Neck Pain
April 11, 2004 2:56 PM   Subscribe

Ergonomics question: Why are seats (airplane, bus, car) all so uncomfortable on my neckular area?

(inside there is oh so much more!)

I've done a lot of travelling lately, via planes (I'll never fly Delta again, FYI - did you know you have to pay for their crap food now, or that LA to SF is $400 plus?), trains, automobiles and bus (all hail Fung-Wah), and it is an absolute universal truth that seats make my neck hurt. Yes, I know I can get one of those Buckwheat pillows, but why isn't something like that designed in?

I can't be the only person whose neck is in constant pain as a result of these seats, can I? Who designs them this way, and why?
posted by Sinner to Health & Fitness (11 answers total)
How tall are you?

I ask because I am quite short, and I have always thought that the seats are designed for people substantially taller than I am. The part that should be behind my neck is instead pressing against the back of the top of my head -- instant headache time.

But if they are uncomfortable for taller people as well -- I can't explain that.
posted by litlnemo at 4:29 PM on April 11, 2004

Response by poster: I'm about 6'. There's a part that's supposed to be behind my neck?

My theory was that I slouch, but I find that even when I sit perfectly straight, there's no cushion for my neck. Perhaps the rear of my head is misshapen somehow?
posted by Sinner at 5:07 PM on April 11, 2004

I've noticed this! A ton of seats are designed so that they fit my back and I fall into them nicely, but then the top part that is supposed to support your head-neck area are moved at slightly forward at an angle. Very uncomfortable, and it made no sense to me why it wasn't recessed back like the rest of the seat. I understand people are different heights... but it seems like the way they are designed would be uncomfortable for anyone.
posted by banished at 5:40 PM on April 11, 2004

At 6'1", I have yet to find a seat on any form of public transport that seems to be designed with someone this height in mind. Invariably, if I sit up straight, my head is above the seat-back and the only way I can rest my head is to slouch down, losing any back support and crushing my knees against the seat in front. I had always thought that the seats were designed with people of some mythical average height, but maybe not, based on the above comments.
posted by dg at 6:22 PM on April 11, 2004

Do you sit at a window seat. I find if I spend any amount of time craning my neck to look out the window, which is usually 14" below your eye height, that you'll eventually tire your neck.
posted by darren at 6:38 PM on April 11, 2004

Response by poster: Not sure that it's relevant - I'm desparately awaiting an, uh, ergonomist? to come in and set this straight - but no, I always choose the aisle for added legroom.

banished, that's exactly what I'm talking (dg, too).
posted by Sinner at 6:47 PM on April 11, 2004

They're just plain uncomfortable. I'm only an inch taller than the 5'8" that these things are intended for, and the only seat I've found marginally comfortable on a plane in the past year was on a Southwest flight.
posted by SpecialK at 9:30 PM on April 11, 2004

They're designed for people who are 5'8"?! Ugh! I *am* just a smidge under 5'8" and I am never comfortable in coach seats on planes. Or bus seats. Or most car seats. So I would love to have the answer to this question too.

The only thing I can offer is my theory that airline coach seats are designed to be uncomfortable so that you'll spend the money to fly first or business class. =P
posted by Melinika at 10:36 PM on April 11, 2004

My guess is that they're designed not for sitting, but for navigating through - when one is standing, the top portion of the seat in front of them is angled forward to allow passage. Also a consideration for emergency egress situations.

If the airlines weren't so greedy and would relax the row-to-row distances, the seats could be made more comfortable for folks of any height.
posted by yoga at 5:59 AM on April 12, 2004

I am 6'4" and all public transport seats are designed to torture me. Especially planes. But then there's this.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 7:02 AM on April 12, 2004

Galen Cranz blames it all on the very concept of the chair in her book The Chair: Rethinking Culture, Body, and Design. Her argument is that our spines simply aren't designed to be folded at a 90 degree angle at the waist. This is why people slouch and also why people resort to crossing their legs to keep them from constantly sliding downwards. It's probably also the reson that most Westerners have that strange head-forward posture all the time. Chair designers are aware of this problem and they compensate by making the angle wider than 90 degrees. As you might imagine, this causes a problem for people who want their heads to be upright, so some designers put a cushion there to support the head. It's an uncomfortable solution, but so are most of the others. Kneeling chairs and recliners are two of the few designs which keep our spines in a more neutral position.
posted by callmejay at 10:26 AM on April 12, 2004

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