Neutral Seated Position: Change Car Rides Forever!

Maintaining a neutral seated position for the whole time we are sitting is an easier-said-than-done experience. We may start off with great alignment and plenty of mindfulness. However, as time passes, we start to think about other things, lose focus, and lose our good posture.

In our waking hours, if we are not standing, we are probably seated. We sit to eat, work, and ride in cars, among other things. When we’re done with the work day, we sit to watch TV or, if we go to an event of some sorts, we probably sit there.

The tricky thing about sitting is that very few chairs are ergonomically designed and, the ones that are, don’t ever seem to match up to any human body I’ve ever seen. Take a moment to think about the variety of chairs you use in a day. They’re probably not very similar.

Now, think about the seat in your car. This is the seat that I consider to be the most dangerous in terms of injury from bad posture. Car manufacturers make car seats with contours, angles, and supports. The thing is, human bodies are different. What is supportive to one person causes pain to another.

Plus, with the angles of the seat, we could accidentally be sitting with one hip higher than the other. It is very important to make sure that you are sitting squarely in the middle of your seat. Your butt cheeks should be evenly placed on the angled part of the seat. Also, never drive with anything in your back pocket.

For long car rides, don’t be afraid to pack props that might make your trip more comfortable. I normally travel with a sweater. When I’m in the car, I’ll roll the sweater up and place it at my lumbar spine. It extends the lumbar support so that it actually reaches my back, and this greatly reduces my pain.

Also, I bring two dead tennis balls. If you read my article on tennis balls as a therapy tool, you may remember that dead tennis balls are less dense and therefore less painful than straight-from-the-can tennis balls. If you’re going to use tennis balls, make sure that you don’t have them in place for more than 20 minutes. Your body needs a break!

I have found that tennis balls also provide the dual benefit of supporting my lumbar spine and loosening up my psoas and quadratus lumborum. The psoas and quadratus lumborum are major players in low back pain. It’s a safe guess that if you have low back pain, one of these muscles (or even both!) could be the culprit.

No matter what seat you’re in, it’s always good to have props nearby. Now, it’s time to check your alignment.

Neutral Seated Position

neutral seated position

  1. Start with your feet. They should be hip width apart and flat on the floor.
  2. Your ankles should be directly beneath your knees.
  3. Your knees should either be in line with or a little lower than your hips. If you have tight hip flexors, you will probably feel more comfortable with your knees lower than your hips. To raise your hips, you could sit on a folded blanket. Don’t forget that some seats are adjustable, so you can play around with the positioning.
  4. Make sure that you are back enough on the seat so that your back can reach the back rest. If the crease of your knees has to press into the edge of the seat to accomplish this, scoot forward and place a pillow behind you to create a back support for yourself.
  5. Even with this good alignment, you might find it helpful to place a rolled up blanket or sweater in your low back. You can even sit with tennis balls. Remember, don’t leave the tennis balls in place for longer than 20 minutes.
  6. Feel your SITs bones press into the seat. This tells you that your pelvis is in neutral. If you start to feel like your body is going behind your SITs bones and your pelvis is tucking beneath you, FIX YOUR POSTURE IMMEDIATELY! Sitting with a tucked pelvis can cause muscle disfunction that can lead to back pain among other things.
  7. Use your abdominals to help lift your rib cage away from your hips.
  8. Make sure your shoulders are relaxed away from your ears. If your shoulders start to raise because of an armrest you are using, lower the armrest or remove it, but quit using it.
  9. Bring your head to neutral position. For correct alignment, the center of your ear should align over the middle of your shoulder. If you start to feel your head drift forward, correct it. Keeping your head in the correct position is half the battle to keeping good seated alignment.

Neutral Seated Position Video

Here is a video for visual learners.

For more information about alignment, here’s a link to “Assess and Improve Your Posture.”

What questions or comments do you have about neutral position? Let me know in the comments below.

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About Sarah Stockett

Hi, I'm Sarah! I'm a certified Pilates and yoga instructor with a passion for pain relief. I believe you can use simple exercises to relieve your aches + pains. AND, I believe I can teach you how.