Original Study

The effect of standing vs. variants of the seated position on lumbar intersegmental angulation and spacing: a radiographic study of 20 asymptomatic subjects

Todd F. Alamin, Vijay Agarwal, Alicia Zagel, Albi Qeli


Background: Pain while sitting is the primary complaint of many patients with lumbar spinal ailments, including those with discogenic low back pain and lumbar disc herniations. There has been little basic research on the different mechanical stresses that different sitting positions place on the spine. To demonstrate the effect of different sitting positions on lumbar intersegmental relationships.
Methods: Twenty healthy male volunteer subjects were recruited. Lateral X-rays of the lower lumbar spine were taken in four positions: (I) relaxed lateral standing; (II) “standard” sitting position; (III) sitting on a “kneeling” chair; and (IV) unsupported sitting on a stool. Anterior and posterior disc height, disc space angulation, L1–S1 angulation and interspinous distance were measured.
Results: The L1–S1 lordotic angle in the standing position (48.8°±14.7°) was found to be statistically significantly greater than the angle measured with any of the sitting positions: the kneeling chair (34.0°±17.7°); hard-back chair (28.6°±14.3°); and the stool (16.6°±15.6°). Total average disc height (arithmetic sum of average disc heights L2–S1) in the lumbar spine varied with position: standing (40.5±7.75 mm); hard-back chair (38.5±6.9 mm); kneeling chair (38.4±7.9 mm); stool (36.9±7.1 mm). The mean interspinous distance over all the lumbar levels was significantly greater in each of the three seated positions than in the standing position: standing 6.8±4.5 mm; 11.6°±7.5° for the kneeling chair; 12.9±5.8 mm for the hard-back chair; 16.9±7.0 mm for the stool.
Conclusions: If segmental flexion and segmental loading are the important biomechanical correlates of pain on sitting, such patients should be most comfortable in a kneeling chair, which most closely approximates the standing position. These basic findings will allow better assessment of different seating positions from an ergonomic perspective, and hopefully lead to improvements in chair design.

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