Where do I begin on this subject? I see people absentmindedly sitting on their foot ALL THE TIME. As the self-proclaimed posture police, this phenomenon has always driven me bonkers. I could never figure out why people would choose to sit, in what looks like, such an uncomfortable position. I have found my staff (the biggest offender being my very own office manager, Ashlee) patients and even my own wife compromising their bodies so that they can sit on their foot.
Finally, I had to start asking people why they did it. What's funny is, most of the time, the people I asked either didn't realize what they were doing or they couldn't really place why they did it. Most just said it felt comfortable for whatever reason. But a few people have been able to give me insight into the awkward position. Here's what I discovered.
The two main reasons people gave for sitting on their foot were:
Kept their cold feet/foot warm
Eased tension on their back to put their pelvis in that kind of tilt
I'd be beating a dead horse to dive too much into how COVID has changed everyone's life over the last year, but I do believe I am seeing foot sitting more because of COVID. Times have changed and most people are working at home. For many, telecommuting is the new normal and will continue even when life goes back to "business as usual."
Working from home has us sitting even more than we used to. Now, you don't even have to walk from the parking lot of your office into your cubicle. You wake up, roll out of bed and head straight toward your at-home workstation. The longer we sit in uncomfortable positions, the harder our body will work to find an easily accessible position of comfort. You might find yourself shifting around, crossing and uncrossing legs, etc even more so than before.
I believe that's how foot sitting begins. You sit in a poor posture for long enough, and your body starts getting inflamed and breaking down. Then, whether it be conscious or subconscious, you'll start looking for ways to alleviate that tension.
Most chairs put us in a posterior pelvic tilt. There's little lumbar support and we find ourselves hunched over. When you prop your foot under your butt, you throw your pelvis into a more neutral or even an anterior pelvic tilt, giving your lumbar spine more of a curve.
But why does this matter? Who cares if we're sitting on our feet if it throws our pelvis and back into a better alignment? Well, you end up trading one problem for another. Your pelvis and back may feel better but your feet, ankles, knees, hips and so much more are thrown out of whack to achieve this position.
Of course, you're right to want to get in a better alignment, but it shouldn't be at the expense of all of your other body parts.
When I asked my office manager, Ashlee, why she had on her foot, she noted the tension release in her back. But she also mentioned how her knee felt strained and unstable from being twisted and stretched in an awkward position for an extended length of time.
If this sounds like you, not only do you have to correct the foot sitting habit, but also look to potentially treat the body parts you may have injured or compromised.
Two of my favorite exercise to stabilize and strengthen the knee are terminal knee extension and reverse terminal knee extension. These exercises can help tone up those lax knee ligaments and strengthen the endurance muscles surrounding the knee.
As an alternative, try folding a hand towel and propping it under your butt. This can achieve the same desired pelvic tilt as sitting on your foot, but without the knee, ankle and hip strain.
For other sitting posture tips, try using a footstool and staggering your chance. Adjusting your chair to the proper height can also be a game-changer.
I suppose I should also address the first reason that I listed for foot sitting which was cold feet. Some of my best tips to address that problem would be a thick pair of socks and perhaps an electric foot warmer! ;)
So next time you think about sitting on your foot, reflect on why you are putting your body in that position and try some of the above tips. Let us know what you think or if you have any other reasons why you enjoy sitting on one of your feet!
Your favorite posture police officer,
Dr. Justin C. Lin