Unusual Office Chair Solutions to Help Your Back

Sitting all day in an office chair is not good for your back and can worsen back pain. If this is true for you, then read on to learn about a range of office chair alternatives to consider.

Lower Back StrainWhat is sitting all day at the office doing to your disc, joints and back muscles?
Lower Back Strain Video

Stand-up desk

You may be surprised by how easy it is to stand while working at a desk for some or all of the day day. Make sure to get a standup desk that is a comfortable height for you to work at while standing. To try it without a big commitment, you can get a height adjustable standup desk that goes on top of your regular desk at a fraction of the cost of a full standup desk or sit-stand desk.

Other guidelines:

  • Put your foot up on a foot rail or some type of foot rest so you can rest one foot higher than the other and easily shift your body weight from one leg to the other.
  • Use some type of seat as well. Using a stool affords you the most options, as you can sit fully or just sit partially by leaning forward while sitting with your weight distributed between your seat and your foot on the floor.
  • Make sure you're computer monitor is at the right height so you're not looking down, which can lead to neck problems.

A side benefit that some people find from working standing up is that they feel more energized and are more productive working while standing up.

See Ten Tips for Improving Posture and Ergonomics

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Add a podium

If working full time at a stand-up desk isn't for you, consider adding a podium, lectern, or stand-up desk in your work area and just do certain tasks while standing, like reading or talking on the phone. This way you can move between your regular desk and your stand-up area and get some variety in your positions during the workday.

See Good Posture Helps Reduce Back Pain

Walking desk

We've talked about walking desks/treadmill desks before. The idea is that you walk very slowly on a treadmill while working standing up. Personally I'm not a big fan of this idea—I like to keep the workout and the work separate. But I can see how this idea would make sense in certain situations, and some people say it works for them.

See Exercise Walking for Better Back Health

Exercise ball

The main benefit here is that sitting on an exercise ball is active—your body is constantly making minor adjustments to remain balanced on the ball—and this engages your core body muscles -- your abs, and large lower back muscles -- to hold your body upright and balanced on the ball. Because there is no back support on an exercise ball it's hard to slump or slouch, which encourages good posture.

If you're new to using an exercise ball, consider starting out with the ball a little deflated as it will be easier to stay on it. Also, be sure to get the right size exercise ball for your height.

See Choosing the Right Exercise Ball

Consider starting out by sitting on the ball for only a little while at a time (e.g. 10 to 20 minutes) and gradually work up to several hours at a time. You can buy an exercise ball with sand at the bottom of it if you're concerned about it rolling away every time you stand up (a good idea for people who get up a lot at work).

See Beginning Exercise Program on an Exercise Ball

Other factors to note: This is one of the least expensive office chair options, usually around $15 to $30. However, many people find that they also sit in a regular office chair for at least part of the day.

Balance stool

A balance stool the same general idea as an exercise ball—forcing you to sit with good posture (as you're not able to slump or slouch) and many versions, such as the Swopper, encourage active sitting as they bounce up and down and side to side, making your core muscles work in order to stay balanced on it. Compared to the exercise ball, a balance stool looks slightly less unconventional and stays in one place.

See Posture to Straighten Your Back

Most balance stools are in the price range of $200 to $700.

Kneeling chair

A kneeling chair is actually a bit of a misnomer, because you're not really kneeling while on the chair, just sitting while angled forward with some of your bodyweight supported by your shins. Your shins provide stability, but the body is still sitting, not kneeling. The design of the chair is intended to:

  • Reduce some of the strain placed on the lower back when sitting in conventional, right-angle office chairs—the idea is that sitting while tilted forward slightly places the spine in a more neutral position.
  • Encourage good posture by sliding the hips forward so that your weight is distributed between your pelvis and knees/shins, which reduces the stress and tension in your lower back and leg muscles.
  • See Identifying Incorrect Posture

As with all chairs, be sure to get one that allows you to adjust the height and angle. Some versions are on casters, if you need to move around, and some have a bit of lumbar back support for when you want to lean back a little.


Many people with back pain feel much more comfortable sitting in a reclining position than sitting upright. In a survey on Spine-health.com, we found that 72% of people with back pain felt less pain when lying down or reclining. If you are one of these people you may want to try working while sitting in a recliner, with your feet propped up on an ottoman or attached footrest, and using some type of laptop stand with your recliner .

For the inexpensive route, you can use a lap desk—a wood or other type of solid top and beanbag cushion on the bottom - and work on it with your laptop and a wireless mouse. The thing to caution here is that you don't work for long periods of time with your head angled downward to see the laptop screen, as this puts too much stress on your neck.

See 10 Best Laptop Setups

If you're working for longer periods, then I would recommend using a laptop stand that lets you use a separate keyboard and ergonomically positioned wireless mouse. There is a huge variety of recliners and laptop stands—some very elaborate ones, and there's bound to be a setup that will suit your needs.

Final thoughts on office chair alternatives

No matter what you choose, there is nothing better than getting up regularly during the day to stretch and walk around.

Of course, this is not a comprehensive list—just a few ideas to get you thinking about alternatives. Have you found something that works well for you? Please let us know on our Forums.

Learn more:

Ergonomics of the Office and Workplace: An Overview

Office Chair: Choosing the Right Ergonomic Office Chair

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