The Chair As A Health Hazard: Part 1.
I never used to put much thought into chairs, they were just always there when I wanted one. My mom occasionally (or all the time) would tell me to “sit up straight” but other than that, posture never really crossed my mind.
The chair is a part of our day to day life.
Always silently supporting us.
It wasn’t until I became involved with Sleekform that the science behind chairs (or ergonomics, if you will) ever crossed my mind. Never before had I wondered about what made a good chair and I certainly had no idea what sort of impact the chair was making on my overall well being. I couldn’t have told you what made a bad chair, unless you meant whether or not it clashed with decor of a room.
I’m approaching my one year anniversary with Sleekform and to say my outlook on how chairs affect our health has changed is a vast understatement. Since we started this blog I’ve been writing a lot about how to make your work set up healthier, how to get the optimal seated posture, etc, etc.
Through my research and reading I have come to the conclusion that stagnant sitting is in fact a health hazard.
I know what you’re thinking “a health hazard, girl please.”
That’s why this week I’m dedicating the blog post this week to justifying my use of such a dramatic word. I want to break down the hows and whys I’ve come to that conclusion.
In part one I will cite the research I’ve come across that explains what poor posture does to our bodies and part two (coming next week) will be a checklist to help you identify the issues you might be having in your own specific workspace.
The Slouch Cycle
When a person leans backward into a chair back, that initiates both backwards and a downward force. The downward force pushes the bottom of the pelvis forward. Eventually, the sitter finds himself sitting on his tailbone out at the edge of the chair with the spine as a whole transformed to a C-shaped slouch,
This slump is ends up being uncomfortable . There’s congestion that’s created in the lungs and guts, the ribs fold down over the diaphragm toward the belly, there’s a strain created in the lower back. In order to try and relieve yourself from the discomfort you sit up straight and perch on the front edge of the chair without back support. This position also becomes tiring so you end up scooting all the way back into the seat to take advantage of the chair back. Once you lean back you wind up recreating that initial twin force (down and forward) that starts the cycle over again.
The chair is the problem. Not the body. This is not a chicken or the egg scenario; the body was here first so chairs should respond to bodies, not vice versa. If you are unstable because you move frequently, your chair should accommodate that movement. Chairs that fail to offer that flexibility can harm our bodies.
Sitting is Hard Work.
There is massive amounts of research out there that proves sitting had been associated with numerous problems: back pain of all kinds, fatigue, varicose veins stress, and problems with breathing, circulation, digestion and overall body development.
Whether you’re sitting well or badly there is always going to be added pressure on the spinal discs. 30% more, to be exact.
German researcher T-Hettinger analyzed the statistics of sick leave and found that musculo-skeletal problems among office workers were higher than in any industrial sector, and similar to those in construction, welding and transport. He concluded that sitting should be considered as much a risk as lifting weights and vibration.
Sitting may or may not be less dangerous to the back than heavy lifting , but if it’s the lesser of two evils...well… it’s still an evil, isn’t it?
It’s A Habit, Not A Curse.
Wilfred Barlow a british doctor and Alexander Technique teacher wrote about sitting as a bad habit way back in 1955. He said:
“Conflict of opinion on the subject of low back pain will be with us forever unless we realize that it is behaviour which disturbs the mechanics of the back, all day and everyday, and that it is only through a re-education of behavioural attitudes that we will alter these mechanical faults.”
This was a real light bulb moment for me. Once it occurred to me that stiffness and daily discomfort might not simply be due to age, or genetics but were more likely due to habits that we had unknowingly developed over time that were no longer serving us, I really began my deep dive into ergonomics research.
Could we all be “cured” of our back, neck and shoulder pain by changing certain habits?
That’s when I came across a letter from a massage therapist written to the New York Times.
“As a massage therapist- with a clientele ranging from world class athletes to the chronically disabled- I have learned that under-use contributes to significant muscle pain, spasm and if they are untreated, disability.
Any one who sits before a word processor for six or seven hours a day might have significant pain and spasm in the muscles of the posterior neck, shoulders, lateral hip, hamstring, and sacroiliac regions. Not infrequently, such people are unaware of their pain condition and will be perplexed about the cause of sore muscles. They’ll say, “I didn’t do anything out of the ordinary to have caused this pain.” Precisely, Holding any posture for prolonged periods without redress or remedy is, I’m convinced, a major cause of chronic muscle pain and spasm.”
In the letter she goes on to call out the way we school children. Saying that forcing young people to sit for hours and hours at a time in right angle chair and not encouraging them to get up at least every hour defines for them what “normal” sitting habits are and initiates the under use of back and core muscles.
Like any new movement, If we want to make ergonomics something people prioritize as adults we need to start by education young people about its importance and the impact it will make on their longevity.
Playing The Long Game
After a year of research, I’m not sure if there is a such thing as a perfect chair mostly because I don’t believe holding one posture for an extended period of time serves the human body.
What I do believe in is making small, attainable changes to habits we developed from the moment we were able to sit up as infants. We are a culture that sits and Sleekform does not intend to try and change that. What we are aiming to do is give you the option to sit differently. To provide tools that aid in breaking certain habits.
To help you understand why you might be feeling a certain way. Sometimes awareness is all it takes to make a difference.
We want to see posture and ergonomics be in the forefront of the discussion of health and wellness.
It’s a big job, but we’re up for the challenge.
At Sleekform we’re playing the long game.