Lower back pain is debilitating, it impacts a shocking number of American's each year (roughly half). And it's the number one reason American's call in sick to work and for good reason; lower back pain is a serious issue.
Although there is no magic bullet for dealing with lower back pain, getting an office chair that is ergonomic is a great first step.
What Causes Lower Back Pain?
For most, lower back pain is caused by straining a ligament or a muscle. You might have lifted a heavy object, landed awkwardly while playing pick up basketball or tweaked it while tying a skate (seriously, I'm in the prime of my life and this happened to me).
Another common cause of back pain is poor posture. As humans we weren't designed to sit at a desk for eight hours a day, hunched over. This can cause serious mobility issues and ultimately causing a stiff, compressed lower back.
And although you may not be able to change the fact that you have to work at a desk for forty hours a week you can make some lifestyle changes to help eliminate lower back pain.
Tips to Reduce or Prevent Lower Back Pain from Sitting for Prolonged Periods of Time
- Most lists will cite 'maintain good posture'. And most people will have an idea of what that looks like; a straight back, a neutral head angle, 90 degrees angles for both your elbows and your knees. The problem is maintaining that good position through out the day. Leave yourself a Post-It Note on your monitor reminding you to check in with your posture.
- Bring your monitor closer or increase the font size. This is to avoid straining forward. My font size is huge. On a mac simply hit "Command + '+'" on a Windows you can increase the font size by going into the display settings. Or you can hit "Windows Key + '+' " in order to magnifying the screen. If you're straining to read what is on your computer you'll natural lean forward and immediately ruin your posture.
- Choose a good office chair. Your lumbar (as shown below) should be supported. There are office chairs that come with pillows that you can adjust to support your lumbar. These might be a little bit overkill
- Alternate between sitting and standing. If you can afford a stand up desk that adjusts, do yourself a favor and splurge. It's difficult to stand all day and work which is why I recommend a desk that can be adjusted to alternate between standing and seated. Having a good office chair and a stand up desk was a real life saver for me.
- Drink plenty of water. This does two things; first being dehydrated can lead to tight muscles which is bad news for your lower back. The second reason is going to the water cooler frequently will force you to move around more through out the day. First you'll need to frequently re-fill the water bottle and second you'll need to pee a lot more!
- Speaking of moving more frequently, get up and move! Leave reminders to get up and move around a little bit. You'll reduce pressure on your spine and it'll help release tension.
- Keep your feet planted. Keeping your feet on the ground will help to relieve tension in your lower half. Make sure you're not crossing your legs or ankles as this can make sitting in good posture difficult.
- Get a headset. If you talk on the phone frequently and you don't have a headset you'll likely end up pinning the phone between your shoulder and neck. This is no good as it puts your neck in a very awkward position. Double bonus if you get a wireless headset and walk around your office while you talk.
What To Look For When Choosing An Office Chair For Your Lower Back
If you spend half of the time you're at work in a chair you're likely going to spend at least 1000 hours a year in that chair. My dad likes to remind me to 'buy a good bed you're going to spend 1/3 of your life in it". The same principle holds true for an office chair, you're going to spend an awful lot of time in that chair.
- Lumbar support. The most important thing is you choose a chair that offers good lumbar support. What this means is that you choose a chair that sits flush with your lower back. If you can't feel your lower back touching the chair when you sit normally, it's not a good chair for you. If you're paritcularly tall or short you may want to look into an adjustable lumbar back support.
- Adjustable arm rests. Arm rests are usually in terrible positions for posture. They're either too high or too low or they don't slide under a desk. An OK chair will at least allow you to move the arm rests up and down. An even better chair will actually give you the ability to swing them out of the way entirely.
- The chair follows the natural curve of your spine. When you're typing or using your mouse you're practicing good posture; your lower back is against the lumbar support, you head and spin are in alignment and you're not having to look way up or way down.
But what about when you're taking a phone call or you're having a conversation and you're relaxed in your chair. You the know the power pose I'm talking about; you're leaning back slightly and your hands are either clasped behind your head or are folded in your lap.
When you're in your power pose, you want the chair to naturally follow the curve of your spin (see below)
Image Source: Ortho Info
The Top 6 Office Chairs for Lower Back Pain
1. Herman Miller Aeron: The Top Office Chair Under $1500
If you can afford it, this chair consistently is rated as one of the best office chairs on the market. It's beautifully designed and comes in a variety of colors. If you're going to splurge on a chair I'd recommend the fully loaded model. The basic model doesn't have adjustable arm rests which is no good.
The lumbar bar can be raised or lowered to ensure it's in the correct position. I also like that it comes in three specific sizes.
Size A is designed for smaller individuals. If you're 5'4 or shorter and weigh less then 150lbs this is the correct size.
Size B is the most common size. It's suited for people who are between 5'5 and 6'2, who weigh less then 220lbs.
Size C is the large model designed us tall folks, 6'2+ and weigh up to 300lbs.
I guarantee you'll love the mesh backing, which doesn't feel cheap like some other brands. This really is the creme of the crop.
If you can find one of these on Kijiji that's wonderful, there are also open box models on Amazon which is another decent option to save a few dollars. Alternatively, you can open the wallet and spring for a new one.
2. Steelcase Leap: The Top Office Chair Under $1000
Steelcase is another high end chair manufacturer with a reputation of producing quality products. The Steelcase Leap is no exception.
As far as the back support goes, this is one of the better products on the market. The design of the chair is such that it does a brilliant job of adjusting to the shape of your spine and not forcing it to adjust to the chair.
The lumbar support is fully adjustable and in addition you can increase or decrease how firm the lower back support is. Finally you can also adjust the depth of your seat, so if you're like me and have long legs relative to my torso it's an excellent option.
The Leap Chair isn't going to win any awards for aesthetics but that's not the chief concern here.
3. Herman Miller Sayl: The Top Office Chair Under $500
Most of us aren't willing to shell out eight or nine hundred dollars for an office chair. That doesn't mean you can't get a fine looking piece of office furniture that also supports your lower back.
We're going back to Herman Miller to showcase their award winning Sayl Chair.
The SAYL does offer lumbar support but bear in mind it comes with very few points that can adjusted. The arm rests are set at 9.4 inches above the seat. The tilt limits you to three settings and the lumbar support can't be adjusted. It does come in a more expensive version that has a lot more adjustable parts.
4. Ikea Markus - Best Office Chair Under $300
The Ikea Markus is a darling in the office chair world. It's relatively cheap and it comes from our favorite Swedish retailer. Personally, I hate walking through Ikea, it's a nightmare but for this chair, it might just be worth it.
Unlike many chairs which claim they're "high-backed' the Marcus actually is a high backed chair. It offers great lumbar support (although, it's not adjustable) and the mesh back prevents back sweat. Another big win. It comes in a range of colors including two shades of grey, black and my personal favorite beige.
The arm rests don't adjustable which is a drawback but once you get down under $300 not a lot of the chairs featured will have a ton of adjustments. Those that do will probably end up being pretty low quality.
5. - Best Office Chair with Lumbar Support for Under $200
Once you get into this price range you're going to give up some support and quality in order to find a chair that offers decent lumbar support.
The Office Star's chair is offers great value. The arm rests flip up which is a nice feature. Considering how cheap it is, the chair is relatively sturdy. One compliant that I came across on several occasions is that if you're a smaller individual this chair is going to be massive for you.
6. Flash Furniture - A Great Office Chair with Lumbar Support for Under $100
So you're on a budget, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't be able to find a product that provides adequate support for your lower back. I recommend avoiding the chairs that have ten inches of padding and opting for a more minimalist design. So with that in mind we choose a chair from Flash Furniture.
I love that the arm rests flip up so you can get them out of the way. This will allow you to get closer your keyboard and into a better ergonomic position. The back is made of mesh and has some support, but again for the price of the chair you're not going to get a lot of lumbar support.
- If you're sitting all day long and you already suffer from lower back pain we strongly recommend buying a higher end chair. But if you can't afford anything else opt for a chair with minimal features.
The chair is pretty easy to assemble and offers great bang for your buck. The only downside is a number of users have had issues with the chair breaking. It's probably best to stay away from this one if you're heavier set.
What About a Stand Up Desk? Is It Good for Lower Back Pain?
If you're currently using a chair that doesn't offer proper lumbar support OR you have a tendency to slouch. A stand up desk might be an option to help reduce upper back pain or neck pain. However, if you're suffering from lower back pain a stand up desk might not help relieve the symptoms.
This study showed that standing up reduced upper back pain and neck pain but had little to no effect on lower back pain.
If you're suffering from lower back pain due to poor posture you'll likely benefit more from an ergonomic, lumbar supporting chair than a stand up desk.