How My Fellow Commuters’ Manspreading F****d Up My Back

Let’s face it, women are still outnumbered when it comes to commuting to work. According to the Office for National Statistics, men make up 61% of the commuters who travel over an hour to get to work. 

As the minority gender, you learn to adapt to the situation. Of course, most conscientious commuters stow their luggage away safely in the overhead compartments and stick to their side of the seat (the number one rule in the good commuter hand guide) but, unfortunately, some are not so well-trained for the train. 

They shove you out of the way, smack you in the face with their rucksacks (maybe don’t wear your hiking bag on the 5pm train?) and, once, I even had a man glare and tut at me when I took my contraception pill while on the way home. All of this I take with a pinch of salt. But there’s one thing I just can’t abide, for a very specific reason. And that thing is manspreading. 

For those lucky enough to have avoided it their whole lives, manspreading is defined as this: ‘The practise whereby a man, especially one travelling on public transport, adopts a sitting position with his legs wide apart, in such a way as to encroach on an adjacent seat or seats.’ 

Sound familiar?

Of course it does, because it happens All. The. Time. In fact, it’s so common that the anti-manspreading community has several Instagram accounts dedicated to naming and shaming extreme spreaders. At the end of last year, feminists in Madrid took it one step further and started putting up ‘No Manspreading’ signs on some of their public buses.

This anti-manspreading rant isn’t about wanting special treatment on my morning commute simply because I happen to have ovaries, but more about expecting regular train etiquette from everyone, not just the women. Why? Because manspreading has actually f****d up my back. 

If dating has taught me one thing, it’s that women are getting taller whilst men seem to be getting smaller. At 5’11 I am not a petite lady. I need as much leg room as South Western Trains will give me, rather than it being taken up by the shorter man beside me. 

After a few months of commuting, I started to notice a dull ache in my lower back. According to the British Chiropractic Association, one in three commuters say they suffer from back pain, so equipped with the excuse that everyone suffers, I ignored it. Until one Saturday morning, my back was throbbing so much that I couldn’t move. Again, despite this, laziness and a Netflix binge won out as I made a vow to myself that I would book an appointment with a Chiropractor as soon as I finished Season 3 of The Bold Type

One week later, I was lying face down on a table having my back examined. To sum it up, I heard noises I never thought a back could make. A symphony of clicking and cracking sounds. Surprisingly I sat straight up afterwards (I thought my back had evolved into noodle from after the sounds it was making) and everything felt…free. After months of pain I had forgotten what it was like for my back to feel loose and crunch-free.

I jumped off the table, said a swift thank you and made my way to the door. My signature laissez-faire approach to healthcare, however, was stopped in its tracks with a ‘Where do you think you’re going?’ Turns out you can’t just pay someone to crack your bones once and wish for the best. According to my my Chiropractor, backs have more ‘underlying issues’ and one table session isn’t going to solve the problem. 

So, I described my day to day routine, demonstrated how I sat at my desk at work, how I slept… but she stopped me when I said I commuted.

You know why? Because, according to my Chiropractor, crossing my legs and curving my body to avoid the spread of male legs is in turn curving my spine and causing my hip to tilt. Which after a long period of time, essentially means that one leg is longer than the other. Thanks Manspreading! 

As I learnt to realign my wonky legs, I chatted to Jennifer Barr, Member of the British Chiropractic Association, to discuss the (albeit niche) epidemic that is, Manspreading-related back pain. She agrees that we’re, ‘neglecting our posture as we try to contort ourselves to avoid bags, elbows and the infamous Manspread. We cross our legs to take up less space, but we have a tendency to always cross the same leg, which over time, can lead to muscle tightness and pain in the lower back’. 

‘IT CAN LEAD TO CHRONIC MUSCLE SHORTENING, ALTERED JOINT MOVEMENT AND SEVERE PAIN’ 

Doesn’t seem serious right? Well, actually it can be pretty damn serious. ‘[This] can lead to chronic muscle shortening, altered joint movement patterns and severe pain in the sacroiliac joint (the joint between the spine and the pelvis)’, Barr informed me. 

As a 23-year-old with newly discovered dodgy hips and uneven legs, it seemed pertinent to point out that the last thing I needed was a hefty Chiropractor bill to boot. Fortunately, Barr said the solution was simple, and thankfully for my bank balance, totally free. 

‘Sit as far back in the seat as possible, with your shoulder blades against the backrest and feet flat on the floor. If you don’t manage to get a seat, stand feet hip distance apart and avoid stretching to hold on to a rail’.

That, or men learn to keep their legs shut. You know, either way. 

This article first appeared on ELLE.