A month ago The BBC ran an article on complaints about how hard the new Thameslink train seats are (see it here, it also features the first osteopath I’ve ever seen asked to give his expert opinion). I’ve had the opportunity to ride one of them now and can confirm that, in a modern world of uncomfortable public seating, these are the worst so far. They are very hard, very upright and quite straight in the back. “Surely sitting straight and upright is good for you?” I hear you cry…I’ll come back to whether it is good for most of the population later but it most certainly is not good for anyone who cannot comfortably hold that position.
The problem is that not everyone has an “ideal” shaped back. Many people, including myself have increased curves…they are kypho-lordotic. They are not necessarily just slouching. They may have developed wedge-shaped vertebrae, either as a teenager (common amongst those with a fast growth spurt) or in older age due to osteoporosis; others just may no longer be able to straighten, as soft-tissues in the chest (muscles, tendons, fascia, ligaments) have shortened over time as a result of hours at a desk, or even over-work of the chest relative to the back, at the gym. An upright seat, hard padding with no give and a back that cannot straighten means that the passenger will be sitting with their head tipped forward, that is 4-5kg pulling forward and needing constant support from the muscles of the neck and back. Evidently that is a potential recipe for pain and dysfunction.
On 5 March the Guardian ran an article stating that there was little evidence connecting back pain with slouching and bad posture (read it here). It was a confusing mess of clearly contradictory definitions of posture – quoting an osteopath (another one), a ballet teacher and a physiotherapist. Worryingly the article suggests that workstation assessment was about sitting up straight and that sitting up straight was not particularly useful.
My suspicion is that the journalist has got a number of different quotes and weaved them together but has confused three different things
Damian is the principal osteopath at Vauxhall Village Osteopathy and Oval Osteopathy