Ergonomic Seating in Cafes: An Osteopath’s View

Paper Cup & Co Geelong

Working on your computer at a coffee shop is more idyllic urban fantasy than it is in reality. In fact, from the perspective of an osteopath, it has the potential for injury. It is no news that osteopaths are very concerned with lower back pain and not only can sitting in a wooden chair be pretty uncomfortable, but cafe furniture at coffee is designed for sitting back and relaxing not working on a laptop.

Furniture not intended for particular use can force you into awkward postures, increase stress, and potentially cause injury. Back and shoulders tense almost immediately. With a basic understanding of simple biomechanics simple changes that can be made wherever you are, ensures comfort and function.

Most of the time, the problem with the chair is that the seat is too hard, and too low, with the wrong orientation to promote a neutral sitting posture. Child-friendly cafes could also be more ergonomic for mums.

And fewer people would go there to work…so there is that…

Sitting low in a chair causes the pelvis to roll back and the lower back to flex. This slumped position increases stress on the lower back, and makes it harder to sit up.

A ‘bucket’ seat design hold you into the back of the chair, and pushes your hips back so you fall into the back rest. It’s a comfortable position for relaxing and drinking coffee, but not ideal for working on a computer.

The problem with tables are they’re above elbow level, making you elevate your shoulders to reach for the keyboard. Since it is hard to hold your hands out and your wrists up over the computer, you’ll drop your wrists onto the edge of the laptop or the table for support. Compression of the wrist can not only increase pressure on the nerves of the wrist, but can increase tension in the muscles of the hand and shoulders causing pain.

Neck flexion can increase stress on the muscles of the shoulders and neck. Overall, working on a laptop is like Schroeder hunched over the piano. It’s not a good way to work, and you’ll quickly feel it in your back, neck, shoulders, and wrists.

Fortunately, it can be usefully modified pretty easily.

Bring a pillow and a 3-ring binder. Choose a pillow that optimises lumbar support: a 3 inch wedge pillow about 2-3 wedge pillow or a couch cushion. Put it on the seat to sit on.

It raises the hips and changes the orientation of the seat from a backward tilt to a forward one.

Instead of your pelvis rolling back and your lumbar spine flexing, your body is more balanced over your pelvis and you sit up straighter.. Sitting taller helps decrease lower back stress, and you literally breathe easier.

Sitting taller also helps to decrease strained reach to the keyboard.

Next, place the 3-ring binder under the laptop; narrow end facing you. This puts the keyboard at an angle of positive tilt and does two things: allows you to work with your wrists straight; and keeps your head in a more neutral position.

By bending your elbows to raise your hands to the keyboard, rather than hovering your hands over a flat keyboard, you decrease the shoulder elevation. Raising the monitor even a few inches decreases neck flexion and neck and shoulder tension.

So always take a pillow to your favourite coffee shop. The owner might think it feels so much like home, you’re staying the night.