How to Improve Your Upright Sitting Posture

No matter what your mother may have told you, sitting up straight requires a stable, balanced position of the pelvis. Awareness of ideal body alignment and strong core muscles likely won't hurt either.

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

Your mother may also have told you that good things are worth working for. On this point, she is standing on solid ground. Good posture is a habit, and it requires consistent practice. Here's what to do:

8 Steps to Upright Your Sitting Posture

    1. Position your hip and knee joints.
      Begin your quest for a good sitting posture by establishing the position of your lower body. Your knees should be at a ninety-degree angle. Hips can be a bit more open to about one hundred twenty.
  1. Keep your feet flat on the floor. If they don't reach the floor, try using a footrest or place a thick book under them. Avoid twisting your ankles, or resting the outside of your foot on the floor.
    1. Sit upright. During sitting, body weight is transferred from the pelvis onto the chair. On the bottom of the pelvis are two knobby bones called sitting bones; their technical name is ischial tuberosity. For ideal body alignment and proper transfer of weight, while sitting, you should be right on top of these bones, not in front or in back of them.
      If your weight is forward, your low back may be arched, which can tighten up muscles. If it's back, you are probably slumping. Slumping can cause pain, strain or lead to disc injury. To get on top of the sitting bones, gently rock back and forth on them. After a few iterations, pause in the center, between the two end positions. Congratulations! You're right on top of your sitting bones.
    2. Preserve your lower lumbar curve. Spinal curves in several areas help maintain an upright posture.
      The low back generally has a slight curve that sweeps forward when you view the body in profile. For good sitting posture, you should be able to slip your hand in the space between your low back and the back of the chair.
    3. Problems arise when we over-arch the low back, which can cause muscle strain or spasm. If you find that yours is over-arched, try to let the pelvis drop into a neutral position. You may find this also helps you get right on top of your sitting bones, as discussed above.
    4. If you slump, on the other hand, you may benefit from a lumbar cushion. A lumbar roll placed between your low back and the back of the chair may support your natural curve if your muscles are weak or tired, or if you have a flat lower back.
    5. And if your chair has built-in lumbar support, use it!
    6. Take a deep breath.
      The primary breathing muscle is the diaphragm. When you inhale, it moves downward to expand the lungs with air.
    7. Because the diaphragm moves vertically, it plays a role in an upright posture. A breathing technique known as diaphragmatic (or belly) breathing can help you use this important muscle to your best advantage.
    8. Check your shoulders. Are they up by your ears? Is your trapezius muscle sore?
      Positioning the shoulder blades, which are the flat, triangularly shaped bones on your upper back, lower may help support your head and neck. Also, if your shoulders are forward of your hips, move your trunk backwards. For truly good posture, shoulders should be in vertical alignment with hips.
    9. Bring your head back. Many of us forget that our head is connected to the spine. You can see this in people with kyphosis, a condition in which the upper body and head are far forward of the rest of their trunk.
      Now that you have a supportive sitting position, and the tension is out of your shoulders, try bringing your head back. Ideally, your ears should be in alignment with your shoulders. Depending on your condition, this may not be fully possible. If so, that's okay. Don't force it. The idea here is to do what you can within the limits of your pain and capacity and to make incremental changes toward good sitting posture.
  2. Practice good sitting posture often. Congratulations! You are aligned and sitting with good posture. Remember, good posture is a habit. Habits take time to develop, so be sure to practice this technique for good sitting posture often.

Tips

The type of surface on which you sit makes a difference. If your chair has to cushion, you may not be able to feel your sitting bones quite as well as on a hard surface.

Chairs with seats that dip or slant may also be problematic. A dip may encourage you to slump at your low back, making it harder for you to accomplish a good sitting posture. Similarly, a slant introduces an angle into your position, and this may skew outcomes of following the above instructions.

If your chair seat is not level, try to sit close to the edge. But keep all 4 legs of the chair on the floor to avoid an injury. The area around the edge of a desk chair is usually flat. Most likely, it will have enough room for your sitting bones, too. Sitting close to the edge may provide you with a balanced, stable platform on which to do most of your posture work.

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 periods of time than the human body was intended for. 

    In fact, research shows that sitting upright can cause disk problems. However, hunching forward at your desk is even worse for your spine. According to researchers in Scotland, the ideal sitting position is reclining at 130 degrees. 

    Another reason sitting up straight is uncomfortable: Your muscles have to work against gravity. Sitting for extended periods is tiring. 

  • How do you sit up straight comfortably?

    A supportive chair makes all the difference for sitting up straight comfortably. The chair should curve inward at the lower back to support the lumbar spine.

    The height of the seat should be adjusted so your knees are level with your hips when your feet are flat on the floor. Sit with your back straight against the seatback, your ears aligned over your shoulders, and your shoulders relaxed. 

  • Can you correct years of bad posture?

    Yes, it is never too late to correct bad posture. Start by paying attention to your posture throughout the day and correcting it when you find yourself slouching. When sitting, be sure to get up, stretch, and walk around for a bit every hour or so.

    Exercise can also make a big improvement in your posture. Walking, upper body strengthening, and stretching exercises can help to improve your posture. 

    If these at-home strategies aren’t effective, you can also see a chiropractor or talk to your healthcare provider about getting a referral to a physical therapist. 

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  1. Bashir W, Torio T, Smith F, Takahashi K, Pope M. The way you sit will never be the same! Alterations of lumbosacral curvature and intervertebral disc morphology in normal subjects in variable sitting positions using whole-body positional MRI.  Radiological Society of North America 2006 Scientific Assembly and Annual Meeting. 2006; Chicago. 

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