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As you move through life, it’s interesting to reflect on the areas of life and little things that peak interest. One night, in my friend’s kitchen we were making dinner and talking about the idea of public toilets and how they impact and influence people’s life experience. In the moment of the conversation, my passion for body mechanics and how to look after the physical body came roaring forth. I had never before spoken out loud about my habit of doing a “low back impact assessment” when sitting on the loo. 

With a background in occupational rehabilitation and exercise physiology, I have found myself pondering the set up in many bathrooms and their associated impact on the human form.  With approximately 80% of Australian’s experiencing debilitating back pain in their lifetime and the toilet being a fairly central part to most people’s daily experience, there is an ongoing risk assessment happening in my head.  

How are these two linked? Why on earth do I care? 

Essentially, when you’re seated your low back bears all the pressure of your torso weight plus the load of gravity. Your leg muscles are not there to absorb the forces and distribute the impact into soft tissue. This is why people with back pain sometimes can’t sit for long periods of time and find standing to be an effective form of pain relief. So, there you are, sitting on the throne with some low back pain which may or may not be exacerbated by the simple act of sitting. The next layer to this situation is that when you add rotation into the mix, the load and pressure on the disc that lives between the vertebrae is further increased. Take a minute to ponder this… Where is the toilet paper typically located? 

In public stalls, the TP is within comfortable reach to the left or right. There is a convenient wall right there for the holder to be drilled into. Most of my bathroom angst comes about when I’m in private homes. Which, let’s be honest, if you’ve got debilitating back pain is where you’re going to spend most of your time.  Toilet roll holders in open plan bathrooms usually require the individual sitting to twist most of the way around to get the required squares for their needs. It is either that, or hope you have excellent shoulder range of motion so you can keep your torso facing forward whilst reaching behind you in a blind search. 

I spoke with a site foreman friend about this who has worked on many new apartment builds along with commercial construction. He outlined that for disabled toilets there is a whole page in the Australian Standards that identifies exactly where the loo roll and even type has to be located and used. Great for public spaces, but there is no building code for private dwellings and it’s usually left to the person installing the holder as to where it ends up. This conversation pretty much reinforced my notion that for something frequently used, not much consideration is applied. 

Thought overkill potentially.

It comes down to quality of life for me. If there are things a person can do over the course of their daily life to decrease or mitigate pain, I’m all about it. Particularly when pain is the dominating factor in their current experience. Decreasing the amount of loaded spinal twists someone performs over the course of the day will only facilitate a decrease in sensitivity in the affected area. One less movement aggravating an already annoyed and upset soft tissue. 

In a strange and functional way, understanding where your toilet roll is located falls into ongoing self care – especially if you’re currently experiencing an aggravated low back. In a world filled with ways to look after yourself, why not add a little bathroom reflection / low back impact assessment into your work day? Sit on your throne with a quiet confidence that you’re looking after your body for the long term. 

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