Curvy on the bottom and straight on top
August 13, 2018 1:03 PM   Subscribe

Michaeleen Doucleff for NRP: Maybe the problem, when it comes to back pain, isn't how much Americans are sitting, but the way we're sitting. If we change the way we sit, it will help to decrease back problems. Take a look at people who are sitting down – not face-on but rather from the side, in profile, so you can see the shape of their spine. There's a high probability their back is curving like the letter C. To straighten out the C shape, [Jenn] Sherer says, "we need to position the pelvis in a way that this tail could wag." In other words, we need to untuck our tails. To do that, Sherer says, you need to bend over properly when you go to sit down.
posted by numaner (54 comments total) 60 users marked this as a favorite
 
I do find the exoticisation (in the second linked piece) of the single greatest cliché of human motion, "lift with your knees, not your back", a bit funny, but it's still excellent advice.
posted by howfar at 1:14 PM on August 13, 2018 [5 favorites]


This is exactly why I switched to a saddle-stool! My back was killing me, and while I swore by those kneeling chairs, they were hurting my shins.
posted by UltraMorgnus at 1:21 PM on August 13, 2018


I learned this great piece of advice about sitting correctly a while back: while standing, squeeze your buttocks, then sit down. Then unsqueeze.

It works miraculously, but I don't employ it at work.
posted by typify at 1:22 PM on August 13, 2018 [1 favorite]


Especially interesting to read about how much hunter gather groups sit (10 hours a day, according to the piece). I certainly would never have assumed or guessed that.
posted by Emmy Rae at 1:29 PM on August 13, 2018 [1 favorite]


On average, Hadza adults spend about 75 minutes each day exercising, Raichlen says. That amount is way more than most Americans exercise. Many of us can't muster a measly 2.5 hours each week, as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

well david we work 60h weeks because otherwise we'll starve to death when food stamp programs are cut and we won't have health insurance
posted by poffin boffin at 1:30 PM on August 13, 2018 [67 favorites]


I do find the exoticisation (in the second linked piece) of the single greatest cliché of human motion, "lift with your knees, not your back", a bit funny, but it's still excellent advice.

It's good advice, but oy does it need a variant phrasing for literal thinkers. I was hearing that advice for years before I understood kinetically what it meant - I kept on thinking, "but....I don't lift with either my legs or my back, I lift with my hands and arms." I finally had to take aside a friend who had the same kind of wonky back I did and ask him to show me exactly what the hell "lift with your legs" meant.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:36 PM on August 13, 2018 [5 favorites]


I do find that making an effort not to sit in a C helps my back. I don't know if it's a proper hip hinge according to the original post. It does require effort, though. Because I like swords: Posture and Hip Hinging in Medieval Sword & Buckler fighting is an interesting article on how the postures in MS I.33 depict hip hinging.
posted by Mister Cheese at 1:36 PM on August 13, 2018 [1 favorite]


I would've liked the article to include a picture or diagram of the "correct" sitting posture in a context that makes sense for a modern office.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 1:46 PM on August 13, 2018 [26 favorites]


Thanks for this. I have a mystery pain in my left shoulder blade that keeps turning up. Maybe there’s a clue here.
posted by Countess Elena at 2:03 PM on August 13, 2018


ErisLordFreedom: Here you are.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 2:03 PM on August 13, 2018 [59 favorites]


I would've liked the article to include a picture or diagram of the "correct" sitting posture in a context that makes sense for a modern office.

same, i was hoping for one in the article, but that loom worker has now inspired me to ask my boss for a bench.

the closest i saw was in this older linked article about Lost Posture of the past which has a late 19th century lady sitting at a piano with good posture.

also, i feel like my expensive office chair with 5000 controls to be "ergonomic" is doing terrible things to my back because i routinely slouch down into it and fall asleep mid-day.
posted by numaner at 2:04 PM on August 13, 2018


I'd like to know how crossing your legs fits into all this.
posted by Emmy Rae at 2:04 PM on August 13, 2018 [1 favorite]


My chiropractor recommended one of these for me years ago. It's a D-shaped pad, you strap it to the back of your chair at just above waist level. Then the trick is you have to sit down and be sure to get your butt all the way back in the chair, then this pad pushes your lower back forward so you fall into the correct shape, pretty much as described in the article. It did help my lower back issues. The only thing I don't like about it is I get physically restless at a desk all day - I can't just keep sitting straight up like that, sometimes I need to slouch/relax, shift around.
posted by dnash at 2:07 PM on August 13, 2018


I'd like to know how crossing your legs fits into all this.

once you master the art of sticking your butt out while crossing your legs, you'll achieve zen
posted by numaner at 2:10 PM on August 13, 2018 [7 favorites]


This is so interesting. I tried sitting this way and it made my back hurt (ha!). I wonder if it's because my back is so used to sitting the other way that it would need to be stretched out to do the "correct" way.
posted by rogerrogerwhatsyourrvectorvicto at 2:10 PM on August 13, 2018 [1 favorite]


"Use your hips to bend!" says the spine specialist. "No, spare your hips, bend your spine!" cries the hip specialist.

Eventually everyone remains completely motionless and exercises only through direct electromuscular stimulation twelve hours a day, and no one is happy.
posted by phooky at 2:22 PM on August 13, 2018 [2 favorites]


The reason that lifting with your legs is a hard concept to understand is because it is stupid and meaningless. Things are lifted with the legs and the back. What they mean to say is "lift with your lumbar (and preferably thoracic) spine in rigid extension so the muscles that hold them in extension bear the load instead of the vertebrae."
posted by Barry David at 2:45 PM on August 13, 2018 [3 favorites]


I was hearing that advice for years before I understood kinetically what it meant - I kept on thinking, "but....I don't lift with either my legs or my back, I lift with my hands and arms." I finally had to take aside a friend who had the same kind of wonky back I did and ask him to show me exactly what the hell "lift with your legs" meant.

I still don't understand it. I follow the form shown online, but am I supposed to feel something in my legs when I lift?
posted by AFABulous at 2:47 PM on August 13, 2018 [1 favorite]


I still don't understand it. I follow the form shown online, but am I supposed to feel something in my legs when I lift?

As I posted above, there is no one or the other outside of special machines at the gym, but any time you extend your knee you are engaging your quadriceps and hamstrings. So if you straighten your legs while holding something, that is using your leg muscles to lift something.
posted by Barry David at 2:51 PM on August 13, 2018 [2 favorites]


I have been sitting the way the article recommends for the past hour and a half. It may be the placebo effect but it seems way more comfortable than both the way I usually sit and my previous attempts not to slouch. When I've tried not to slouch in the past, I think I've been trying to keep a straight spine rather than doing the whole J-curve thing, and that gets very fatiguing.

If I can manage a whole day not-slouching tomorrow I may be convinced.
posted by Frowner at 2:53 PM on August 13, 2018 [3 favorites]


Yeah, actually sitting on your butt instead of the back of your spine is really really good.

But...what about standing up posture? I know I'm doing something wrong with my pelvis, but god only knows what it is. I've had atrocious posture since about 3rd grade. And now I have almost constant pain parallel to my spine from scapula level up to my skull.

Also let me preemptively:
Metafilter: I know I'm doing something wrong with my pelvis, but god only knows what it is.
posted by Abehammerb Lincoln at 3:07 PM on August 13, 2018 [13 favorites]


I think a good way to better understand what "lift with your legs" means is to look at the proper weight lifting form for doing squats or dead lifts.

I've been lifting for a few years and the muscle memory I've picked up doing those lifts show up all the time doing regular daily tasks. I absolutely follow those same weight lifting forms anytime I lift any kind of heavy object. What's nice is that for a lot of lighter, basic stuff like standing up from a seated position, I don't really have to think about it, my body just does it a bit more ergonomically.
posted by VTX at 3:08 PM on August 13, 2018 [5 favorites]


Is this something I'd need to own a chair to understand?
posted by talking leaf at 3:23 PM on August 13, 2018 [22 favorites]


But...what about standing up posture? I know I'm doing something wrong with my pelvis

the answer is just like the other stuff: stick your butt out! the indigenous people in one of the articles shown standing with a j-shape for their spine. i guess we all need to stand like that.
posted by numaner at 3:24 PM on August 13, 2018 [2 favorites]


Is this something I'd need to own a chair to understand?

Standing on a chair is dangerous!
posted by Greg_Ace at 3:40 PM on August 13, 2018 [3 favorites]


Standing under one is a bit iffy too, for that matter.
posted by Greg_Ace at 3:49 PM on August 13, 2018


There's obviously an even better way to sit, since Will Riker discovered it in 2364, though I don't understand why he's the only one using this obviously superior technique.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 3:53 PM on August 13, 2018 [19 favorites]


MetaFilter: squeeze your buttocks, then sit down. Then unsqueeze.
posted by GenjiandProust at 4:30 PM on August 13, 2018 [5 favorites]


isn't this what Alexander technique is supposed to be about?
posted by Obscure Reference at 4:36 PM on August 13, 2018 [2 favorites]


legs vs back
posted by bunderful at 4:44 PM on August 13, 2018


One BIG thing that makes lifting with your legs easier (even standing up!) for me is to plant my feet just a bit wider than my normal "shoulder width" stance and point my toes out 30-45 degrees.

Even while sitting it helps me more to keep my lower back tight and curved rather than clenching my butt though they kind of go hand in hand.

I'm pretty sitting at a desk for my job and hobbies (PC gaming) all the time but I've noticed that my back aches more if I've had to skip my regular weight lifting routine for whatever reason*. It involves squats and dead lifts both of which I feel help me more naturally use better form doing daily tasks that involve lifting or even just standing and sitting straighter. I think those muscles are just a bit tighter and it helps my posture.

*The last four weeks have been because of kidney stones and then getting to bring my baby boy home but I got back to it today between feedings.
posted by VTX at 6:41 PM on August 13, 2018 [4 favorites]


I still don't understand it. I follow the form shown online, but am I supposed to feel something in my legs when I lift?

The way my friend explained it to me, which finally helped the penny drop for me, is - what they mean is, if you're trying to lift something heavy up off the floor, you don't bend over and down to it and grab it and straighten up. What you do is, you bend your legs and squat down to the thing, grab it, and then straighten your legs back up.

You may feel tension in both legs and back while you're doing this, but keeping your back straight and squatting down to the thing is better for your back; your back is used more as a support for the lift instead of the lever for the lift.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:30 PM on August 13, 2018 [6 favorites]


Countess Elena: I have a mystery pain in my left shoulder blade that keeps turning up. Maybe there’s a clue here.

Is it sometimes accompanied by pain or numbness in your hand? If so, it might be thoracic outlet syndrome.
posted by tavella at 7:41 PM on August 13, 2018 [4 favorites]


Can someone post any videos or diagrams of how to sit in a way that causes less stress on the back? The "tail wag" description is helpful, but I still don't know if I'm overdoing it, or doing it right.
posted by surenoproblem at 8:07 PM on August 13, 2018


This is the exact opposite of what I've read whilst doing weight-lifting research! My understanding was a lot of people stick their butt out when they sit up straight up on a chair for long periods of time, and this actually leads to anterior pelvic tilt where your butt sticks out too far and causes lower back pain. The solution is to strengthen your abdominal muscles, so that your pelvis is pulled back into a more neutral position. Weight lifting and having LESS of a "J" shape certainly did good things for my lower back pain.

Also wasn't there an article that said the best "sitting" posture was actually a reclining slouch? I know sitting on the sofa right now, the top of my back is straight but my butt is definitely curved under me rather than stuck out (because hello pain). This is super comfortable. What causes me pain is sitting in a chair, and that's because I hunch my shoulders forward and it distorts my whole posture.

Anyway, I am dubious.
posted by stillnocturnal at 3:14 AM on August 14, 2018


So I went to do some sitting to see how I sit - I do stick my butt out, and hinge at the hip to sit down (I also find the squat a very natural position, probably related). I can't even imagine sitting on a chair with my pelvis tucked underneath, it was difficult to even do. That does seem a terrible idea. I do find that I can position my pelvis "neutrally" out or consciously stick it out further (uncomfortable) which I imagine is failing in the opposite direction. It doesn't actually solve my bad posture because I still lean forward from there to use the computer, rather than sitting up straight.

I wonder if part of the issue is people slouching into the C position because they're trying not to lean so far forward due to shoulder pain - I know when my shoulders tense up I try to lean back into the chair to relieve it, which you can't really do with your butt sticking out, so the instinct is to curve into a C-slouch..
posted by stillnocturnal at 3:33 AM on August 14, 2018


My brother-in-law is a biomechanics PhD candidate. His oft repeated advice is:. The best posture is a variable one. He contends that maintaining even the most 'ergonomic' postures for extended durations could lead to chronic pain.

That said, I think there are valuable lessons here, just something to keep in mind.
posted by Evstar at 6:09 AM on August 14, 2018 [6 favorites]


This talk of tails makes me wonder (for real, no snark): do furries have notably good posture?
posted by obliviax at 6:23 AM on August 14, 2018 [1 favorite]


OK, so I don't want to detract from the main point of this piece (which seems sensible), but I'm going to have to be That Anthropologist Person and point out that this analytic move:
How did prehistoric humans sit? Let's ask some modern-day hunter-gatherers! [paraphrase]
is bad logic and also kinda gross, because:
  1. There's no guarantee that modern hunter-gatherers live in the same way as pre-historic ones.
  2. Treating modern hunter gatherers like relics of our "pre-civilization" past is itself a relic of colonial-era thinking and should be treated as such.
  3. Hunter-gatherers deserve to be included in modernity. They embody alternative forms of modernity, and we'll probably be grateful for those alternatives as industrialized modernity runs us off an ecological cliff.
OK, [/rant]. The piece itself is otherwise interesting and #thumbsup and all that.
posted by LMGM at 8:01 AM on August 14, 2018 [19 favorites]


And also, hunter-gatherers live(d) in widely varying circumstances and have long histories. Studying one tribe doesn't tell you about hunter-gatherers in general.

You can get a proof or disproof of concept by studying one tribe-- for example, if you think that hunter-gatherers spend most of the waking time moving, then finding one tribe that sits a lot means your preconception is wrong.

I recommend Ageless Spine, Lasting Health for a system of improving efficiency and mobility based on observing cultures where people don't have back problems as they get older.
posted by Nancy Lebovitz at 8:47 AM on August 14, 2018 [4 favorites]


I mentioned this elsewhere on the Blue recently, but I have been getting physical therapy for a torn rotator cuff. The tear itself is rather small, but the complication of decades of really shitty posture are making it much worse.

I have been doing the exercises that the therapists prescribe, but I also have been trying like crazy to sit and stand in the correct way. It's actually difficult, because I tend to slouch down when I am concentrating on driving or work, which accounts for like half my waking hours!

But I can definitely feel it in my shoulder when I've been slouching, because the pain flares up as the four muscles get pinched again.
posted by wenestvedt at 9:14 AM on August 14, 2018 [2 favorites]


There's no guarantee that modern hunter-gatherers live in the same way as pre-historic ones.

yeah I was unsure about that part of the article, but I figured a more qualified person could point out why it's iffy (and you did!). I also quickly forgot about that part once I spent the evening focused on sitting right (and still failing).
posted by numaner at 2:39 PM on August 14, 2018 [1 favorite]


I learned this great piece of advice about sitting correctly a while back: while standing, squeeze your buttocks, then sit down. Then unsqueeze.

It works miraculously, but I don't employ it at work.


I'm pretty sure you're not supposed to use your hands.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 3:13 PM on August 14, 2018 [8 favorites]


I liked this article. One thing that annoyed me: the "you don't need a special chair" caption. Not that I think you do need a special chair, but that many of our "comfortable" chairs actively work against the posture recommended in the article. Clearest example: bucket seats in cars. Because they generally position your knees slightly higher than your pelvis, it's nearly impossible to sit with your "tail" sticking out. Instead, they're conducive to the C shape. Many expensive office chairs have a similar shape; even if they have a pronounced lumbar support, they often put your knees slightly higher than your pelvis. My Alexander Technique teacher always emphasized having the knees slightly lower than the pelvis, which you can try out by scooting to the front edge of your chair (obviously not a solution; just a way to see how it feels on your pelvis and back). It helps to make the "tail out" posture feel more natural.
posted by mabelstreet at 6:17 PM on August 14, 2018 [1 favorite]


It's funny, I was mentally playing in my head how this position works and realized this is basically how I was taught to sit as a musician. It keeps you much more engaged and able to move more fluidly, which you really need while performing. However, I've noticed that when I don't have anything to keep me moving in my chair and constantly rebalancing, I end up falling into the slouch or a variety of other odd positions. So maybe if you're having trouble sitting like this, watch some videos of symphony orchestra musicians? Or listen to classical music and imagine you're the one playing it!
posted by Polyhymnia at 7:34 PM on August 14, 2018


I'm surprised no one on this thread has mentioned '8 Steps to a Pain Free Back' by Esther Gokhale. Her book has extensive instructions, images and research on how to hip hinge, how to walk, and how to sit all based on studies of the practices of cultures who have not lost their inheritance of postural alignment. It's a beautiful book if only for all the images of people in non-western cultures working in ways westernized people would find next to impossible, like standing in a field picking potatoes all day long, yet maintaining excellent posture while doing it.
I practice sitting upright every day with my sit bones extended behind me. It feels great, yet my habit is to curl up my spine. It seems like the design forms of chairs in the western world are inimical to spinal health. I'm thinking of my car's driver seat forcing me into a c shape and my dentist's office chair, same deal.
posted by diode at 8:43 PM on August 14, 2018 [1 favorite]


That time when I spent three days trying not to sit on my imaginary tail, because MetaFilter told me not to.
posted by slipthought at 6:16 AM on August 16, 2018 [3 favorites]


I've been trying and it's so damn hard.
posted by numaner at 5:01 PM on August 16, 2018 [1 favorite]


Had relatively minor but still real trouble with my back since my teens, and finding a good chair that I can sit in for more than an hour or so a day has been a decades-long nightmare.

Eventually got my brother to make a plaster cast of my back ( with plaster bandages, in the sitting upright position), and I used that template to shape some foam to match my back. After a bit of experimenting and fine tuning, plus a good seat cushion (foam with a liquid gel pad insert), and I now have by far the most comfortable chair I have ever had in my life. I can sit in it for several hours a day without any immediate or delayed pain.

FWIW, my experience suggests that the back is a combination of an S and J shape. I definitely need both the thoracic (S) and tail or sacral (J) curves. I have tried without (separately), and it doesn't work for me.

Might not be the answer for everybody, but I am willing to bet that a huge chunk of the problem with chairs (and mattresses and shoes, while we are at it), is simply that they are not customised to your individual bio-mechanics.

I suggest that it is also a serious market opportunity. All the tech to do it is fairly basic, and already exists, and the need is definitely there.
posted by Pouteria at 7:58 PM on August 16, 2018


> My Alexander Technique teacher always emphasized having the knees slightly lower than the pelvis, which you can try out by scooting to the front edge of your chair

Interesting -- I do that naturally when sitting at my dining room table (where my laptop is and I spend most of my computer time), and I've always been a bit concerned it was bad for me.
posted by The corpse in the library at 12:05 PM on August 17, 2018


When I push my pelvis down and back like the animation at the top of the NPR link, I find that it becomes more natural to spread my feet and knees a bit more (sort of like the man at the loom pictured in the same article).

So maybe this is better for my back but it makes me "manspread" more. Am I doing it wrong?
posted by secretseasons at 7:50 PM on August 18, 2018 [2 favorites]


we should blame bad backs on societal norms of anti-manspreading, or that subways aren't designed to be comfortable or ergonomic in anyway.
posted by numaner at 10:29 AM on August 19, 2018 [1 favorite]


I'm late to this but wanted to add that I've been taking a class and working with a teacher whose studied in these methods and it's a game changer for my terrible back. I'm not a perfect student but I know how to sit and walk in ways that align my spine. It feels SUPER WEIRD to do it and I think it'll take a long time until my muscles adjust but I sit for work a lot and try to stand more and when I do it "right" (based on this method) I have much less back pain at the end of the day. When I was doing PT for my spinal stenosis and associated numbness and pain they kept telling me to engage my core and it just never really made much sense until I did this. I'm obviously a major believer!

And yeah, when you sit like this it does sort of manspread a bit to start.
posted by marylynn at 12:16 PM on August 26, 2018 [1 favorite]


Oh hey, I was just reading about the S-shaped posture of the early 1900s corsets in a book about the history of women's underwear. I wonder whether corsets had any influence on today's ideas of posture?
posted by aniola at 12:21 PM on August 30, 2018 [2 favorites]


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