For computer workers with low back pain, a perching posture at the desk might be ideal.
The insight comes from groundbreaking new research out of the University of Waterloo’s Department of Kinesiology. The research studied how sitting, standing, and perching each create different spinal loads. The crucial insight? A perching posture puts the least load on the spine and may be a beneficial posture for those who suffer with low back pain.
“Perching is defined by a range of trunk-thigh angles, where the lumbopelvic angle is significantly different from sitting or standing."-Noguchi, Glinka, Mayberry, Noguchi, Callaghan, 2019
Muscle activations and ground reaction forces measured for a perching postures to identify the ideal posture for deskbound workers with low back pain.
The team of researchers worked with a custom jig (shown above) to support the different postures in review. They adjusted the jig and measured the muscle activations and ground reaction forces created to identify the ideal posture for sedentary or deskbound work.
“Posture is considered one of the risk factors for lower back pain and perching above certain degrees can improve that.”-Mamiko Noguchi, Graduate Student, PhD, Kinesiology, Biomechanics Researcher
Data from the 2019 study, Are hybrid sit–stand postures a good compromise between sitting and standing? Tension and stress levels measured in the back muscles were observed as lowest during the ‘perching’ phase.
A perching posture facilitates neutral spine
An illustration of the spine in its neutral position
The team observed a perching posture puts the spine in neutral position, reducing unsupported extraneous loading in weaker spots along the spinal column; a natural alignment which may reduce low back pain. In simpler terms, for those with low back pain, ‘perching’ may be the best way to ‘sit.’ We put ‘sit’ in quotes, because a perch is, of course, a hybrid of sitting and standing.
Without a versatile, ergonomic stool, perching increases the load on the lower limbs
The potential drawback of a perching posture is clear: working partly upright increases the load on the lower limbs. That is, if the user does not have the support of a versatile stool and cushion of a quality anti-fatigue mat.
What the research team recommends per this drawback is to consider a sit-stand stool that supports the user and gives them fine grain control over the distribution of weight between the legs and core while working. To borrow directly from the study,
“This study has shown that posture supported, moderate dynamic seating or movement during office work may assist in reducing spinal loads and discomfort from standing. This suggests that dynamic seating designs should incorporate mechanisms that have supported mobility to allow for movement to happen before the postural control system activates movement due to discomfort. However, further research is necessary to understand how much motion is enough motion to induce positive effects for the worker.”-Noguchi, Glinka, Mayberry, Noguchi, Callaghan, 2019
The best posture is the still the next posture
This insight is consistent with findings from a similar study published in Applied Ergonomics in 2016. The team of two leading the study observed the effects of sitting, standing, and perching postures. They found that standing with no support puts the most stress on the back while perching puts the least. Each posture however possesses trade-offs between spinal load, number of postural transitions, task performance, and overall discomfort.
The takeaway is the desk setup, to be truly ergonomic, needs to be dynamic. It should support users continuously through every position, from sit to perch to stand. The ideal ergonomic desk setup is complete with a height-adjustable sit-stand desk, multi-function chair, quality standing mat, and footstool that support the user as they move naturally throughout the day. Tools like these afford the broadest possible range of postural variation — or movement.
This vision for a truly ergonomic workstation resonates with our trusted adage: the next posture is the best posture. The pursuit of greater desk or office ergonomics is then a simple one: figure out how to support and encourage the next posture by the design of the workstation desk.
To borrow directly from the 2019 study again,
“There is no ‘ideal’ seat position that includes all of the benefits from sitting, perching, and standing; however, future chair designs should be focused on trunk–thigh angles between 115 and 170!, while keeping these two key points in mind: (1) the seat interface should focus on pelvis alignment to improve lumbar angles and to offload some of the lower limb demands, and (2) the design of the foot support (if at all) should focus on redirecting force from shear to compression with respect to the lower limb joints while reducing user and workstation encumbrance”-Noguchi, Glinka, Mayberry, Noguchi, Callaghan, 2019
Rethinking the chair as a tool to support and encourage each ‘next posture’
Synthesizing these findings on desk posture, we can reimagine the office computer chair as a tool helpful in supporting and encouraging each ‘next’ posture — and a key player in reducing low back pain at the desk.
“Sit-stand stools allow users to work near their standing height while offloading some body weight onto the stool to relieve lower limb demands.”-Noguchi, Glinka, Mayberry, Noguchi, Callaghan, 2019
Our team’s LeanRite™ Elite is an excellent example of the kind of ergonomic, versatile office chair (or standing desk chair) that is capable at this task. It supports comfortable movement through healthy postures and is complete with a built-in anti-fatigue mat that helps offload that stress of working upright. Additionally, users can lean on the seat pan (shown above), distributing their weight as ideal for their body’s height and weight. This functionality makes a chair like the LeanRite™ ideal for those with lower back pain.
Learn more about our LeanRite™ Elite standing desk chair: www.ergoimpact.com/blog/what-is-a-standing-desk-chair
Click to watch Dr. Sevim’s full review of the LeanRite™ Elite standing desk chair
Investing in ergonomic equipment → points toward Fitwel and WELL Certification
If Fitwel certification or WELL Certification have been goals for your organization, adopting these kinds of ergonomic office equipment will help you reach them, point by point. See below a section from the International Well Building Institute’s guide toward certification — laying out the requisite of height-adjustable desks, height-adjustable chairs, footrests, and anti-fatigue mats.
The IWB heralds these ergonomic tools in the workplace for, ultimately, giving employees the freedom to move through postures as natural and comfortable — supported as they do so.
Desk height flexibility requirements to receive IWB’s WELL Certification