I’ve written about this before…and I try not to repeat myself…but please forgive me this once as I come to this with fresh information.
I’ve written about how uncomfortable the hard, upright seats on many modern new planes and trains are, notably Thameslink and the new Intercity Express Passenger trains. Im not going to go into why hard upright seats are so uncomfortable again, it's here. It seemed to me that someone was taking perverse glee in commissioning seats that were horribly uncomfortable, except they’re not…any more. I should explain that the seats haven’t changed, my back has! So now I can see both sides of the story.
I have spent most of my life with a pronounced kyphosis, that is to say that the top part of my back is more rounded than average. I remember going to an Alexander Technique taster class aged 18 and lying on my back on the floor and finding it painful because my upper back was rounded and hard and wouldn’t lie flat enough to be comfortable. There are many reasons for a pronounced kyphosis, maybe it is genetic, maybe it is the result of having been tall at a time when I was shy and so spent my time looking at the floor, maybe it was the result of falling out of a tree onto my back aged 10 or 11 and the injury not resolving properly, who knows.
I have spent the last year and a half working hard on my own body, using self-treatment, treatment from my osteopath, deep tissue massage, swimming, focused gym work and most recently pilates, in order to get mobility into my whole back and then to start to reduce that excessive kyphosis. The good news is it is working and I know that because, my shoulders are less rounded so I can perform lateral raises properly in the gym (I absolutely couldn’t before)…and…wait for it…The seats in the Intercity Express Train are OK, they’re not cosseting but they’re not uncomfortable either.
So what does this tell us? Firstly, long-standing postural issues can sometimes be reversed, but it takes a lot of hard work. Secondly, the commissioning team for the latest train seats aren’t necessarily sadists…but they are making the common mistake that catering for the average person is good enough, it isn’t, it is poor design because it is uncomfortable for a very significant proportion of the population.
We live in a world where doors and grab rails (rightly) have to be a specified number of shades away from the surrounding colour palette and journeys are punctuated by passenger announcements, to make journeys easier for the visually impaired. Trains are removed from service and stations remodelled at great expense because they aren’t wheelchair accessible. Yesterday at Slough station there were signs all over the stairs on the new bridge and a really annoying announcement every 30 seconds demanding that I use the handrail on the stairs (despite that rendering the middle 2/3 of the staircase potentially useless).
Against this backdrop, how can we think it is acceptable to introduce seats without ensuring that they are not cripplingly uncomfortable for the vast number of people in the UK whose back is more curved than average?...and if you are lucky enough to think that this is a moan about a little bit of discomfort, then I hope for your sake your back doesn't lose it's shape and flexibility as you age, because, I can tell you from experience that these seats, so innocuous for most are much more than a little uncomfortable for the kyphotic many.
Back down off my soapbox
Damian is the principal osteopath at Vauxhall Village Osteopathy and Oval Osteopathy