Sitting at Your Computer

Published by Liz Koch on April 10, 1999 in Articles

Sitting at your computer for any period of time can be a very exhausting even painful experience. Fixating on a computer screen fatigues by overriding natural reflexes that coordinate and align posture. Besides the logical need to vary movement there are also ways to enhance your sitting time and minimize muscular tension.

Discovering your psoas muscle (pronounced so-as) and understanding its functions will help you make better decisions as to how to position yourself, the height and type of chair to use and the height of your desk, keyboard and monitor.

The psoas muscle is the core muscle of your body. Located closest to the gravitational forces, the psoas attaches to the 12th thoracic vertebrae (approximately at the level of your solar plexus) and to each of the lumbar vertebrae. The muscle moves through the pelvis and inserts into the inner thighbone called the lesser trocantor of the femur. The psoas muscle is a guy wire for the spine. It is also a hydraulic pumping system stimulating all circulatory systems, a psoatic shelf supporting organs and viscera and it is part of the fear reflex system preparing one to flee or fight. Sitting for long periods of time with a constricted psoas muscle depletes vital energy, curtails blood circulation, affects organ functioning and signals flee/fight reflex thus draining the adrenals and immune system. It’s health and suppleness affects every level of well being.


Typical Work Station (Incorrect)

To be stable and balanced while sitting in a chair the pelvis must be firmly placed and the psoas free to function properly. Bones give form and structure to your body. Balanced and in relationship one to another they support weight. Muscles move the bones. To sit effortlessly involves little muscular effort when your bones are optimally positioned. If the bones are not stable then muscular tension is substitute to create balance and the psoas muscle will be engaged inappropriately to stabilize the skeletal structure. Freeing your psoas muscle while sitting helps not only structural tension but also helps to maintain fullness of breath, good visceral and organ functioning and alert but relaxed awareness. Keeping your psoas released centers you deep within your core.


Stable Work Station (Correct)

Here are several tips to help you free your psoas:

Sit on a Flat Chair

Most chairs are not designed for sitting rather they are designed for appearance and for stacking. Ergonomically designed chairs are often just band-aid efforts to release tension that is already created from poor positioning. Many of the ergonomically designed chairs do not solve the problem where it originates.

When selecting a chair, notice the seat. Avoid bucket seats that form a hollow, as this does not offer your pelvis a firm solid placement. The pelvis is the keystone and the foundation for the rest of the skeletal system i.e. ribs cage, spine, head plus legs and feet. A stable pelvis supports the bones and frees the psoas muscles from unnecessary tension. The ischial tuberosities commonly known as your sits bones located at the base of your pelvis helps position the pelvis and torso. A chair needs to have a solid base of support for the tuberosites to balance and rest upon. Choose a chair with a firm flat seat. If your chair has a hollow or bucket type of seat modify the chair using a firm solid pillow or folded blanket placed in the hollow.

Sit with Your Weight in Front of Sits Bones

Many people sit behind the pelvic sits bones (ischial tuberosites) curling the pelvis under thus rounding the lower back and causing the neck and head to forward thrust. If you do not sense your sits bones than find them with your fingers. Lift up your buttocks and pull your glut (butt) muscles away behind you, then sit down slightly in front of the round bones (you can feel that are under your buttocks).

Sitting with your weight in front of the ischial tuberosites helps to give your pelvis stability thus supporting the arm, wrists and fingers perform motion necessary for typing. Isolated contracted arm movements make typing effortful. Gaining support through your pelvic core lets the support extend up through your core and out through your fingertips.

Sit with Your Hip Sockets Higher Than Your Knees

Your hip sockets need be higher than your knees for your psoas muscle and hip sockets to stay released rather than compressed. A stable pelvis frees the psoas muscle and keeps the hip sockets released. Compressed hip sockets cut off blood circulation to the legs and feet and can cause or aggravate sciatic nerve pain and muscular cramping. Choose a chair height that lets your hip sockets (located on each side of your pubis bone) to be slightly higher than your knee. A slanted hard foam cushion may help open the hip socket. A stool can also be used. The height of the stool or chair must let your pelvis be stable and supported with spine and head balanced on top.

Keep Your Feet on the Floor

Although changing leg positions can be very helpful in reducing the fatigue that comes with stillness its helpful to have your feet placed firmly on the ground. Doing so provides an energetic grounding as well as aiding structural stability. The nerves of the feet help stabilize and co-ordinate posture. Energetically the psoas muscle is the grounding wire of the human electrical system. This energy is translated from the psoas through the legs and needs to be received into the ground. Staying grounded  helps reduce fatigue.

People often ask about the benefits of kneeling stools for sitting at desks. Kneeling stools do not allow the feet to be grounded (as the feet are not touching the floor). It is through the nerves in the bottom of the foot that we receive somatic and energetic information and support. Kneeling chairs increase stress in the knees, where tension may already be manifesting.

Keep Your Jaw Loose

The jaw and pelvis relate to each other. When one is tight or locked in tension the other will also express tension. Sensing the pelvic floor will release tension in the jaw and vice versa.

Once you have a good chair begin to modify the height of the table so that you do not lean over or reach up to type. Be sure your workstation allows your arms to hang loosely from the shoulder girdle when typing on the keyboard. In other words you do not want to use unnecessary tension to lift the arms or lean over to type. The wrist and fingers are in a neutral position.

Next, position the monitor to be high enough that your eyes look directly at the screen while working. Be sure the monitor is high enough so your eyes look directly ahead rather than down. Lifting the monitor to a height that supports the head/neck righting reflexes is essential for maintaining stability. The proper height encourages your body to follow your eyes and head looking straight ahead when typing rather than collapsing downwards.

While typing shift your weight forward and back (a small rocking motion) through the hip sockets (rather than bending at the waist or collapsing the head and shoulders). Letting the whole torso move together reduces shoulder, neck and back fatigue. Keep your typing material in front of you. Doing so helps you avoid locking your head down while typing.

A constricted upper psoas instead of freeing the rib cage and elongating the spine collapses the chest and hyper-extends the lumbar spine. Using a back pillow for the small of the back or the neck to relieve back pain (a result of a hyper-extended spine) is only another band aid approach to a much deeper problem, a constricted psoas. Learning to release your psoas through the constructive rest position (see The Psoas Book by Liz Koch for more detailed information) and other sensory awareness exercises will bring more long-term results.

Lee Magaha
Posted on January 30th, 2007 | Permalink

My wrists and my jaw have been hurting lately . will try the proper 90 degree positon in my chair. What is the proper posititon of my hand on the mouse to prevent carpal tunnel?

Liz Koch
Posted on February 11th, 2007 | Permalink

Core Awareness begins with the sits bones. The jaw and pelvis communicate with each other. Positioning of the pelvis influences the jaw/head/eyes. When I sit on and slightly in front of the sits bones, movement is initiated from a supple dynamic core and moves out through the fingers (Compared with a static core that fixates the eyes and isolates wrists and hands).

ashley
Posted on September 13th, 2007 | Permalink

how should a person using a pedal operated dictation device sit and how should the seat be positioned?

Lorie Neighbors
Posted on January 1st, 2008 | Permalink

Please tell me about armrests for office chair. One site said they should not be used while typing, just resting. What do you say?

Also, most of the “ergonomic” sites I’m looking at say to sit in your chair at a 110 degree angle, which is slightly back. You are saying to lean slightly forward,if I’m understanding correctly.
Thanks.

Corinna
Posted on January 4th, 2009 | Permalink

Dear Ms. Koch,

I have a psoas mystery.

A week prior to a gallbladder attack I had come down with a severe irritation and pain in what we learned was my left psoas muscle — the muscle was causing abdominal, major back and hip discomfort. I thought I had thrown my back moving around some computers.

Two weeks ago, I had surgery to remove a very inflamed and diseased gallbladder and then my liver inflamed and 2 days after my first surgery I had an emergency ERCP to fix a blocked common bile duct — the latter seems to have caused a mild chronic pancreatitis.

I was amazed at how I was able to move (thrash about actually) during my gallbladder attack, the psoas went quiet and it just magically stayed that way for these past two weeks — however it is back with a vengeance now. My left psoas is very irritated again (the entire muscle is making itself known and it is unhappy) and I am quite uncomfortable. Could this be all tied together? I do not know what to do, nothing gives it relief and it keeps me awake or awakens me from my sleep.

I hope it is okay to ask this, I have your book on order but hope to learn something specific to what I am experiencing.

Thank you.

Nancy Minden
Posted on January 29th, 2010 | Permalink

This is one of the best sites I have found.
Please advise regarding sitting on a stability ball at my desk. thank you

Liz Koch
Posted on February 14th, 2010 | Permalink

Stability balls offer continuous movement, lymphatic stimulation, and dynamic eye response all important for a healthy core. However if you sit on a stability ball for too long a period of time you will begin to look like a ball. What I mean by that is your organism is responsive to gravity and the ball disperses gravity through all the tissue rather than down the midline (spine).

To be informed while sitting at your desk I recommend the Swopper stool. It is the only desk stool I have found that fulfills all the requirements of an excellent psoas savvy desk chair. Because it is a stool, it demands that I sit upright and slightly forward (falling towards my desk at my hip sockets – rather than away), which keeps the psoas neutral. The shape of the seat encourages and reminds me to sit on top and slightly forward on my tuberosites (sits bones). The main pole of the stool allows gravity to go through my spine into the pole and then most important send ground force reaction back up my spine. This keeps me connected to gravity, and being informed by gravity, my bones now receive information essential for health and vitality, which allows the muscles to be free to move. The spiral around the pole frees the stool to move in all directions: up and down ( offering lymphatic stimulation), side to side, front and back and rotational movement simulating the movement of health joints similar to what a stability ball can offer.

Liz Koch
Posted on March 28th, 2010 | Permalink

Absolutely it is all tied together – you are one expression! Your psoas is the messenger of the midline – your central nervous system. When tissue is irritated or there is trauma (surgery is a form of trauma to the organism, then your psoas will speak loud and clear. You may get relief with CRP but I would also spend time in fetal. You can find more information under my ARTICLES page about traum and the psoas. Also the article titled The Fluid Core may help you to understand how best to use fetal. Scare tissue and torn fascia can also be a problem after surgery – if you choose to work with someone please ask them to stay out of the psoas and work gently so that your fear response is not triggered thus irritating the situation further. Best wishes!

Yoav Taler
Posted on April 11th, 2010 | Permalink

Web-age, Part 3: Tips for Screen Dwellers >>>
http://yoavtaler.com/?p=503

nice to meet you all…

Jeff Rudd
Posted on April 18th, 2010 | Permalink

In looking that the stable workstation picture in this article, I notice the person’s back is NOT touching the back of the chair. Is this correct? That seems the only way I can sit with my weight in front of my sits bones.

Liz Koch
Posted on April 22nd, 2010 | Permalink

You are correct! Once you lean back and the weight shifts from the front of the sits bones to behind the bones to the muscle mass of the buttocks, there is a natural collapse in the spine. It is possible to have spinal weight passing through a balanced pelvis and use a head rest that supports the freedom and balance in the spine.

Steve Amery
Posted on May 3rd, 2010 | Permalink

This is brilliant stuff!!
I was so ignorant of all this wonderful information, it is changing my life – already has, in such an important way.
Most people have no idea/have never heard of this muscle, which is so crucial to our well-being.
I hope to learn everything there is to know about this part of my body which affects how I feel, eat, sleep and excersize.
Thankyou for your pioneering work.
Steve Amery.

Lynne
Posted on June 29th, 2010 | Permalink

I am short (5′1″) and often find that when I sit, the end of the chair cuts off my circulation in my legs because my legs are too short to reach the floor. This just aggravates pooling of blood in my legs, so I thought that lifting my legs up to the height of my hips would help. However, now I am wondering if this is cutting off circulation and aggravating my psoas muscle? Any thoughts?

Liz Koch
Posted on September 4th, 2010 | Permalink

I recommend sitting with hips higher than knees and placing a block of wood under your feet to accommodate the length of your legs. When out, sit at the edge of the chair for the best foot, hip connection….and always on your sits bones!

Sonjia Starnes
Posted on September 18th, 2010 | Permalink

I’m 70 yrs old, and very active doing yard work. I do a lot of bending over while I’m working. I never heard of the psoas muscle till Spring of 2010. I was having terrible pain in lower back and in the groin area. I went to a spine surgeon and diagnosed me with psoas syndrom. I was sent for physical therapy. This summer, when I’m working, I don’t notice the pain. It’s when I stop, like now because it’s dry, here comes the psoas back again. I’m hurting bad in lower back and in groin area again. I can hardly stand to sit here at this computer. I have now adjusted a chair as you described in this article and it does feel more comfortable sitting here. Are there things that I should not be doing in the yard, like stooping bending over, when I’m working outside? Is there a correct way for me to do it? Can I learn to control this problem without going to physical therapy? Sonjia

P-H
Posted on October 1st, 2010 | Permalink

Hi Liz,

I’m facing chronic back pain since about 2-3 years now.
Back pain is caused by really tight psoas. I have tried many things but
never really spent time on my sitting position.

This article is just amazing. I just tried in the train sitting in front of my sitting bone with kness below
my hip socket..and WOW what a relief. I never realized my sitting position was contracting my psoas that much.
I usually sit leaning backward and with my knees higher than my hip socket. Everytimt i standup, my psoas feels really tight
and my thoracic joints make all these “crack” sounds; which make since given PSOAS thoracic & lumbar attachements.

I will now implement this protocol at work as well and let you know of my progress…

Thanks again…
Looking forward to purchase some of your books.
P-H

Liz Koch
Posted on October 31st, 2010 | Permalink

It is not what you do but how you do it. I have an article called “Your Back In Gardening” it is listed under the books and CDs (located on the top of my home page) for sale that addresses gardening and working outside. I am an avid gardener. Under my ARTICLES section (on the right side of the home page), I have a free article to read titled ” A Fluid Core: Redefining Core Strength”, it offers ideas for hydrating the core. Yes you can learn to have a supple, dynamic Psoas at any age!

Anna
Posted on February 15th, 2011 | Permalink

Dear Liz!
I found your psoas book awesome! The whole website is very nice with important information!
I have been doing kegel exercises for years, just because to have great sex and to keep my pelvic floor muscles fit. (at least I thought at that time) However my jaw got very tense, I did not know why until I have read this. I kept my jaw so tight, pressing my teeth together without noticing it for a while. Now I am not doing kegels and my jaw gets lighter and more relaxed. My pelvis was so tense because of kegels!
I release my psoas every day now. Great!!!
I just wanted to share this.
Anna (from Hungary)

Karen
Posted on January 26th, 2012 | Permalink

Dear Liz,
Thank you so much for this informative article.
I have found that when I sit at my computer for any length of time my butt and the backs of my thighs feel sore. I think it also translates into a general unwell feeling – could it be that I am cutting off my circulation so it is contributing to a systemic effect – like I feel slightly nauseous. When I get up and go for a walk or do something more active I feel so much better.
I will try your postural advice, and also are there general exercises I can do to strengthen this muscle.
Thanks!

srcritical
Posted on January 26th, 2012 | Permalink

Good article except there is no such thing as electromagnetism grounding through the psoas muscle. Mechanical energy definitely, electromagnetic energy coming from the computer through the body back to the ground; hardly.

Your understanding of biomechanics is good but your electromagnetism is very poor. I suggest you discuss electromagnetism with a uni lecturer or a professional electrical engineer then rethink your article.

Liz Koch
Posted on February 16th, 2012 | Permalink

Thanks for catching that so wrong statement – gosh i have no idea my point! Hummm….

mrT
Posted on February 26th, 2012 | Permalink

I spent $900 on an ergonomic chair in 1999 and hate it. The seat slides forward a couple inches when you sit and it doesn’t tilt. I just can’t sit all day with my feet flat on the floor and my back straight. Can anyone?

Anyhow, I would prefer a chair that tilts back to take some of the pressure off of my rear end, regardless of the optimal posture…

Kyle Johnson
Posted on June 1st, 2012 | Permalink

Liz, I am having a lot of trouble finding the sits bones, and exactly how much in front of them to shift my weight. Could you give a more detailed description of this exact process?

Marilyn
Posted on July 24th, 2012 | Permalink

Hi Liz!
Due to prolonged sitting at work and two hour round trip drive time I am having a lot of pain in my left sit bone. Will the adjustments noted aggravate this issue or possibly help?
Thanks!
Marilyn

Liz Koch
Posted on September 21st, 2012 | Permalink

Whenever we sit – weight needs to be on top of the sits bones equally and the knee slightly lower than the hip socket, which keeps circulation flowing.

Liz Koch
Posted on September 21st, 2012 | Permalink

You are so right! There are ergonomic equipment that is designed poorly – and yes it can be expensive. The key is not to sit all day! The bottom (rear included) line is that if you sit behind your sits bones there is a price to pay – if we are not on our bones they do not receive a message from gravity that builds healthy bones.

Liz Koch
Posted on September 21st, 2012 | Permalink

Thanks for the great question! Yes I can. to begin sit on a hard wood flat bottomed chair, with your feet firmly on the floor. Lean forward and place your hands under your butt. Move the muscle up and out of the way and feel with your fingers for a boney protuberance. Those are the sits bones. Now put your middle finger on each protuberance and sit down. You will now sense the bones and the chair with your hands between. Shift your weight back, middle and slightly forward. The sits bones is a fulcrum and you can place weight on the front, middle or front of the fulcrum. When you place it slightly forward the upper body weight tends to rock slightly forward which releases the psoas.

Liz Koch
Posted on October 11th, 2012 | Permalink

Constructive rest position for regaining a relaxed state provides a way to resolve aggravation.

Tracy Seidl
Posted on January 31st, 2013 | Permalink

I was going to purchase a wedge seat cushion like you suggested but doesn’t that contradict the proper chair surface which should be flat or is the wedge cushion needed only to fill a bucket chair? Thanks!

Liz Koch
Posted on February 6th, 2013 | Permalink

A small wedge offers a flat support so you can sense both tuberosities and offers a slight flexion helping take weight off sacrum while also opening the hip sockets.

Jen Metz
Posted on March 11th, 2013 | Permalink

Hi Liz,
I have started sitting forward of my sit bones at the edge of my chair. This has done wonders for my lower back and hips, but it hurts my butt area and front of the sit bones, making it difficult to sit that way for very long. I get up very so often to walk around which helps, but I am wondering if I am not doing it correctly – perhaps sitting too forward? Any recommendations?
Thanks,
Jen

Liz Koch
Posted on March 24th, 2013 | Permalink

You are so right – sitting on top and in front of bones can actually feel sore for a while but it does change as muscle tissue realigns. Getting up helps and padding the chair helps as well.

Jeff Schafer
Posted on April 15th, 2013 | Permalink

Good Morning,

Thanks for such a great and informative site. I have been struggling with lower back pain that started in December (snow) and has manifested over the last few months. At this point It is sporadic. My back always hurts a bit and sometimes it feels pinched at the belt line. I also feel tightness right at my belt line in the front where the crease of your body forms. Whenever my back/hips/psoas hurt the most my stomach seems to be upset as well and vice versa. The pain seems to travel too. Sometimes belt line. Sometimes further up like I have a side stitch from running. I know they are all interrelated but I haven’t found anyone who can provide relief. Physical therapists just focus on the back and my chiropractor gives me supplements for bad stomach to go along with the adjustments. It seems like the psoas may be causing this. Thoughts? Should I be focused on stretching the psoas, strengthening the psoas or both? IT is really starting to frustrate me that I can’t find relief. Thanks!

Roy
Posted on January 24th, 2014 | Permalink

I notice that anchors on the news and actors in tv shows and movies often sit the way you suggest. While sitting that way feels good for your body and looks very correct, can anyone who spends a lot of time at the computer actually maintain that posture for any considerable period of time? I know your body can adjust and strengthen over time, but I have a hard time believing anyone can sit like that for anything over a half hour (even a half hour sounds like a stretch).



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