How do I stop slouching at work?

“I know I slouch” is something we hear our patients tell us. It’s something that lots of us got told of for when we were young. But the fact is, most of us slouch and it’s difficult not to. It is pretty comfy after all. But, we do often get…

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Man Slouching at a terminal

“I know I slouch” is something we hear our patients tell us. It’s something that lots of us got told of for when we were young. But the fact is, most of us slouch and it’s difficult not to. It is pretty comfy after all.

But, we do often get asked how to stop slouching, so here are some tips if you want to make a change to your posture when you’re sat at your desk.

Why is it hard to stop slouching?

Part of the problem is that slouching is a position that most people adopt without thinking about it. They don’t plan to do it. It just happens when they’re focusing on something else. Unfortunately, that makes it really hard to stop because you can be slouching for a long time before you realise.

Secondly, human nature draws your forwards towards what you’re working on or who you’re talking to. You lean in, and so it tends to bring your head and upper back forwards. Unless you are very well trained in posture (think balancing books on your head or elite ballet), most of us will naturally slump forwards to do this as our bodies are not used to holding an upright position.

Thirdly, and probably most importantly, slouching is often quite comfortable. If it’s a position you adopt naturally, it will likely be a position that doesn’t put a lot of strain on many structures, at least not to start with, and so it feels comfy. The problems only come when you stay in that position for too long.

Do you need to stop slouching?

Well, to be honest, yes and no. Slouching is often thought to be a “bad” posture. Whereas sitting up straight is often thought to be a “good posture”. Research now shows that really there aren’t any good or bad postures. It’s a lack of movement, or spending too much time in any particular position that causes problems. So, slouching for short periods actually doesn’t really matter.

It’s the unconscious slouching that is something that is best avoided. I don’t mean slouching when you’re unconscious here. What I mean is, not being aware of it. If you’re not aware you’re in a position, and only move when something hurts, that’s a problem. Often that’s true of a position you’ve naturally adopted, and often that is slouching.

So, slouching isn’t inherently bad for you. But, staying slouched for hours on end is likely to cause pain.

There are other factors of course. A more upright posture is thought to show confidence. There is evidence to suggest you’ll be more energised too if you open yourself up and stand or sit taller. Beyond that, a lot of people just wish they could sit up straighter and not slouch as they are self conscious about it.

So how do we go about stopping sitting in a position that our bodies naturally adopt and find comfortable?

How to stop slouching

  • Chair set up: Most people set their work chair up so their hips and knees are at 90 degrees and sit too far from their desk. This encourages you to slouch forwards as your body wants to lean on something. If it’s going to be there a while, it wants to have some support. So, here’s what to change:
    • Have you chair tilted slightly backwards. Ideally tilt the whole seat pan backwards if your chair does that, but definitely have the back rest tilted backwards. You should feel instantly that more of the backrest is in contact with your back. And that’s the point. When your backrest is too upright, you can’t actually lean through it or use it to rest on. That makes your body lean forwards to lean on the desk usually. So, tilt the chair backwards a little. Then…
    • Move closer to the desk, ideally so your stomach is just against the front of the desk. If you’ve tilted your chair backwards, and moved the whole chair forwards, you should be in a comfortable position, without needing to slump forwards onto the desk. Without thinking, your body should now adopt a new position as gravity almost pushes you back into the chair.
  • Find something you do a lot of times in a day. That might be writing an email, or answering a phone call. Now, every time you finish that activity, you do a slouch check. Ie, are you in a position you want to be in? No, alter it. Yes, do a little fist pump, or allow yourself a little “YES” and carry on with your day. If you plan to just sit up better, you will last a few minutes at most. When you’re starting the process of trying to alter your posture, you have to have something that will remind you to check in regularly.

That’s actually it. So many people struggle to stop slouching, but the two key factors are setting your environment up for success and finding something that will remind you to check in regularly on that. Very slowly, you’ll start to spend more time in a non-slouched position at your desk. You’ll still slouch plenty of the time, but slowly, slowly you’ll reduce the time.

There are some strengthening and mobility exercises that can help strengthen you into a more upright position, but if you don’t get your set up right, and get into the habit of checking in regularly, these will not help. We will talk about these in another article soon though.

So, that all makes it sound easy to stop slouching. It isn’t. It’s simple, but not easy. You have to make sure your set up really encourages a more upright position, and then you have to create a habit of checking in on your position. That is not easy to do consistently over a long period of time, but the combination of those two things will help you stop slouching.

Movement is key

There is a saying in Physio circles that your best posture is your next posture. That’s basically saying, it doesn’t matter if you slouch for a little while as long as you move regularly into another position. Sustained postures are actually the ones that should be avoided. There really aren’t good and bad ones, just ones you’re in for too long.

So, set your workplace up in a way that encourages support through the chair, and that reduces strain on the muscles in your neck, back and shoulder. And make checking in on how you’re sitting a habit attached to something you do a lot. Then when you do check in, you’ll likely realise you need to move a bit. Do that, find a new position, and sit in that one until your next check in.

Generally, we would advise not worrying about slouching so much as not moving. That’s what’s going to cause you problems.

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