Is work a real pain in your… back? Office chairs and back pain are intimately related, given that many people spend the bulk of their waking hours sitting behind a desk. Sitting for long periods of time is definitely a prime culprit for back pain, but having an ergonomic office chair could make a huge difference.
What’s an ergonomic office chair? Well, ergonomics is the science of designing objects to optimize comfort and reduce strain and injury. So, an office chair that is ergonomic is both comfortable and practical, helping to prevent health issues including back pain.
Most office chairs lead to back pain by increasing stress in the back, shoulders, neck, arms, and legs. By providing poor support and encouraging bad posture, office chairs can cause back pain by straining spinal muscles and putting pressure on discs.
Slouching and hunching over can over-extend ligaments in the spine and cause cramping and fatigue in the back muscles. Given the repetitive nature of work, this can lead to spine degeneration in long-term office workers.
Office Chairs and Back Pain – what to do
If you have to be at your desk for long periods of time, there are a number of ways to avoid back pain. These include:
- Getting up and moving around or stretching for a couple of minutes every half hour
- Using a sit-stand work station where desk height can be adjusted
- Ensuring you don’t have to twist or strain to reach supplies (like staplers and files)
- Staying hydrated
- Choosing (and adjusting!) an ergonomic office chair.
The Best Office Chairs for Back Pain
An ergonomic office chair can enhance spinal support and help you maintain proper posture to minimise back strain. An ideal ergonomic chair will have in-built lumbar support, an adjustable seat height, adjustable arm-rests, and even neck support.
Arm-rests help to take some of the strain off your cervical spine and shoulders. This can make a huge difference when you’re at your desk for hours on end. Arm-rests also make it easier to keep your posture in check, so you don’t slouch or slump forward.
Ergonomic chairs do not magically work right out of the box, sadly. They need to be adjusted to the individual, accounting for the person’s body size and requirements.
Adjusting an Office Chair
To set up an office chair, you’ll need to work out the desired height when seated. Start by sitting close to your desk so that your upper arms are parallel with your spine. Ideally, your eyes should be on a level with your screen, and your hands should rest comfortably just below heart level when typing. Your elbows should be bent at an angle of 90-degrees. Depending on the type of work you do, these requirements may be different.
To make sure that you aren’t putting strain on your lower back and knees, you may need to use a footrest. See if you can comfortably slide your hands between your thigh and the chair, just behind your knee. If you can’t, use a footrest to elevate your knees slightly. If there’s too much of a gap, raise your chair and desk slightly.
Lumbar Support Office Chairs and Back Pain
Lumbar support is essential for back health at work. Ideally, when your rump is pressed right up against the chair-back, lumbar support will cause a slight arch in your lower back.
Some office chairs have this built in, while others may require you to use a separate cushion. Lumbar support helps to take the strain off your lower back and can make it easier to avoid slouching and slumping.
If you have shorter thighs, you may have already encountered the link between deeper office chairs and back pain. Ideally, you would track down a chair with a shallower seat to avoid a common cause of lower back pain. Alternatively, use a lumbar support cushion, towel, or pillow to reduce the distance between the chair-back and the leading edge of the chair. You should be able to move your clenched fist between the front of the seat and the back of your calf.
Alternative Office Chairs and Back Pain
Ergonomic office chairs are great for some, but there are plenty of other options too. If you want something a bit more flexible, you might want to try an exercise ball or a Swedish kneeling chair.
Exercise balls are great if you’re looking to promote healthy posture while engaging your core muscles. The same principles apply, however, in terms of desk and screen height, and getting up regularly to move and stretch. As an added bonus, you can incorporate your exercise ball into your stretching routine!
If you have a spine condition, talk to your doctor before using an exercise ball. You might not feel like you’re exercising by just sitting down, but the cumulative small muscle movements needed to balance on the ball can overtax muscles. Sitting on an exercise ball for a long time may even cause further back pain.
Swedish kneeling chairs are also a good option for some people. Again, be sure to consider any existing health issues, such as knee pain, that might prevent you from safely using this type of chair. Office chairs and back pain have a long, complicated history. There’s no one ergonomic chair that will satisfy everyone, so be sure to shop around and see what works for you.