One tip we usually offer to clients when conducting an ergonomic assessment is to sit with their feet flat on the floor. But one office furniture that’s risen in popularity recently seems to contradict that idea: an office chair that allows the user to sit cross-legged while working. While it’s comfortable to sit with your legs crossed for a short period, maintaining this position for an extended time will eventually lead to pain and discomfort.
This got me into thinking about the many manufacturers and suppliers who freely label their products as “ergonomically designed.” Equipment with proper ergonomic design requires testing, research, and various considerations. And unfortunately, that’s what some manufacturers fail to realize. The reason for doing this post is that currently, there’s a lot of misconception in the world of ergonomics office products. So below, I’m going to delve into the wider concerns facing the ergonomics industry and get into the nitty-gritty of the research on sitting cross-legged.
Nowadays, you can see so many manufacturers marketing their product as “ergonomic” with very little evidence to support their claim. The question is: why are products that we know as Ergonomics Professionals can increase the musculoskeletal risk for pain and disorder gaining market share? Well, there could be many reasons. Let’s explore them below.
Lack of sufficient information and knowledge about ergonomics can result in individuals spending significant money on products that simply aren't helping them. Many people assume that if they purchase ergonomic equipment, it’ll instantly solve their problem. The truth is, a lot of these products don't allow users to correctly position themselves. And people still don’t seek the advice of a professional ergonomics expert when selecting office equipment. This brings the bigger problem: if uniquely-designed chairs are increasing in popularity, does this mean that other ergonomics issues are just being ignored or thought of as “the price of doing business?”
Of course, I’m not against ingenuity. However, when new products are being introduced to the market without sufficient research, then that’s a problem. For example, one of the biggest factors of long-term back health is lumbar support. If a new chair is engineered with no regard for the importance of lumbar support, how can you assure that it’s not harming the user?
The second reason is that the advice that people get from the media, friends, and family aren’t backed by research. Getting advice from these sources means that the information you're receiving may be inaccurate. Reliable information should be well-researched and backed by science. Buying office furniture is a decision that requires looking not only at the aesthetic features of the product but also the functional considerations. Finding the right product depends on the user’s needs, the type of job they do, their measurements, and what their tendencies are. This is why getting expert’s advice is essential, which brings us to the next reason.
Lastly, it could be that the public is seeking out these newfangled chairs because they’ve never had proper ergonomic adjustment, or they’ve never invested in a chair before. Others also assume that a proper ergonomic chair is just another marketing gimmick. But if you've ever tried chairs at a generic big box store versus a high end chair manufacturer, you know that these chairs simply can't be compared in terms of long-term quality and functionally. There exists this huge disconnect between that knowledge (that ergonomics addresses real problems) and the general population.
Another thing: Simply purchasing an ergonomically designed chair that has all the best features is never going to be the silver bullet that it may be marketed as. Yes, getting a properly designed office chair allows you to sit in a balanced position, but it’s just one of the factors to be considered in workstation design. This is why getting a full workstation assessment by someone who has sufficient ergonomics expertise is valuable. As Ergonomic Consultants, we can point out where the issues are and recommend appropriate solutions.
If we extend this thought to the entire working population, we can clearly see a huge disconnect between what we can offer as ergonomics consultants versus people’s perception of “business as usual”.
By which I mean:
There are businesses out there that are experiencing high workers compensation fees, high injury rates, high levels of complaints, quality issues such as rework, frequent overtime, or current issues such as the great resignation.
So without sufficient ergonomics support and knowledge, companies in our communities may be struggling right now. If they're not getting ergonomics advice from an expert like you, then their business may not be able to stay afloat for long. But of course, there’s a solution. As Ergonomic Consultants, we can provide them with the right information, the right vision, and the right plan as to what their needs are.
Now, let’s shift and talk about the chair that allows you to sit cross-legged while working. This type of chair has risen in popularity lately as being a new paradigm in ergonomic sitting. It features a wider seat pan and allows the person to switch the setup based on how they’re feeling. One of the biggest features of this chair is the ability to sit cross-legged. And we know that overtime, this position is bad for you. So the question is: what are the ergonomic risks of sitting crossed-legged over a long period of time?
Let’s look at the main concerns with products like this that encourage sustained awkward posture, specifically sitting with your legs crossed:
We know that there’s a high prevalence of low back pain (LBP) in office workers. Individuals who sit cross-legged for long periods of time have poor spinal posture for most of the day. According to this research, sitting in a cross-legged position could make the trunk to be more slouched compared to erect sitting posture, most especially in patients who suffer LBP.
Another study revealed that prolonged sitting in a cross-legged posture creates great pressure on one of your legs, which could push your blood to flow upward to the heart at an abnormal pace and rhythm. Therefore, if a sitting position is maintained for a long time, you should maintain a correct sitting posture to prevent musculoskeletal disorders as well as maintain normal pulmonary function.
Lastly, this research found that static sitting or standing appears to be of concern via fatigue mechanisms given the prolonged loading caused by exposure to these tasks. Our body requires movement to nourish structures. For instance, the nucleus pulposus and the intervertebral disc provide periodic rest of muscles to avoid fatigue. In sitting, individuals who adopted multiple postures and cycled between them across a wider band of lumbar spinal motion also created motion that appeared to prevent static loads on the spine. So instead of sitting with your legs crossed, you might want to uncross them for a few minutes and get up to give your whole body a good break.
And that’s it! Overall, it’s not a good idea to sit with your legs crossed. This comfortable position could cause pain and discomfort if maintained for extended periods. With the increasing popularity of those chairs that allow users to sit cross-legged, more people out there need your help. There’s no better time to get yourself out there, go beyond your comfort zone, and market your business.
If you’re interested in learning how to successfully market your ergo consulting business, I can help you. In September, I'm going to be hosting a webinar that shows you how to build, attract customers, and raise your income with your own ergonomics services. Make sure to save your spot today.
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