When it comes to fixing back pain, there is rarely a single answer. It often takes a variety of interventions; many you can do on your own and some that may require the input of an expert. My dear friend Christopher does a great job taking care of himself. He exercises regularly incorporating weights, HIIT workouts, walking, yoga, and myofascial self-care. However, he still deals with back pain off and on.
Knowing he has a job that requires him to be at a desk most of the day, I asked about his chair. He said he was thinking about getting a new chair for his home office because it is very well used (you may notice some duct tape in the photos) but I’m not sure he believed me that it could be the chair causing his back pain. I asked him not to buy a chair online and to let me know when he was going chair shopping so I could tag along. He agreed to both.
On the day of our shopping trip, we headed to a local office store that I knew had several chairs to choose from. I wanted him to actually sit in the chairs and feel the difference between each chair and have the opportunity to adjust each chair to suit him.
We discussed what makes a chair suitable for him. I told him I usually tell my clients to get a chair with the most adjustability they can afford. Just about every chair comes with the up and down function so the next big priority, especially if you have back pain, is an adjustable lumbar support. The next function is the ability to tilt the back rest. But, lumbar is FAR more important than most people realize and many chairs with a static lumbar support have it in the wrong position.
What’s the wrong position? Most chairs with a static lumbar curve support have the support too low. When the support is too low, it presses right on the sacroiliac (SI) joints and this pressure can be extremely irritating to the SI or low back area. This area is generally right below where your belt or the top of your pants would land unless you wear very high waist pants. Many people will avoid the pressure and end up leaning forward as you see Chris doing in the left photo above.
What frustrates me even more is that chairs that do have adjustable lumbar supports often don’t adjust high enough or deeply enough to fit many women. Women often have larger hips and gluteal tissue and many chairs do not accommodate for this difference between men and women.
Just a short tangent… Many seats in cars present the same problem. The built in or adjustable lumbar support is positioned too low and presses on the SI area and creates discomfort when driving. I carry a small towel to roll up and place in my lumbar space to prevent the built in lumbar support from irritating my SI area.
So, back to our shopping trip. We found a chair with an adjustable lumbar support and unbelievably there was only one choice from approximately 20 chairs. Some had lumbar supports that would inflate, but they did not go up and down. Chris sat in the chair and said it felt exactly like the others. Then I adjusted it to fit him and asked him to sit back down. The clouds parted and the sun shown through! He could tell the difference and said it felt really good. He bought the chair, took it home, put it together and used it the next day while working from home.
At the end of his day, I stopped by to see how it was working out for him. Amazingly enough, no back pain. He was impressed. I told him I might write a blog post on this issue and asked if I could take some photos. He was agreeable and hammed it up for my pictures.
I checked in on him again throughout the week and asked for a comment. He reported that on the days he was able to work from home and use his new chair he had no back pain. When he worked at work and did not have a chair with an adjustable lumbar support, his back felt stiff and he could feel the pain coming on again.
If you have low back pain, consider the chairs, cars, couches, etc. you are sitting in and how they support your body or don’t support your body. Not sure and need some input? On occasion I do house (and Zoom) calls. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
There are a few more ergonomic tips I gave Chris to really polish up his work situation, but we’ll take this change for now. Lumbar support for the low back win!!
Amy Mayer OTD, OTR/L, RYT