Hands up if, after a hard days work, you love nothing more than getting in and flopping down onto the sofa, feet up, TV on, cup of tea in hand…?
We all need a bit of down time, that’s for sure, but when you look at the recent stats telling us that adults in Western countries now spend between 55 – 70% of their day sitting, and that 8 in 10 British people will experience at least one problem with lower back pain during their lives, are we spending a bit too much time on our backsides?
Workplace wellness has certainly upped its game over the past few years, with many companies providing ergonomics training, good quality office chairs and regular workstation assessments, but when we leave the office our good posture training tends to get left behind as well.
So-called ‘sofa syndrome’ is causing specialists to notice an increase in patients coming to them with various back related problems as a result of slouchy, poorly supported sofa sitting. The very thing that should be providing us with comfort is actually doing more harm than good.
Sofas, just like most other things, change with fashions. Back in the Victorian era, chairs and sofas were very much about providing a stiff, upright position, not necessarily about comfort but more about practicality and durability. Nowadays, sofas are soft and squishy, often with low backs and deep cushions, which encourages a more slouched and slovenly sitting position. And whereas the Victorians needed an upright position to do such activities as needlework, modern sofa usage sees people either straining their necks upwards to watch TV, or curling their necks downwards to peer at a smartphone or iPad. In fact, experts predict that unless we address this problem now, many of us may experience curvature of the spine, which will result in increased back problems in later life.
What’s the Solution to this Problem?
Well, there are a few different solutions to this problem – let’s take a look.
Buy a new sofa
The obvious solution would be to buy a new sofa, right? But sofas are expensive things and last time I had a look around a sofa shop there weren’t exactly that many upright, ergonomic sofas to choose from. Manufacturers make products that are in demand, so if demand is for comfy, squidgy, sofas that pretty much look like living room beds, then that is precisely what they are going to make. We tend to choose our sofas based on size (it has to fit in a certain space), colour (to fit in with decor), comfort (does it have extending leg rests, is it reclining, is it corner shaped etc.) and purpose of use (not always just for sitting, although not great, some people eat, work or even sleep on their sofas). How good a sofa is for our backs is generally way down the list of considerations and may not even feature at all.
Change how you sit
Humans are creatures of habit and as such tend to stick to certain routines. This habitual behaviour even extends to how and where we sit. Think about it…do you and your family members always sit in the same place on the sofa? I remember as a child knowing that one chair in particular was my dad’s chair and it was just accepted that no one else would sit in it and now I also find myself claiming a particular side of the sofa as mine. In fact even my children have started joining in this sofa territory marking – my son favours sitting right in the middle of the sofa, bum squidged between the gaps of the seat cushions, scatter cushions lobbed onto the floor and woe betide anyone that dares to try and share the rest of the sofa with him…and he’s only 8!
Sitting in the same seat means that the seat cushions mould to your particular shape and became far less supportive over time, but also encourages bad posture habits. It could be that you’re not sitting face on to the TV, so when you’re watching it your body may be turned ever so slightly at an angle. Over an extended time period this will train your body to shape in a particular way, a way that will cause strain and weakness on certain joints and muscles, which can lead to bad posture and in turn will lead to aches and pains.
The NHS advises that to avoid back pain, you should sit with your knees level to your hips, your lower back should be properly supported and both your feet should be flat on the floor. Next time you sit on your sofa, think about how you’re sitting. Do you put your legs up to the side? Do you cross your legs? Do you lie down? Is your back curved? Chances are you’re doing at least one of these things and although that might not be causing you problems at the moment, it is only a question of time!
Get some support
It could just be that your sofa is too deep and that the cushions you use to prop yourself forwards aren’t supportive or structured enough. The Sittingwell cushion provides a great solution to this, as it is a cushion with added lumbar back support. This means that although it looks just like any other cushion on your sofa, it actually has the added benefit of offering a supportive shape that will help prevent you from slumping.
This new innovative product was launched in August 2016 by therapists Lorna Kennard and Rachael Wall, who were frustrated with patients coming to them with stories of products they had bought that were either making their back problems worse or were having no effect whatsoever. They decided to take matters into their own very experienced and qualified hands and over the course of 5 1/2 years they designed, produced and have now bought to market the Sittingwell cushion.
Fortunately for me I don’t suffer any problems with my back, so I’m probably not the best person to review the Sittingwell cushion. However, my husband has had back problems on and off for a fair few years now, making him the perfect guineapig.
To ensure the cushion was really put to the test, I asked him to use it for a fortnight in replacement of the two flat, frankly past their best cushions that he would usually use when sitting on the sofa of an evening.
And this is how he got on…
“My back problems started about 22 years ago. I was helping my Dad with a gardening project and I made the common error of using my back more than my knees to lift a heavy load. I had a painful back for a few weeks after that and it’s never been the same since. As long as I am careful, these days it’s generally OK, although if I forget and use my back excessively (such as lifting/twisting at the same time, often involving kids!) it can set it off again. The pain is in my lower back and I have seen a Chiropractor to get help on four separate occasions over the last 4 years, which involved a standard massage type treatment and a sudden ‘yank’ of my back to put it back in line.
Day to day the pain tends to be minimal and therefore manageable. I have invested in a very good chair for my home office and am always conscious of my posture when sat at a desk. Despite often working 10-11 hours a day at a desk, my back pain seems to stay very low and I think this is partly due to the chair and the arrangement of my desk, screens and keyboard in relation to the height of the chair. In previous jobs, I have had to go on basic posture training and take tests for it, so I guess much of this info has stuck! The times it hurts most are not a specific time of day, but more if I have been using my back muscles a bit more than normal. I can sense if this is the case, and if so, keep use of my back to an absolute minimum for a few days until pain subsides.
I really enjoyed using the cushion, it certainly felt very different from our existing sofa cushions – a big improvement in terms of support and comfort. It subconsciously made me want to adjust my posture to be less slouchy, though after sitting for an extended period, I wonder if this may wear off and the tendency to want to slouch kicks back in! The feeling of solid support combined with good comfort is a great combination and I am thinking we should get a few, but the trouble in our house (as with most houses with kids I am sure) is that they get lobbed about, trodden on, used in games etc.
Overall I think the cushion is a great product and with a suitable cover to match our decor I would be happy to have and use it daily when I am sat on the sofa. It would be great if you could buy a set of 4 for the price of 3 or something similar, to help make them more affordable. One question that remains unanswered is its durability. Over time most cushions we have had loose some shape and form and become less supportive. If this cushion resisted losing form over a long period of time, I’d happily pay good money for a set of them.”
Interview with Sittingwell
Here at The Art of Healthy Living we like to get to know the people behind a product a bit better, to see what really makes them tick and to discover why they think their product is so good. We talk to Lorna Kennard and Rachael Wall, the brains behind the Sittingwell cushion.
Are you sitting comfortably?
Then we’ll begin…
Why did you decide to set up Sittingwell?
“Sittingwell started for two reasons:
- We found that patients often struggled to find the right back care product for them and at times brought things that aggravated their problem. When they mentioned what they had brought we knew from our point of view why it made things worse, but websites at that time were just reams of products in a list with no guidance. So we set up the Sittingwell website with advice articles and videos to help answer peoples questions. This was to help guide them to buy the right product, but also to question whether they actually needed one. Often, it’s all about awareness. The biggest thing for us is that we only have quality products that we have tried and tested and know they work. This means less products overall and less confusion for people looking for a solution.
- The Sittingwell cushion came about because Lorna and I came across the same problem time and time again over the years. Sofas cause pain and/or are the last place people can sit when they are in pain, which often means pulling up a dining room chair instead – not a relaxing evening and to some degree this can feel isolating as you don’t quite feel like you are spending time with your family.”
If sofas are ultimately the problem, why produce a cushion and not a sofa?
“We looked into re-designing furniture and was informed by an expert in the industry that first stage prototype costs could be £50,000-100,000! We simply don’t have that amount of money, so thinking cap back on to an alternative solution.”
Did you face any problems along the way?
“We still work in our clinic (The Lotus Centre in Bourne End) so it hasn’t been a full time venture. There were multiple stumbling blocks within the design process; you don’t realise this when you embark on these things and not a product design expert in the first place. Working on a limited budget; we weren’t a well established business with a pot waiting to be spent, and the time it takes to research to get the support and feel right. We wanted balance between the support needed for the spine whilst still retaining that cosy feeling of relaxing on your sofa. It also took over 9 months to find a manufacturer as we wanted to stay UK made. Ironically they are only 30 minutes away from us; under our noses the whole time after scouring the country!”
Won’t it look out of place with my other rather lovely looking cushions?
“An amalgamation of how back care products look and the fact that it was for the home lead to designing something that looked in keeping with the home environment. The Sittingwell cushion has a cotton cover to hold everything together, but it is designed to be placed into a 45cm cushion cover of your choosing to fit in with your home decor.”
It comes in a rather nice bag, what made you choose this packaging?
“So much packaging is non-recyclable and ends up as landfill. It was important from an environmental point of view to have packaging that had purpose well beyond being a carrying vessel for the back support.”
What are your plans for the future of Sittingwell?
“We are only at the beginning of the journey for the cushion and we want to continue getting word out there about the fact that so many sofas cause pain for people. We also want to continue looking for more products that have a real benefit and you never know there may be a Sittingwell Sofa and furniture one day!”
One of the major things I love about this product, or rather for me perhaps it’s the people behind the product, is the complete honesty about whether or not you need the product. There aren’t many companies out there who are that open, or who care that much about genuinely helping you if you have a problem and that is incredibly refreshing in this day and age. Sittingwell don’t want to sell you this cushion if it’s not going to be of any use to you, they want to sell it to you if a) you suffer from back problems and b) it’s as a result of the lack of back support offered by your sofa.
For more advice regarding the Sittingwell Cushion or for back care in general we would advise you visit the Sittingwell website or speak to your GP.