Office Chair Back Injuries
“For many people who work in an office setting, sitting in an office chair without adequate back support can create a great deal of stress on the lower back. This is largely because in the seated position, the lumbosacral discs are loaded three times more than standing, and sitting without back support usually leads to poor posture, which stresses the soft tissues and joints in the spine. For many people, sitting in an office chair either causes or exacerbates lower back pain.
Part of the problem is that today’s lifestyle often includes long periods of sitting – at work, during the commute to and from work, at home watching TV or at the computer, watching kids’ soccer games, and so on. And it’s in this sitting position that poor postural habits tend to develop – hunching over, slouching in the chair, etc.
When sitting in an office chair, shifting one’s weight forward increases stress on the soft tissue, joints, and discs, and this in turn can create muscle tension and pain in the lower back and legs (e.g. sciatica).
Office Chair Lumbar Back Support is Important!
The lower portion of the spine, just above the buttocks, naturally curves inward toward the belly (the lordotic curve). A lumbar back support helps promote good posture by simply filling in the gap between the lumbar spine and the seat, supporting the natural inward curve of the lower back.
Without lumbar back support, it’s more difficult to maintain the correct posture – and the lumbar spine and large muscles in the lower back have to work harder to support the proper curvature and alignment. Over time, as the body tires, the muscles holding the spine in such a position tend to become weak, and the head and upper back tend to lean forward to compensate the weakening of the lumbar muscles. The natural tendency is to slouch and/or lean forward in the office chair.
With good lumbar back support from the office chair, the muscles surrounding the spine are relieved of much of the responsibility of having to keep the spine naturally curved. This support is especially important when seated for a long period.
Positioning an Office Chair for Back Support
In addition to lower back support, there are many simple ways to make sure that one’s office chair provides the right support for the back and neck. For example, for computer users:
The office chair should have elbow supports to avoid strain on the neck. Elbows should be able to comfortably rest on the elbow supports at a right angle.
Knees should be bent at a right angle, with a footrest to elevate the feet while sitting in the office chair, if necessary.
Eyes should be able to look straight ahead at the computer while seated in the office chair.
While the spine can maintain a natural curvature without lower back support provided by the seatback, the natural tendency for most people when sitting for a long period is to slouch forward. This slouching posture pushes the lower back out, so that the natural inward curve goes in the opposite direction – outward toward the chair – straining the structures in the lower back.
Maintaining Back Support in an Office Chair
When sitting in an office chair, a good lumbar back support should be flush against the small of the back. Many portable lumbar back supports are shaped specifically so that one end should be positioned up and the other down. When placed correctly, a lumbar back support should provide the following benefits:
Ears, shoulders, and pelvis (hips) are kept in alignment
Natural inward curvature of the lower spine is maintained
It is important that the back be flush, because this is what provides the support for the lower back. Overall, the lumbar back support should keep the spine in a very natural position. It should not overly accentuate the inward curve, nor should it feel unsupported.
Back Support and Ergonomic Chair Options
There are several types of lumbar back supports available in different types of office chairs:
Ergonomic chair. There are a number of ergonomic chairs that are ergonomically sculpted with a lumbar support curvature built into the chair. To test if the ergonomic chair fits well, the user should sit up straight, with the head, spine, and buttocks in alignment. Then sit all the way back against the seatback. The curve of the ergonomic chair should naturally follow the curve of the lower back.
Because this type of lumbar support is not adjustable, the ergonomic chair should be tested and examined prior to usage to ensure an appropriate fit.
Types of Lumbar Support and Ergonomic Office Chairs
- Adjustable back support chair. Many office chairs have a seatback that can be lowered or raised to better fit the user. The seatback should be positioned so that the curve of the lower spine is supported by the curve in the back of the chair. If more than one person will use the chair, then this level of adjustment may be a good option.
- Portable lumbar back support. A curved cushion or lumbar roll, fitted to the seat back of an office chair, can be manually placed to fit the proper areas of the lumbar region. These cushions can be used in conjunction with most types of chairs to best fit the individual’s need. Some products may be inflatable to increase or decrease the amount of support. Again, many portable lumbar supports are designed to have a particular end facing up and the other down. This type of support may be transferred to the office chair, to use in chairs at home, in the car, etc.
- A towel or small pillow. In many circumstances, a commercial lumbar back support is not necessary and a rolled up towel or small pillow may serve this function well. By rolling or folding a towel to the desired thickness, this support is placed wherever the user deems fit for the most comfort and support while sitting in an office chair.
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h/t to spine-health.com for the great article!