Why "Ergonomic" chairs are bad for your posture

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What they say . . .

     

     Posture is response of the body to gravity.  It is the moment to moment conversation our bodies have with gravity.  This conversation begins at birth, and continues as babies first lift their head, then creep, then crawl, then toddle and finally stand.  Throughout this awakening of the body the spine is adapting to gravity, developing the normal curves in the lower back, thorax and neck that allow for perfectly balanced, calorically efficient standing and sitting while at rest.  Simultaneously the body is also developing muscular reflexes that facilitate efficient posture, reflexes that adjust the spine moment to moment to assure balanced, stable posture.  Importantly, these reflexes also allow the spine to adjust on the fly to surprises that might cause a fall if not compensated for.

     Unfortunately, standard chairs distort the perfect posture that we develop throughout our childhood, by providing “support” that distorts our posture.  The back rest, arm rests, foot rests, head rests all require that the spine respond with new, unusual, conformations.  Unfortunately, these new, unusual, conformations can cause discomfort in the short run:  witness the frequent changes of sitting positions required when sitting for more than a few minutes.  Worse, over time real pain syndromes can develop: over 80% of Americans will visit an emergency room for low back pain at some point in their lives, something not seen in cultures that have not adopted chairs as the standard format for sitting (e.g. Japan). 

     Because our brains are embodied in our bodies, posture also affects the mind.  This is in part the basis of yoga and meditation: certain postures help the mind to find its groove.  Because active sitting profoundly affects posture, it is likely that it also improves mental states.  This is a hypothesis that seems not to have been explored; we hope by making active sitting available to as many people as possible that we’ll be able to examine this hypothesis.
   

     I've referred to "spinal reflexes" a few times, but I'm not sure this phrase actually is English; it might be a medical reference that doesn't have much resonance for most people.  But spinal reflexes are very real and very important.  For example, if you put your hand on a hot stove you will immediately and involuntarily jerk it away, before you actually feel the heat or pain.  What has happened is that the information "you're burning your hand" is conveyed up the nerves of the arm to the spinal cord.  At the spinal cord this information is sent on to two places: 1. to your brain where it registers in your consciousness as "you burned your hand", and 2. to the flexor muscles of your arm which immediately flex and thus jerk your hand away from the stove.  This direct connection of the pain sensors in your hand to the flexor muscles in your arm at the spinal level is called a spinal reflex.  The result is mysterious, almost magical: you move your arm before you feel the burning of your hand.  This reflex has obvious advantages, because the sooner you remove your hand from the stove the less injured you will be.
     If you want to experiment with spinal reflexes without injury, you might try this:  Lie on the floor and relax completely, eyes closed for two or three minutes.  Then, still with your eyes closed look strongly up (toward the wall "above" your head) and very slowly and deliberately, lift your head 1/2 inch off the ground, noting how much effort this maneuver requires.  Rest for one minute, thinking about how hard or easy this might have been for you.  Now, still with your eyes closed, look strongly down (toward your feet), and again, very slowly and deliberately, lift your head 1/2 inch off the ground, noting how much effort is required now.  Most people find that the subjective effort to raise their head is different, depending upon where the eyes are looking.  The explanation for this oddity is that the positioning of the eyes powerfully affects the availability of the muscles of the neck through spinal reflexes.  We are so accustomed to our spinal reflexes that we usually don't notice their effects, working silently in the background.  It is only through experiments that we can discover just how much of our life is actually reflexive.
     Spinal reflexes can also be triggered simply by the position of the spine.  These reflexes are responsible for the automatic readjustment of posture that allows us to restore our equilibrium if we should trip while walking.  These same reflexes are invoked by our QOR360 chairs: when the pelvis tips, spinal reflexes immediately and automatically restore one's balance by making a myriad of small adjustments to the spine.  And all this happens automatically, below the level of consciousness.  You’re free to listen in on this conversation between your spine and gravity, but most people just get on with their workday. 

     Because our chairs allow one to outsource picking a comfortable posture to your spinal reflexes, you’re free to think about other things, confident that when you stand up at the end of the day your spine will be as fresh as when you sat down at your desk.

-turner

 

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What you get . . . 

How QOR360 came to be.

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  I’m sometimes asked “How did you come up with the rocker for your chairs?”  I usually deflect this question with something like “Well, it wasn’t the first thing I thought of…” and hope that’s enough explanation, because it’s a sort of meandering tale that stumbles from silly failure to ridiculous failure.  It doesn’t show me in a good light, frankly.  But, here’s an abbreviated version of the story.

   Like most of America, I’d spent a great deal of time sitting.  Although my job as a trauma surgeon kept me on my feet a lot (on rounds, in the OR, in clinic, in the OR, in the ER, …), unavoidably I also sat at a desk, and I found I just couldn’t get comfortable sitting.  Worse, I was prey to occasional spells of intense back pain that could last a week or more.  I tried the yoga ball, the kneeling chair, and a host of other solutions, but nothing seemed to help.

    But, as a professor of surgery it’s an article of faith that if you understand a problem you can solve it.  So, I read up a bit on back pain, sitting, posture, bodywork, anthropology, and the epidemiology of back pain.  Eventually I came to understand that it was sitting, and particularly sitting in western chairs, that was the root cause of my back pain problems.  Moreover, it was likely that western chairs were the source of most other people’s back pain problems as well.  And then the penny dropped: Here was a problem worth solving.

    I thought “How hard could it be to create a different sort of a chair, one that avoided the problems of conventional chairs?”   As it turned out, pretty hard.

    I started by buying a standing “wobble board’ and attaching it to a sitting stool with a piece of bungee cord; this worked … terribly. But it worked well enough that I spent almost a year trying to get to a version that did work.  In retrospect, all my prototypes were pretty ridiculous and, unfortunately, I took some pictures along the way.  The root problem was that using a hemisphere as the source of instability unavoidably created a “flat spot” where the bungee cord emerged; no matter what I tried, there simply wasn’t a work-around. 

    And then in an “ah-ha” moment I tumbled to the idea of using two cylinders rather than a single hemisphere.  I made the first prototype from PVC drain pipe and although it looked silly, it worked surprisingly well.  I then cycled through wooden versions (to dangerous to make by hand), 3D printed versions (too expensive), before settling on an injection molded version.  Made from polycarbonate and manufactured accurate to 1 part in 10,000 these rockers are indestructible, attractive, affordable and geometrically perfect.

    It was about this time that I wandered into “The Generator”, a maker space here in Burlington, Vermont where I had the great good fortune to meet Erik Cooper and Matt Flego.  Together they are M//E Design, a team with skills (design, CAD programming, CNC routing, welding, robotics, …).  Erik and Matt were immediately sold on the idea of a chair that would actually be good for people, and loved the simplicity of the rocker.  And they especially loved the constraints I put on the project: our chairs had to not only move, but be so solid we could offer a lifetime guarantee, so attractive that people would want them, and so inexpensive that everyone could have one.  As an epidemiologist I knew that it wasn’t enough that our new chair solve the problems caused sitting; it had to also be affordable if it was to solve the public health catastrophe brought on by conventional chairs.

     Is it too much to say that conventional chairs are a public health emergency?  Yes, but that’s a topic for another blog.

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Yoga balls: not the solution for sitting at work (or anywhere else...)

 "It's like the yoga ball, isn't it?"
    I hear this often when people encounter our QOR360 chairs for the first time and are trying to figure out what sitting on one of our rockers might feel like.
    And, it's a good observation:  Both the yoga ball (exercise ball, Swiss ball, etc.) and our chairs are alternatives to the standard chairs that have caused so much mischief and unhappiness.  And both the yoga ball and our chairs allow sitting to involve moving: the term "active sitting" is an oxymoron that I like a lot.  But that where the similarities end.
    The yoga ball has been around since 1963 when an Italian plastics manufacture first figured out how to make a mold for a large, inflatable plastic balls.  They were initially used to treat premature infants, but soon caught on in Switzerland as a way to treat movement disorders in adults.  Yoga balls are now ubiquitous and are used to allow motion in athletic training routines, yoga, and Pilates.
    Because yoga balls are about the height of a chair and allow movement and because sitting still is bad for us it was natural to think that sitting on a yoga ball might be benefical.  Unfortunately, this hasn't turned out to be true.  As Wikipedia observes:  "There is no scientific evidence of those benefits occurring by just sitting on a yoga ball without additional exercises..., some warn against using a yoga ball as a chair because of ergonomic considerations or biomechanical reasons..."  So, while yoga balls seem like a cheap answer to the problems of sitting, they fail.
    And they fail for a couple of reasons.  First, because they are squishy, one can't feel ones sitting bones (ischial tuberosities) when sitting on a yoga ball.  Because the base is poorely defined, it's hard to align ones spine on top of a yoga ball.  Perhaps worse, when sitting on a yoga ball there's a tendency rock ones pelvis backward, leading to a hunched lower back and, after a short while, lower back discomfort.  Still another difficulty with yoga balls is that it's impossible to adjust their height.  Because the height of ones chair is critical to sitting with good posture, this makes yoga balls a nonstarter for most people.
    And yet we find yoga balls everywhere.  I think this is because yoga balls are very cheap to make, and very, very, cheap to ship.  But mostly, I think it's that people hate their chairs and are disparate for a better solution to the problem of sitting.
    We think our chairs are a much better solution to sitting.  Not only do our QOR360 chairs provide a firm seat that allows one to clearly feel their sitting bones, but our chairs also are adjustable (or come in different sizes), so that they accommodate folks comfortably of every size.  Yes, our chairs are more expensive than yoga balls, but almost everything of lasting value is more expensive.
    If you're like most Americans, you sit an average of 11 hours each day, so finding a solution to the problem of sitting is time well spent.  
    You're going to be sitting a lot.  Shouldn't you be getting a lot out of sitting?

-Turner Osler, Founder and Chief Innovation Officer at QOR360.  Sit better.


REFERENCES

 

Clapp, Jane (2006). Working on the Ball: A Simple Guide to Office Fitness. Andrews McMeel Publishing. ISBN 978-0-7407-5699-3.

Greenwood-Robinson, Maggie (2007). The Biggest Loser Fitness Program. Rodale. p. 65. ISBN 1-59486-695-3.

 Gregory DE, Dunk NM, Callaghan JP (2006). "Stability ball versus office chair: comparison of muscle activation and lumbar spine posture during prolonged sitting". Hum Factors. 48 (1): 142–53. PMID 16696264doi:10.1518/001872006776412243.

 McGill SM, Kavcic NS, Harvey E (May 2006). "Sitting on a chair or an exercise ball: various perspectives to guide decision making". Clin Biomech (Bristol, Avon). 21 (4): 353–60. PMID 16410033doi:10.1016/j.clinbiomech.2005.11.006.

  Gregory, Diane E. "The Use of Stability Balls in the Workplace in Place of the Standard Office Chair". Centre for Research Expertise for the Prevention of Muscloskeletal Disorders, University of Waterloo. Retrieved 1 January 2011.


 

Too much time on your rear end? ‘Active sitting’ can make a difference.

If you're looking for a quick overview Active sitting,  here's a recent article from Karen Campbell that appeared in the Boston Globe.  We've reposted the article or you can visit this link: http://www.bostonglobe.com/lifestyle

By Karen Campbell GLOBE CORRESPONDENT  JULY 01, 2017

Let’s face it. Between work, meals, travels in the car, computer time, perhaps a little TV binging or settling in with a good book, most of us spend way too much time on our rear ends.

And research suggests all the hours we spend exercising at the gym don’t counteract sitting passively in a chair for hours at a time — which can lead to a wide range of health risks, from joint problems and metabolic issues to shortened life spans.

“We have to get past the notion that it’s OK to just collapse in your chair,” says Cathryn Jakobson Ramin, author of “Crooked: Outwitting the Back Pain Industry and Getting on the Road to Recovery.”

Sitting less is the obvious solution, but when we do need to spend time in a chair, can’t we also sit better? That’s the concept of active sitting. A variety of portable products — like the BackJoy molded seat pads, the BetterBack lumbar support, and the ever-reliable sloped coccyx cushion — head you in the right direction by tilting the pelvis forward to help align the spine into a healthier, more natural posture.

But a burgeoning array of backless chairs and stools for home and office takes active sitting to the next level. Designed with flexible features to encourage movement while you sit, they engage the core muscles and allow a more open angle between torso and legs.

The 90-degree angle once recommended between legs and torso is being revised to a more open angle of about 135 degrees, encouraging a slight forward tilt of the pelvis to align the spine. This takes some of the weight off your tailbone and puts it into your legs, reducing strain on discs and ligaments and preventing the spine from settling into an unhealthy slump, unlike most conventional office chairs.

“The best sitting arrangement is where you have active legs,” says Jakobson Ramin. “Essentially a perching one where you make a tripod is best for [overall] health.”

These active sitting chairs encourage near constant micro-movement, which is key — studies show that we tend to be more alert and focused when we’re moving, with blood and oxygen circulating more freely. Fidgeting and wiggling are good for you.

“Our bodies are not designed for sitting, and using an active chair as much as you can is a great idea, even for older people,” says physiatrist Dr. Carol Hartigan, medical director of the Spine Center and the Spine Rehabilitation Program at New England Baptist Hospital.

Most of the options for active seating fall into one of three basic types — balls, benches, and stools.

The simplest, least expensive option is the fitness ball chair, a balance ball in a stable circular frame. You’ve seen them. When you sit on it, the ball’s natural give and slight bounce encourage micro-movements for balance. Because every shift in weight causes a response in the air-filled ball, it makes sitting a more dynamic experience, ergo you don’t get locked into a bad posture for hours at a time.

It’s old-school, but devotees like dancer and arts administrator Marin Orlosky Randow are enthusiastic.“I tried a few different ergonomically-friendly chairs, [but] the exercise ball chair seems to do the trick,” she said. “Plus, I’m generally a fidgety person, so the extra bounciness is welcome.”

The less cumbersome option are wobble stools, which encourage twisting, rocking, leaning, and spinning, usually via fixed seats atop rounded or articulated bases. They’re especially popular in school settings as outlets for fidgety kids. But for adults, slimly designed models, like the Autonomous ErgoStool and Kore Design’s Executive Stool, are sleek and practical. Both are height adjustable, though the ErgoStool has a plusher, comfier cushion and its lowest height is 23 inches high for many standard desks. Kore’s stool is lighter and easy to move from place to place. The VARIchair is similar in function, but its weighted base and articulating pedestal make it less wobbly at higher heights.

A particularly innovative variant of the wobble stool is the German-made Swopper. Its spring system allows the cushioned seat to move not only side to side and forward and back, but up and down. It’s a blast to use. However, at $600 or more, it’s quite pricey.

Most of the options for active seating fall into one of three basic types — balls, benches, and stools.

Some of the newer active sitting options are bench style. Turner Osler, a former trauma surgeon and epidemiology professor at the University of Vermont, wanted to design a chair that facilitated not just good posture but biochemical health.

“Our muscles aren’t just motor units but biochemical factories that spin off hormones and enzymes, and all that goes dark when you’re sitting still,” he says. His qor360 chairs build active sitting into sleek designs that look like real furniture but take mindfulness to balance. Each spins, rocks, and tilts in every direction, facilitating a healthy natural posture while keeping the core engaged. Minimal padding is intentional. “We want people to be able to feel their sitting bones so they are able to orient their pelvis and engage their spinal postural reflexes.”

Similarly, the brand new Tic Toc, designed by Fully (formerly Ergo Depot) founder David Kahl, has a beautifully elegant wood seat, but it may be hard and slippery for some. However, its curved slope allows the legs to open and angle down from the hips, like the old kneeling chairs, and the h-base has runners like a rocking chair, enabling a subtle, very natural rocking and twisting.

Even some hard-core active seating enthusiasts recommend starting slowly and swapping out chairs periodically for supportive seating that allows the spine to rest. The good part about all these dynamic chairs is that they’re not so comfortable you’ll be prone to settle in and work nonstop for hours. You’ll need frequent breaks to stand and stretch — and that’s the whole idea anyway, right?

Karen Campbell can be reached at karencampbell4@rcn.com.

 

 

Which Chair is best for Back Pain? Ergonomic or Active Sitting?

Which Chair for Back Pain? Ergonomic or Active Sitting?

When it comes to sitting, we all think we’re experts because we all do so much of it. In fact, across most industrialized societies people spend, on average, nearly 11 hours each day just sitting. Unfortunately, the human body wasn't meant to be so immobile for such long periods of time. The static posture that sitting forces on us can breed misery with a variety of health related symptoms, tight muscles, and just plain, old, chronic back pain.
    

Enter the hope of ergonomic chairs. 

With a promise to resolve our discomfort by providing us with the perfect static posture, so-called “ergonomic chairs" purport to relieve back problems with an expensive, and yet static, single posture solution. The fact is, no matter how expensive or or how upscale an ergonomic chair manufacturer’s brand might be, most people soon find themselves switching to a new position or, frankly, squirming. That’s a good sign for you and your body, but a bad sign for the ergonomic chair in which you might have just invested.
    The discomfort and impetus to squirm that we feel with static sitting is an alarm bell, telling us that staying in one position, any position, for protracted periods is simply hard on our anatomy. Children get this intuitively, squirming whenever they can get away with it.

Get up, stretch, and sit back down on an Active Sitting chair

Active sitting means that your spine, muscles, and vertebrae are free to make tiny, almost imperceptible adjustments while sitting. It's exactly 180 degrees from the fixed-position of a static ergonomic chair. Active sitting is what happened when your forefathers took a break from the hunt, rested their spears against a tree, and took a seat on a round rock. Although relaxed and perhaps enjoying the scenery, their back, vertebrae, muscles, and tendons, all remained in an active state — continually self-adjusting, re-balancing, and strengthening. Active sitting, unlike static sitting, is naturally therapeutic, strengthens your core musculature and encourages a more consistent circulation of the joint fluid that nourishes the delicate cartilage in all of your joints.
     So, when it comes to choosing which chair is best for back pain, we’re not dismissing the possibility that a static, ergonomic chair might work for you. But once you begin to see the difference between static sitting and the therapeutic advantages of Active Sitting, the price of that slick, ergonomic office chair (not to mention the chair itself), might just make you squirm a little more.

Some added easy reading- that might just pull you from your easy-chair.

For starters, in a New York Times article titled Is Sitting a Lethal Activity?, Mayo Clinic researcher James Levine offers a revealing look into current research around the problems imposed by inactivity and static sitting. As Mr. Levine says, “For most of us, when we’re awake and not moving, we’re sitting. This is your body on chairs: electrical activity in the muscles drops — the muscles go as silent as those of a dead horse... leading to a cascade of harmful metabolic effects.” 

   Yikes, but furthering Mr. Levine’s insights, Marc T. Hamilton declares in an academic, but easy-to-read article published by the National Institute of Health, “It is time to consider excessive sitting a serious health hazard...” The article is a good look on inactivity imposed by sitting.

   By now, you might just be starting to see static sitting as a metabolic catastrophe for your health. Take a look at how social architect Galen Cranz views the issue and imagines solutions. She says quite simply that “Changing your posture means changing your lifestyle.” She asks you to “Take another look at your space. Where can you incorporate a choreography of different postures into your life?”

 Want more? Just send me an email at tosler@uvm.edu. I’ll be more than happy to add your name and email to our reading list.

Customer Stories: Sean in Briarcliff Manor, NY

Hi Turner,

Just wanted to let you know that the chair arrived, and it's been great from the start!  I'd say my initial impression upon unboxing it is that the woodworking and general quality were even more impressive than I expected.  It's hard to impress that upon people over the internet, but I'm glad I made the decision to try it out in person.  There truly is no substitute for quality Vermont-made wood furniture, and the seat is especially striking.

The packaging/boxing was also a job well done, which I appreciate you taking the care with. 

I've enjoyed sitting on it, both in the stationary (i.e. with chair locks inserted) and active modes.  I found it pretty natural to pick up the active sitting posture, and it's actually way easier to maintain my balance than I expected.  I would also say that the stationary mode itself is a bonus that I wasn't expecting.  Sometimes it feels good to be able to roll around my positioning and stretch out my core muscles using the seat as resistance (which isn't possible in the same way while it moves with you in the active mode).  The chair feels sturdy at all times!

Vermont startup, QOR360 launches ergonomic office chairs for back pain.

News Release 

Innovative technology offers therapeutic benefits for better spinal health

Burlington, VT. – November 1 2016 QOR360 has announced the launch of its new line of ergonomic office chairs created to address back pain brought on by long periods of sitting. The Burlington, Vermont-based startup's new line of ergonomic office chairs utilize the company's proprietary rocker technology, the Eccentric Bi-cylinder. Developed by Dr. Turner Osler, a University of Vermont trauma surgeon turned research epidemiologist, QOR360's patented Eccentric Bi-cylinder creates a subtle, omnidirectional, rocking motion that allows the spine and hips to continuously readjust to gravity, creating a fluid movement that promotes strength and flexibility and improves overall back health.

As Dr. Osler notes, “It's a really helpful chair for back pain, because the the 'Eccentric Bi-cylinder naturally encourages a much more balanced, dynamic posture than the static slumped position of sitting enforced by traditional, fixed-back chairs. Used in all of our ergonomic office chairs, QOR360's rocker allows the surface of the seat to gently tip in all directions, setting the back and hips free to move, and in the process engaging spinal reflexes that continuously align the back in a more graceful, healthier posture."

Inspired by traditions of Yoga, Akido, and Feldenkrais, QOR360's development team includes doctors, furniture designers and body-work experts, who have combined their expertise to create the contemporary and innovative line of QOR360 products. The company's focus is on developing ergonomic products that transform the sitting experience from static sitting which is restrictive and unhealthy for the spine, to Active Sitting, which is more dynamic, natural, and therapeutic for the back and spine. Beyond its use as an ergonomic office chair for task sitting or simply as a chair for back pain, QOR360's ergonomic seating is elegantly designed and fits beautifully in the home, office, studio and more. The current line of QOR360 seating includes five models: The Uma, Hadley, Juno, and Lex.

About QOR360

The QOR360 company is based in Burlington, Vermont and ships its products worldwide. To learn more, please visit: www.qor360.com

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