A somewhat obvious title for a blog from a man who sells chairs for a living. And being that it's 'my thing', I'm bound to give more thought to it than most. For this post, I've assumed that you sit for long hours and have decided that investing in a good quality chair is a good idea, and we all like a little knowledge before visiting a salesman we don't know. So, what should you be looking for? While most people believe it is relaxing, sitting is actually hard on the back because it transfers the full weight of the upper body onto the buttocks and thighs. When we sit in a traditional chair, the pelvis reclines, stressing the lower vertebrae, which exposes the discs to a greater risk of prolapse. Gravity pools blood in the legs and feet and creates a sluggish return of blood to the heart. The wrong chair exaggerates these problems, so getting it right is vital. We see a lot of chairs promoted as "ergonomic", but you need to look beyond the label to see that it does conform to ergonomic guidelines and is fit for you, and the work you need it for. Ergonomics is the science of fitting a workspace to a users needs. So selecting something you saw online that's labelled as ergonomic, because you liked the cool look of the mesh fabric is anything but. So, from the floor up, what should you be looking for? Castors and a '5 star base'. Castors allow freedom of movement, and most chairs will offer castors optimised for soft or hard flooring. Some people and some jobs may require castors that can be locked, either manually or by gravity. And the 5 star base ensures stability at all times. Seat base. As most of your weight is going through the seat, this needs a lot of consideration. Inferior seats will use cheap foam, which will loose shape and squash in time. This results in reduced support and instability and will cause hip and back pain. It's pretty much impossible to tell on a new chair how good the foam is, but it's an area that manufacturers of high quality seats invest a lot in. Some chairs offer different types of foam for people requiring extra support or stability. It's also a consideration for people with pressure issues. More obviously the seat base needs to be wide enough. It should be about an inch wider than your hips and thighs, but not so wide that your elbows don't rest naturally on the arm rests. The front of the seat should slope away to reduce pressure on the thighs and the most crucial bit, it must be the correct length. Any chair labelled as ergonomic should have a seat slide so that depth can be adjusted to suit you. Sitting with your back in the back rest, there should be a gap of about 3 fingers between the back of your legs and the front of the seat. Movement. As we said, sitting is bad. Being still is also bad, so sitting still for long periods is really bad. Good chairs have a mechanism for movement. Some like the RH Logic are sophisticated and nicely balanced. Some rely on gravity from the body's weight, and products like the Varier Variable Balans kneeling stool just rock on the wooden base. Most can be locked but we pretty much always recommend to leave the chair floating Arm rests are another important consideration. The wrong arm rest, or the correct one poorly adjusted, are one of the biggest causes of neck and shoulder pain. They need to be wide enough to be comfortable to rest on, and if you can't adjust them so that your elbows rest naturally on them they're no use to you. A good arm rest will not only adjust for height, but width and depth too. Some will swivel so that your arms point more naturally to your keyboard. Adequate lumbar support is another crucial element. You need to not only be able to adjust the pressure of the lumbar, but the height of the back rest too. If all of the above is correct, then the top half of the chair is less important. Personally, I like a full height backrest. Ergochairs Adapt 600 fit's my shape and I love it. Some people want a medium or low back chair, if it's comfortable for a long sit, that's just fine. A true ergonomic chair will allow you to adjust the angle of the backrest. Other things to consider maybe head or neck support. Do you really need it? If your work involves watching video, you're more likely to use a neck support than if you work mostly with spreadsheets. And a chair that's going to be shared is going to need more adjustment and be easier to set up than one for sole occupancy.
So sitting is the new smoking? Maybe, if sitting was new. Sitting causes diabetes? Yeh, right - prove that one! There appear to be links to a sedentary lifestyle and many health issues, changing your desk is unlikely to be the one stop solution your looking for. There are lots of wild claims so i've steered clear of writing about it. There's been a lot written on the subject of sit stand desks. Some of it links to medical reports making claims about the health of the workplace. Some of it drawing wild conclusions that don't stack up. So are they any good? In short, yes. But installing a row of sit stand desks for a bunch of people that rarely stand during the day is unlikely to make much difference to their health. The problem is not so much the lack of a sit stand desk in most peoples working lives, but routine, office layouts and habits that have engrained over the years so that we sit by default. You have a small meeting room, designed for short meetings for up to 4 people. There's a desk and 4 chairs in there. Maybe a speaker phone too. Why? There's a space in reception for visitors to park a laptop and their backside while they wait. Wouldn't a standing height bench be better? That hot desk at the end of the row: it's rarely used for more than 10 minutes at a time, is it the best set up? By providing equipment that encourages people to move and adopt the correct posture, we're creating a culture of wellbeing and mindfulness in everyone. Think of it like food. If i'm in an office that's kind enough to have bowls of biscuits lying around, I will eat them, and on the way home, maybe grab a pizza from Tesco. If those same bowls had fruit in them, I'm much more likely to give my evening meal more thought.
Seems there's a 'Day' for everything these days, but being in the trade it felt wrong to let this one pass without a few words. First, I had to head over to www.worldspineday.org to find out what it's all about. And it seems they have it pretty well covered in the title, but here's the first paragraph anyway: "Taking place on October 16 each year, World Spine Day has become a focus in raising awareness of back pain and other spinal issues. With health professionals, exercise and rehabilitation experts, public health advocates, schoolchildren and patients all taking part, World Spine Day will be celebrated on every continent." Ok, so i'm being a little glib here. We all know that our spines are important, and brilliant. With 33 separate vertebrae connected by ligaments and muscles it's a remarkable and complex structure. It's also prone to going wrong, as demonstrated by the need for a #worldspineday. worldspineday.org says that 1 billion people suffer from back pain. I guess it depends on how you define 'suffer', but I reckon the true figure is nearer 7 billion. I don't know anyone that doesn't suffer from back pain sometimes. I wouldn't say that I 'suffer' but it does ache sometimes. I never get an arm ache. The theme for World Spine Day is "get spine active". I've seen first hand the effect that failing to look after your spine can have on a life, so it's always been close to the front of my mind. I don't stress about it, but I do remain mindful of my back and the forces being exerted on it. So if something needs lifting and I don't think I can safely, it stays right where it is until a safe solution can be found. I don't do much in the way of 'exercise', I try to build activity into my routine. If I've got time, I walk. If I haven't got time, but don't need to carry anything, I cycle. Like most people, I spend a lot of my time sitting. And for a lot of people this is the cause of their problem. The spine doesn't like to sit. There's a reason every skeleton you've ever seen has the legs hanging off the bottom, not perched up at right angles. It doesn't like to sit, and it doesn't like to be still. But I bang on enough about sitting, here and elsewhere so I'll spare you this time... I don't enjoy resistance training. There was a time when I was younger when I thought you had to go to a gym, engage with weird machines and lift stuff. It always hurt something eventually. Fortunately, this phase of my life passed quite quickly, and without serious injury. I'm not saying don't go to a gym. If you like it, go. I didn't, so I don't. I do enjoy walking, mountain biking, swimming, kayaking and rock climbing. While it is of course possible to hurt yourself doing any of these things, they all require the whole body to move in a natural way, while exerting very little pressure on any one area. I should probably say that kayakers are prone to shoulder injuries. But swimming in particular is a brilliant way of moving everything without exerting undue pressure anywhere. So what do you do to keep your spine active?
Have a look at a model skeleton. Google it now and select images. What position are they all in? We're sitting for longer and longer. When I started work if I wanted to speak a colleague 10 feet away I walked over to him. Now we sit still and email. Now, in your chair, put your feet together and raise them off the ground. Notice how you feel unbalanced, and you lean back to compensate. OK, we're exaggerating the effect, but when we sit we're unbalanced. Our pelvis tilts back, the ligaments in our lumbar spine are exposed and our 'ancillary muscles' take up the strain to compensate. We can do this for a bit, but not for 8 hours a day. And most of us are sitting for 12-15 hours a day: Driving, working, driving, television. When we sit, a person weighing 75kg is exerting 200kg's of pressure on their lumbar spine. But sitting is so normal to us, and generally what we do to relieve back pain, we don't consider it to be the cause. When we stand, the pelvis is balanced and neutral, our core muscles, the pelvic floor are working as they should. When we sit, the base of our posture is the pelvis, and we're applying constant pressure to the pelvis and pelvic floor, which reduces circulation and increases pressure in a crucial area. This can lead to reduced circulation in the legs, prostate issues for men and muscle weakness in women. We had a very informative day out at the Salli conference in London on Monday. Salli have been making saddle chairs since 1990 and like all good manufacturers have been continuously developing their products and we now have the 2 part saddles that we display in the showroom today. We give a lot of showroom space to Salli saddles, because we believe they offer a real and credible alternative to traditional chairs. The open angles at the knees and pelvis don't exert extra pressure on the lumbar, and the divided seat relieves pressure on the genital area. Most people will opt for a traditional chair, and a good fitting well made ergonomic chair will certainly help most people most of the time. But if we want to truly remove the core of the problem, a sit stand desk and a saddle chair can't be beaten.
With a gym on every corner how is it that back issues have become such a big part of so many of our lives? This short video brilliantly encapsulates this. But what are the answers? Will your pain go away if you go and drop a grand on an ergonomic chair? Maybe. Maybe not. Must I go to a gym <shudders>? Life is complicated, and the solution to back pain lies in a holistic approach to it. Maybe we do need to do more exercise, be more selective of what we eat, drink less. But there are many things that we do, almost without thinking that contribute to our passive present. I heard on the radio that 60% of all car journey within Exeter are less than one mile long. It's much quicker to walk one mile than drive, park, get ticket from machine, walk to where you need to be. Got less than 3 floors to go up? Use the lift. Again, probably quicker too. An all inclusive hotel I went to once put the free bar on the seventh floor. By the time I got down again I needed to turn round and start over! Going to the supermarket, parking at work, visiting grandma? Battling for the space nearest to the door? Take the one nearest the exit. The one theme that runs through this text and the video is movement. The more we move, the more healthy we will be. Eat half, walk double, love without measure.