, speak with your healthcare provider. They may recommend that you see an orthopedist who specializes in disorders of the muscles and bones or refer you to an occupational therapist who can offer you the tools and techniques to overcome physical obstacles that contribute to pain.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Why is it uncomfortable for me to sit up straight?

    Sitting up straight is uncomfortable because it is not natural. Modern life requires us to sit for much longer than the human body was intended to. Your muscles also have to work against gravity, leading to muscle exhaustion and slumping, which only adds to chronic back, neck, or shoulder pain.

  • How do you sit up straight comfortably?

    A supportive chair should curve inward at the lower back to support the lumbar spine. The height of the seat should be adjusted so that your knees are level with your hips and your feet are flat on the floor. You should sit comfortably with your back straight against the seatback with shoulders relaxed and ears aligned over your shoulders.

  • Can you correct years of bad posture?

    Start by paying attention to your posture during the day, correcting it whenever you find yourself slouching. Exercise can also help enormously. Upper body strength training and stretching can work together to stabilize and strengthen the core muscles, lower back, and pelvic joints.

4 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Albarrati A, Zafar H, Alghadir AH, Anwer S. Effect of upright and slouched sitting postures on the respiratory muscle strength in healthy young males. Biomed Res Int. 2018;2018:3058970. doi:10.1155/2018/305897

  2. Jung KS, Jung HW, In TS, Cho HY. Effects of prolonged sitting with slumped posture on trunk muscular fatigue in adolescents with and without chronic lower back pain. Medicina (Kaunas). 2021 Jan;57(1):3. doi:10.3390/medicina57010003

  3. Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety. Working in a sitting position - good body position.

  4. Van Niekerk SM, Louw AQ, Hillier S. The effectiveness of a chair intervention in the workplace to reduce musculoskeletal symptoms. A systematic review. BMC Musculoskelet Disord. 2012;13:145. doi:10.1186/1471-2474-13-145

Additional Reading

By Anne Asher, CPT
Anne Asher, ACE-certified personal trainer, health coach, and orthopedic exercise specialist, is a back and neck pain expert.