- Atlas Physio
"I walk tall - I got a tall attitude"
- Dolly Parton
Our world is designed for consumer averages. This is so companies and suppliers can turn out products like furniture, cars, clothing and electronics that are more than likely to fit the needs of everyone on the planet. The average Australian male height is 5 feet and 9 inches, and the average Australian woman is 5 feet and 3.5 inches tall. However, I play football and the average height of the guys on my team is well over 6-feet tall. I barely scrape past the 6-foot mark myself, and I get dunked upon in a most ruthless and regular manner. Despite this, I take comfort in the fact that I can fit myself into pretty much all furniture, clothing, and most cars without any problems, but it's a tall order for a taller guy (or gal) to fit themselves into a world designed for people smaller than them.
The average human height is increasing as time goes on. Advances in dietary science and delivery of nutrition to infants, improvements in public health and access to sporting facilities for children in the community, better understanding of the role of exercise in adolescence and a general professionalisation of highschool graduates away from physical labour means that people are on average taller now than their parents or grandparents. While the average human height is increasing, design standards and practices for office and home furniture are playing catch-up. Granted, it's easier to build a couch than a whole new human, but design trends represent the most common denominator aside from niche markets, and as a result if you want something a little more fitting, you've got to shell out a taller stack. Taller humans need different cuts of clothing, sturdier shoes, measured workspace setups and ergonomic considerations for their height. Having longer limbs and bearing weight means that the muscular force required to overcome the loading moment is larger. It takes energy to fit into the world, and even more energy to be comfortable in it.
So it's a challenge for our loftier brothers and sisters, to need to squeeze themselves into a smaller world. Postures that are comfortable and accessible for shorter lads and lasses might be quite awkward for someone bigger to fit into. We've gotten better at accommodating for taller people as a result of COVID - we've needed to become more conscious of our desk setups, our working spaces and how we interact with our offices. We still have a long way to go. I see lots of tall people in my clinic, not specifically because I market myself to the future NBA draft but because they come in with back pain, hip pain, shoulder pain and neck pain. They come in with their torsos slouched, their heads craned forward and down, and their backside rounded rearward which makes their trunk assume the shape of a doughy lima bean. It's not just tall people as well; shorter people have a rough time of it too. It's easy to install a lifting system in a desk and bring it up to working level. If you want to lower that desk there's only so far down it's going to go. I'm not suggesting that we need an all-capturing system of workplace design and measurement that can equally and adequately provide for the needs of all postural and physical ranges, although hey there's a thought!
What I am suggesting is that the world we live in is not a world in which we were designed to live. This is a drum I've banged on previously and I'll keep beating it until I die. Everything around us; our chairs, desks, clothes, means and modes of transport, and the devices we use to interact with the world like our phones and computers have been designed to facilitate efficiency of manufacture and ease of work in the world. They haven't been designed for comfort, they've been designed for a practical end: enabling the human animal to engage with the machinery of production as part of the labour stock. Any bells and whistles you want on top of that, like a bigger laptop stand, an adjustable desk, an ergonomically supportive office chair, and extra cushioning are luxuries that carry a premium. We're not Homo Sapiens, we're Homo Faber: Man who Makes. The world around us has been designed to fit the needs of that man, who on average happens to be 5'9".
This means that people with unique postural concerns - and that's not just tall people, it's people who don't fit the mould of what's mass-designed for general use - are exposed to different and unique postural and positional challenges when interacting with the world. Ergonomics is what happens when anatomy meets the environment - we wouldn't need to worry about this if the world was designed for our comfort as a rule, but because of the limitations of materials, design, and manufacture, as well as the postural demands of labour, people are going to experience strain and fatigue as a general rule. This strain and fatigue is going to be more acutely felt in people who fall further beyond the bounds of what our world and workspaces are designed to accommodate: people who are broader, people with missing limbs, people with developmental deformities, people who've had their anatomy change as a result of injury or disease; all of these people will feel it more, and they'll feel it worse the further away from the average they are.
What does this mean for you? If you're average, congratulations - but you're still exposed to risks like muscular strain, postural fatigue, neck pain, head pain and other discomforts. If you're above or below average, congratulations - not only are you more unique, but you're exposed to all those regular elements of strain and fatigue with the added price of admission in which you need to fit your body into a world designed for other people.
So what can we do to combat this? We must extend sympathy to our vertically-endowed brothers and sisters. We must reach out to them, by ladder, by ledge, or on our toes even, and let them know that we're here for them, and that we understand their pain. For our taller friends out there, be mindful how you sit and move and live in the world, and don't shrink to fit the mould. Stand tall, proud and upright, knowing that every day you live is a day in which you make the world notice you and the comfort to which you are entitled. Also stand upright because it's good posture, and that's just good advice for everyone.