Sitting posture and Parkinson's

In this article, physiotherapist Bhanu Ramaswamy explains the importance of good posture when sitting and provides some practical advice.

Whenever you’re sitting down it’s important to be aware of how you’re holding yourself to maintain good posture. Good posture can:

  • help with balance and movement
  • reduce the strain on bones, muscles and joints
  • help to lessen body aches and pains
  • make swallowing easier
  • help with speech (by allowing better breathing)

How can Parkinson’s affect your sitting posture?

If rigidity affects one side of your body, it can cause you to lean to that side, which makes it harder to move. Your body will compensate for this, causing tension to build in the muscles on the opposite side.

If your lower back is stiff, you’ll begin movements from your head and chest, instead of your lower back and hips. This can cause a stoop.

Over time, muscles and joints can settle into these positions, making it harder to change them.

Below we have provided five steps for achieving better posture.

Keep active 

Remaining as flexible as possible will help you stay active and lessen pain. Your muscles, particularly those in your back, shoulders and neck, also need to be strong enough to support your posture.

Strengthening exercises can help, including the one on this page. A healthcare professional with experience of Parkinson’s, such as a physiotherapist, can help you with a tailored exercise plan

Adjust your sitting position

Instead of using gadgets or reading books on your lap, sit at a table or desk and prop them up higher so your body is more upright and not bent.

If you work on a computer, make sure your computer, keyboard and mouse are positioned to help your posture.

Take breaks

If you sit for long periods of time (an hour or more), take regular breaks for a few minutes at a time. Try setting an alarm to remind you when to take breaks.

Use these breaks to stand if you can. If you’re not able to, stretch your back (arch backwards gently), neck and arms (raise them above your head), and then twist from side to side a few times to loosen your spine.

Be aware of how you sit while eating

If you have meals sitting down on an armchair or sofa, you may sit in a slumped position. This can make it harder to swallow.

It’s also harder for your stomach to digest food, which can affect the absorption of medication.

If you sit in an armchair or sofa, try to make sure it has a high back or cushions to support you, so you’re sitting as upright as possible.

Avoid taking afternoon rests in an armchair

This is because your head is likely to drop forwards when you sleep. Instead, lie down as flat on your back as possible. This puts less pressure on your spine.

Strengthening exercise

This exercise works your back, arms and shoulders. You can use hand weights – they should be heavy enough that you can feel the exercise working your shoulder muscles. If you don’t have weights, you could use heavy objects, such as bottles of water.

Do the exercise standing if possible, but you may find it easier to sit. Keep your back and torso straight. If you’re sitting, make sure you’re not leaning on the back of the chair.

Be careful not to arch your back, especially when lifting both arms. 

How to do it

For the first set, lift the weight above your head 10 times with one arm. For the second set, repeat 10 times with the other arm. For the final set, repeat again using both arms together. If you feel up to it, repeat all three sets again.