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.
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For more guidelines on how to best support the back and spine while sitting in an office chair, see Office Chair: Choosing the Right Ergonomic Office Chair