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Chairs For Lower Back Pain
Sabrina Jo is senior director of science and research at the American Council on Exercise, based in Lawrence, Kansas.
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Whether you work from home or go to the office every day, you may not be aware of the support your body gets when you sit.
That’s right, we’re talking about your office chair—not comfort (although that’s important, too). Your office chair plays a huge role in your overall health, especially when it comes to health. In fact, the right office chair can help prevent back pain in the first place. If you are already suffering, the right office chair can make a big difference in relieving your discomfort.
Here’s what you need to know about choosing an office chair for back pain—including several standing options.
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Back pain is very common—more than 28% of adults in the United States report having back pain, and it’s more common in older adults and women.Back Pain in the US Statistics and Facts. Statistics. Accessed 7/30/2021. .
The consequences of back pain are also costly. In 2016, US health care costs due to low back pain and neck pain reached approximately $134.5 billion, the highest amount among 154 different health conditions  Dieleman JL, Cao J, Chapin A, et al. US Health Care Expenditures by Provider and Health Status, 1996–2016. Jama. 2020;323(9):863-884.
Risk factors for back pain are also very diverse, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS). Age, genetics, level of exercise, body weight, mental health, smoking, and psychological factors have all been cited as contributors, along with work-related factors.
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Having a job that requires heavy lifting, pushing, or pulling—especially when the back is twisted or moved—understandably can lead to back injuries and pain. But according to the NINDS, working at a desk all day can also cause back pain, especially if you have poor posture or sit in a chair with a lack of back support.
Having the right office chair and setting up your workplace properly is critical to improving health, says Karen Jacobs, MD, an occupational therapist, board-certified specialist and professor of occupational medicine.
And he and his colleagues say the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the problem, as many people have had to move their offices into their homes and use temporary spaces to be creative.
“In my conversations with people who work from home, they say they don’t have the lumbar support they had in an office chair or they don’t have a sit/stand desk,” says Jacobs. “They don’t get up and go to the water cooler to drink tea and take those breaks. The boundaries are blurred. That’s why we’ve seen back pain in so many people.”
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Often, people use the office chair provided at work, or if they’re at home, they use whatever chair is available, Jacobs says. But the key to finding the best office chair for back pain is determining what works for you—you never know until you try it.
At work, that means borrowing a coworker’s chair with features you like. For a home office, this means asking the store’s salesperson if you can trial run the demo image for a few days before making a decision. To buy another, he says.
When testing seats, there are a few things to consider beyond comfort. Check out its features, whether it has an ergonomic design, flexible features, and, of course, the cost.
One of the first things to consider when trying out a new office chair for back pain is the material. There are many options – leather, polyester, mesh and foam and everything in between.
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“Especially for your chair seat, I like breathable material and a nice firm, round cushion for your lower back,” says Jacobs. “Make sure it’s comfortable but breathable.”
Researching what the chair is made of is especially important if you’re allergic to certain materials or fabrics, he adds.
Having an office chair with a solid ergonomic design is essential. However, just because a chair is labeled “ergonomic” doesn’t mean it actually is, Jacobs says.
“Anyone can use that [word] in a product,” he says. “So we need to understand what customers want.”
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He encourages workplaces to invite an ergonomics expert to assess workplaces, as well as teach employees how to properly set up and use the workplace.
“The best way to make sure an office chair is ergonomic is to find one with a lot of adjustment,” says Jacobs.
“Put it in your backseat and try to fix everything,” he says.
Adjustments should include seat height, tilt pan (the part you sit on), removable armrests, head restraints, and reclining options.
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Pay attention to your knees – they should be at a 90-degree angle and your feet should be flat on the floor in front of you or on the floor. Also, do not rest the back of the knees against the seat of the chair. If you’re going with an adjustable seat pan, make sure you can lock it so it won’t move once you’ve adjusted it properly, Jacobs says.
He also chooses chairs that can be swiveled so that people can easily move their chairs when they need to change positions instead of turning the head, which is an unusual way to move the body.
Flexibility is not a set-it-and-forget-it thing. In fact, Jacobs recommends making it a regular part of your workday, which is why he helped design a mousepad for Boston University with recommendations on how to set up your work center.
He says: “Every time you enter the office, ask yourself if your chair is comfortable. “Have a reminder of how to set up your computer workstation.”
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An office chair for back pain relief can cost anywhere from less than $100 to more than $3,000. Other materials like leather are more expensive, and chairs with so many features and changing options definitely cost a lot of money.
Jacobs doesn’t recommend a specific office chair, but he says good office chairs for back pain can be found at a range of prices. Plus, everyone’s body is a little different so it’s all about finding the right fit, she says.
Don’t be afraid to get creative to save money, he adds. Using a pillow on the seat or back of the chair will help support your body alignment and make it more comfortable.
Lumbar support (lower back) is ideal no matter what type of chair you’re in because it aligns your body and maintains the natural curve of the spine, Jacobs says.
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If you can’t find a chair that’s comfortable for your waist, or you’re sitting in a chair that doesn’t have lumbar support, you can use a neatly folded towel to add it, he says.
Jacobs also likes to use the leg area to improve fit and support. At home, she uses yoga blocks for her legs because they are comfortable and she likes to move them wherever she sits.
So are you
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