Never buy a desk chair sight unseen or seat untried. Sit on it for 30 to 45 minutes before buying it. One survey participant was reluctant to do this for fear of making a nuisance of himself. Another survey participant was mistaken for a salesperson sitting down on the job. But it’s your back and your money. And an actual trial is the only way to make an intelligent selection.
Check the position of the lumbar support area. This is the part that bulges a bit toward you and should fit right into the small of your back. Lumbar supports tend to be positioned too low on most chairs, making contact with your sacrum (the protruding bony area of your spine directly below your lumbar curve) instead of with your lumbar curve. If the back support is adjustable up and down, that’s a plus, but it’s not a guarantee that the chair will feel right to you.
Nothing beats relieving lower back pain than some well structured back pain exercises. If you work at a desk, you should also check that your chair is suitable and offers some degree of back support. Try out the tilting action of the back of the chair. Does it support your weight when you’re sitting up straight? Or does it tilt back too easily under your weight and prevent you from sitting straight? You want to be able to vary your position from rime to time by tilting back into a reclining position. But to reiterate, if the chair cannot support your weight and keep you at a 90-degree angle, the undesired tilting will cause you back pain.
To maximize your comfort, think of other constructive ways to vary your position when you’re sitting at a desk, try at least one back pain exercise each day, and try to get up and move about at least every 20 minutes.
If you work in an office, and have problems with lower back pain, when you’re not at your desk, and want to get away from a straight-backed chair, you might consider a reclining chair. They were popular among survey participants who wanted the comfort of an easy chair without its usual feet-down, sink-in-and-suffer quality. Reclining chairs are almost never as good as the best straight-backed chair, but they are usually better than other easy chairs for two reasons. They tend to have firm seats, and the reclining action puts your knees above your hips.
Legal Requirements for Office Seating
In the UK, employers are legally obliged to ensure that their employees are working in a safe and healthy environment – we haven’t yet got to the stage of regular early morning routines of back pain exercises yet. This obligation also applies to temporary staff and home-based employees. By law, office chairs (those used at workstations) must:
- Be stable (i.e. have five legs, arranged in a star shape)
- Allow the user easy freedom of movement and a comfortable position
- Be adjustable in height
- Have a seat back that is adjustable in both height and tilt; the seat back should move independently of the seat to allow for a more comfortable seating position (and even let you perform a simple back pain exercise without too much trouble).
There are a number of things you can do to make your own workstation healthier and safer for your back -besides doing a back pain exercise in the middle of the office.
For instance, you should always arrange your working area to suit you, whether you are working at home, in the office or sharing a desk. Remember to alter the height of your chair so that your shoulder and elbows are completely relaxed. Make sure that your thighs are roughly at right angles to your body or sloping slightly down. Use a footrest if your feet don’t reach the floor and try a few simple back pain exercises to stop your back and legs getting stiff.
The top of your screen should be at horizontal eye level. If not, adjust it using a monitor arm or screen raiser. If you use your computer often, your computer screen and keyboard should be directly in front of you so you don’t have to twist to use them. Position the screen at arm’s length. And if you use a laptop, plug it into a separate screen when in the office.
Further tips for a healthy back include:
- Changing your position every 20 minutes
- Doing a simple back pain exercise while at your desk
- If you are sitting down, standing up and stretching, and walking away from your desk briefly (e.g. to do some photo- copying or filing)
- Standing when taking alternate phone calls
- Leaning backwards and forwards to avoid staying in the same position for too long, and using the full range of movement of your chair.
UK survey participants made the following comments:
‘Ensure Your Workstation Is Right For You! Ensure that your chair and screen height are correct and, if necessary, that you have a foot support. If necessary, use a back cushion for your chair and try a few back pain exercises.’
‘If you are working at a computer make sure you have a DSE [display screen equipment] assessment and that you have the correct chair – with lumbar support if applicable. If you need an orthopedic chair, using Job Centre Plus can save you money, as they will pay for part of the cost. It is worth everything to invest in the correct chair if you suffer from back pain.’