This page is one of a series on understanding and improving your posture. Here, we look at tips to help you improve the way you sit, stand and lie, in order to prevent and reduce pain and strain.
Think 'posture' every time you stand up or sit down.
Initially when you try and sit or stand with a better posture it will feel weird as you aren't used to it. You will probably find it difficult to hold a good posture for very long as the postural muscles have become weakened and get tired quickly. This is normal but with practice - little and often - it will become easier until it becomes more automatic.
What is your posture like?
The first step in improving your posture is awareness that it needs improving. Achieving good posture takes time and practice. If you can work these checks into your daily routine, it is much easier and eventually will become automatic.
Look at yourself in a mirror or watch yourself in a shop window as you go past. Imagine a line drawn through the centre of your body.
• Does your body look the same on each side of the line or are you leaning towards your weaker side?
• Is one shoulder higher than the other? If so you may have a curve in your spine
• Are both bony points of your hips at the same level and pointing forward? You can check this by standing against the kitchen sink or a work surface.
• Keep your head level, the eyes fixed on a window frame or picture and the chin tucked in.
• When sitting, adjust your position to suit you. Your bottom needs to be well back in the seat allowing the knees to bend at a right angle. Your feet should rest flat on the ground or on a footrest (a pile of books can act as an adjustable footrest). If sitting in a wheelchair, make sure your feet are in the right place on the footplates and that the footplates are adjusted correctly.
• When you are sitting, choose a seat that will support your natural curves, helping keep your back in a neutral position so it is under the least amount of stress.
Sitting at a desk
Make sure your desk is set up to help you maintain good posture and remain comfortable.
- Adjust your chair so that your lower back is properly supported.
- If there is a gap between your lower back and the chair, place a small rolled up towel or small cushion in the small of your back to support this area.
- Your knees should be level with your hips and your feet should be flat on the floor or on a footrest.
- If you use a keyboard, your wrists and forearms should be straight and level with the floor.
- The top of the computer screen should be roughly at eye level.
- Keep the mouse close so you don't need to stretch to use it.
- Keep frequently used objects, such as the telephone, within easy reach.
- Have frequent breaks from your desk.
If you are struggling with poor seating at work which is causing fatigue or pain, firstly speak to your line manager about having a work station assessment or contact your occupational health department.
It may also be possible to be assessed by a scheme called Access To Work. They can work with employers to help make adaptations to work places to help keep people in work.
Sitting on the sofa or easy chair
- Often sofas are too deep and/or too low, encouraging a slouched posture. Try raising the seat height with another cushion or high-density foam under the sofa cushion, or put blocks under the base so that your knees are the same height as your hips when you are sitting.
- The depth of a seat can be reduced by putting a large cushion or pillow behind your back.
- If the seat is too high, a cushion under your feet can bring your knees up so there is not pressure on the backs of your knees.
- If the arm rests are too low or there aren't any, this can also encourage you to slump. Try pillows or cushions under your arms. This is also good if you have any pain in your neck or arm as it takes the weight of the arm off the neck.
- When reading, try propping the book up on a cushion so the book is more upright. This helps you keep your head up more rather than bending your neck looking down. There are also book stands available to buy which can do the same job.
- If you are putting your feet up on a stool or on the sofa, be careful with your posture.
- To help keep your 'spine in line' and maintain its natural curves, put a small cushion in your low back to help maintain your lumbar curve (curve in your low back).
- Cushions under the knees help support them in a slightly flexed position and take the strain of tight leg muscles off the back.
- Don't sit for too long sitting with your feet up as it is a naturally flexed position which will put a strain on your back and neck. Make sure you change your position regularly.
When watching television, when the adverts come on, sit up away from the back rest and try practising sitting in a good posture. With regular practice you will find that you can hold this posture until the next ad break.
Sitting in the car
- Check the position of your seat before starting to travel.
- Adjust the seat base far enough forward to be able to depress the pedals comfortably.
- Move the seat further forward if your legs tend to 'pivot' on the seat edge, lifting your bottom out of the seat when you use the pedals.
- If the seat has tilt adjustment, give yourself maximum support under the thighs without affecting pedal operation.
- Make sure the back rest is adjusted so your whole back is supported by the seat.
- Your arms should be slightly bent in the '10 to 2' position
- Your head should be in contact with the head rest when you are driving. (The thickest part of the head restraint should be level with centre of the back of your skull)
- If you are hunching over the wheel, consider whether you need to adjust the height of the steering wheel.
- When you are in the best position you can get, alter the mirrors so that if you slouch it will prompt you to sit correctly again.
- Break your journey to rest and stretch on longer journeys.
- Try and stand with equal weight on both legs rather than on one leg or in a stooped position.
- If you find it hard to stand for any length of time and you notice that you are starting to slouch or sag, consider whether you could pace your activities (alternate a standing activity with a sitting activity) or use a stool to perch on to do the task, eg preparing vegetables at the sink or cooking.
- Read guidance on achieving a good standing posture
Perching stools are often available from social services. If you feel you may need one, discuss with your nurse or therapist.
Understanding and improving your posture PDF
Download this PDF, taken from a set of web pages that provide a self-help guide to improving posture.
Posture and balance
Mr Motivator demonstrates gentle toning exercises designed for people with MS