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Can a Bad Chair Cause Lower Back Pain?

   This post has been quality checked in line with our Editorial and Research Policy.

Can a Bad Chair Cause Lower Back Pain?

Our bodies are not built for our modern ‘sedentary’ lifestyles. Many of us now sit in an office all day for work, and our office chairs aren’t usually very supportive. So how do you know if your chair is not suitable for you?  What type of chair is best?  

As a general rule, chairs that are poorly designed can cause back pain in most cases. When you sit in an uncomfortable chair, you tend to hunch forward, stretching and straining ligaments and discs, which can result in back pain.

As an ergonomic adviser, chiropractor, and designer, there are things I have learned about how to find the right office chair. Presented here are some research-based sitting methods that can relieve your discomfort when seated.

Sitting Causes Low Back Pain

man working at office with poor posture

Sitting for too long in a chair that does not provide adequate support for the spine can cause or exacerbate lower back pain. The reason for this is the lumbosacral discs at the base of the spine are loaded three times more than when you’re sitting. By sitting on an unsuitable chair, you’re more likely to misalign your spine and cause a mechanical core muscle imbalance, which in turn may result in back pain. Poor posture also stresses the joints and tissues of your back.

Those who sit for a long time in a lousy chair may experience a lot of back pain when they stand up since their back muscles are insufficient to support them. Consequently, they suffer from pain due to spending hours at their desk since they don’t take breaks for sitting still. In this process, sciatic nerves, soft tissues, joints, and discs end up under a lot of strain.  

To make matters worse, we sit for long periods on our commutes, at home watching television, when we eat, etc. This sedentary behaviour can contribute to habitual poor posture such as hunching or slouching.

Man with back pain

Low Back Pain: 4 Critical Seating Adjustments

1. Get the Seat Height Right 

Get your seat height right so that your hips and low back get the most healthy position for sitting is, in my opinion, is the best adjustment you can make for improved comfort. The height adjustment is the primary determinant of the angle in your hip joint during sitting, which impacts the position of your pelvis and the degree of curvature in your lower back, changing your spine’s normal alignment. And the height of your chair also affects your back muscles that play a role in posture-related back discomfort.

Remember, sitting is the worst thing for your back. Furthermore, we spend so much time sitting that we would like to avoid any potential problems. So ensure you adjust your seat height correctly. 

You need to establish a hip position that is comfortable and functional when you adjust the chair.  Many office workers are not interested in fiddling with the controls positioned at the chair seat base. Nonetheless, they are there for a reason. Understanding how to adjust your chair may reference other workstation improvements you may need to make. Saying that here’s all you need to know:

  • Start with feet flat on the ground with legs a should width distance apart. 
  • A gas shock control is the simplest method to adjust seat elevation. A typical office chair seat height ranges from 40 to 60cm off the floor. 
  • If this range is not an option for you, you can easily find the right gas shock based on your height and weight. All you will need is a rubber mallet to tap the chairs base and seat pan to extract your new gas shock.
  • As you sit down, raise your seat as high as possible, ensuring that both feet are firmly planted on the floor.

Once the height has been adjusted to fit your frame, you can adjust the seat depth.

2. Adjust Your Seat Depth

Seat height office chair knobs

The seat depth adjustment is probably one of the most important features in terms of comfort because the right seat depth allows you to access support from the chair back without cutting off circulation at your knees.

The seat depth measurement lets you know how far forward you are, creating optimal comfort and support for your body. With a chair that supports you correctly, you don’t have to work as hard to stay upright.

Key features of a good seat depth:

  • If the seat pan is too far forward, it may put undue pressure on the backs of your knees. 
  • If the seat pan is too far back, it may put undue pressure on your low back and gluteal muscles.
  • Try to position the seat so it ends a 2-3 fingers distance from the edge of your seat to the back of your knees. 
  • When you purchase your chair, look for a waterfall chair at the edge that will help relieve pressure on your legs.

Now that you have your seat height and depths et right for you, the third most comfortable adjustment that you can make is to get a forward tilt angle on your seat.

3. Forward Tilt 

best chair SI joint pain

One of the most important aspects of a good chair for chronic low-back pain is the forward tilt adjustment. By tilting your hips forward, you can help to correct the natural slouching position that your body assumes when you sit for long periods.

Your hips should always be higher than your knees when sitting. Some standards recommend up to 20° of forwarding tilt. A forward tilt permits you to adjust the seat angle in your chair at your discretion. By doing this, your back will no longer feel stressed while sitting, and you will keep a healthy posture. Additionally, this will improve blood circulation in your legs and feet.

A forward seat tilt positions your pelvis in a more neutral position which helps take the load off your spine and disperses your weight into your core muscles. A forward seat tilt encourages an active posture all day long.

If you don’t have this feature on your chair, I would strongly suggest that you consider sitting on a seat wedge. Make sure that the thicker part of the wedge is towards the back of the chair.

4. Get Proper Lumbar Support 

Our spine is relatively straight when viewed from the front, but our spine curves inward toward our abdomen. This curve is known as the lordotic curve. It is essential to provide support to this area of the back. Lumbar support makes it easier for the body to maintain good posture by filling the gap between the curve of the spine and the seat.

natural latex lumbar pillow

This kind of support relieves the muscles surrounding the spine of much of their responsibility of maintaining the spine’s natural curve. The lumbar support does the job, relieving the back of the pressure and reducing muscle tenseness that can cause back pain.

When your chair does not provide lumbar support, your lumbar spine and large muscles in your lower back need to be strengthened to support proper posture. tend to lean forward more when we are tired because the muscles that support the spine weaken. This forward lean leads to more muscle tension and back pain.

Upgrade your chair if it doesn’t provide adequate lumbar support. In the meantime, you might try a rolled-up towel or small cushion.

Final Thoughts

The truth is that low back pain can have a variety of causes. Thankfully, many of them can be prevented or remedied.

Make this easy lifestyle and work changes, and you will be pain-free all day and all night. Below are some tips to remember.

  • Get your chair right height, seat depth, forward tilt, and lumbar support.
  • Be active and schedule exercises into your workday that can relax and strengthen your low back muscles.
  • Maintain proper posture while working; however, take small breaks as often as possible.
  • Make sure you get enough quality sleep every day by maintaining good sleeping habits. 

Sources

  1. Greene, R.D., Frey, M., Attarsharghi, S., Snow, J.C., Barrett, M. and De Carvalho, D., 2019. Transient perceived back pain induced by prolonged sitting in a backless office chair: are biomechanical factors involved?. Ergonomics, 62(11), pp.1415-1425.  
  2. Zemp, R., Taylor, W.R. and Lorenzetti, S., 2015. Are pressure measurements effective in the assessment of office chair comfort/discomfort? A review. Applied Ergonomics, 48, pp.273-282.    
  3. De Carvalho, D., Grondin, D. and Callaghan, J., 2017. The impact of office chair features on lumbar lordosis, intervertebral joint and sacral tilt angles: a radiographic assessment. Ergonomics, 60(10), pp.1393-1404.
  4. Lengsfeld, M., Frank, A., Van Deursen, D.L. and Griss, P., 2000. Lumbar spine curvature during office chair sitting. Medical engineering & physics, 22(9), pp.665-669. (lumbar)
Dr Lawrence Woods DC

Dr Lawrence Woods DC

Founder

My goal is to create the highest quality ergonomic office chairs and accessories for unmatched comfort.

With 30 years of spinal healthcare experience in Ireland as a chiropractor, I learned the value of high-quality sitting for living a happy and healthy life.

I have a Chiropractic Degree from Life Chiropractic College West and I am NBCE Physiotherapy certified.

 

Dr Lawrence Woods

My goal is to create the highest quality ergonomic office chairs and accessories for unmatched comfort.With 30 years of spinal healthcare experience as a chiropractor, I learned the value of high-quality sleep for living a happy and healthy life.I have a Chiropractic Degree from Life Chiropractic College West and am NBCE Physiotherapy certified.

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