‘Take a seat and make yourself comfortable,’ the receptionist at a prestigious upper back pain relief rehabilitation clinic told the strong-backed husband of a back pain sufferer.
He did – in a plush, leather chair whose rounded back defied all attempts to get comfortable. An hour later, when the doctor was ready to see the patient – who because of her upper back pain had chosen to stand rather than sit – the husband was sorry that he hadn’t made an appointment for some upper back pain relief himself.
As every reader of my blog already knows, sitting is hard on the back. Most low back sufferers would probably agree that the problem is not that we evolved into creatures who stood upright but that we decided to ‘take a load off our feet’ and sit down at work, in the car and just about everywhere else. So finding an effective back pain treatment starts with what you stand in (your shoes) and what you sit on.
A Good Chair Gave Some Survey Participants More Upper Back Pain Relief than a Good Back Specialist
US survey participants were almost unanimous about what constituted a good chair.
Making sure you have the right kind of char can go a long way towards offering much needed back pain relief. Look for a straight-backed chair with a back tall enough to support your lower and upper back, arms to support the weight of your arms, and a seat that is firm enough to keep you from sinking in, wide enough to shift around in, and deep enough to support your thighs almost to your knees.
The back of the chair
Most chairs that you find in homes, offices and restaurants have as little backing as a bikini, and are definitely not the type from which you’ll gain any back pain relief. Either there is enough room between the slats for a small child to crawl through or there is nothing but air at the point where the small of your back is yearning to make contact.
And, as if all this weren’t bad enough, most chair backs aren’t straight either. They are almost as curved as the inside of a barrel, or they tilt back just enough so that you’re neither reclining nor able to sit up straight.
Nevertheless, for optimum lower and upper back pain relief, think straight and insist on adequate support when you shop for your own chair. Make sure the back of the chair extends down to, or almost to, the seat. Also see to it that the back of the chair is at least high enough to make contact with your head, so that it can adequately support your upper back and neck.
For optimum back pain relief, a chair seat should be firm enough for you to sit on without more than about 1.3 cm (half an inch) of give. For well-padded individuals, a hard seat without any cushioning is fine. The depth of the seat – measured from back to front – should be about 45-60 cm (18-24 inches), depending on your size. For lower back pain relief, you want enough seat depth to support about three-quarters of your thighs. Less will create a pull on your lower back; more, extending to your knees or beyond, will also play havoc with your back.
When considering the depth of a chair, assume that you might be using a back support, which will take up some of this measurement. In fact, if the only problem with a chair is that it has too much depth, that’s easy to solve. Add a firm pillow, a back support or both.
If you suffer with back pain, and spend a lot of your day sitting down, you can get some much needed back pain relief by selecting a proper back support chair. Your chair should have chair arms. Chair arms take the weight of your arms off your back. They’re not critical, but they are helpful. If you have to make do without them, rest your arms in your lap.
The back support
Most secretarial and executive desk chairs have lumbar-support contours, which are designed for both lower and upper back pain relief, but even the best of them aren’t as effective for low back sufferers as the unadorned straight-backed chair with the back support of your choice – a rolled-up towel, cushion, pillow or commercially available backrest. Anything that provides the hollow of your back with something to rest on tends to relieve (or prevent) nagging low back pain.
UK survey respondents had the following back pain relief advice for fellow back sufferers:
‘I have had prolapsed disc problems for over thirty years. I never sit on a low soft chair otherwise I can feel my sciatica start straight away. I invested in a Parker Knoll orthopedic chair with a lumbar support many years ago and it has been of great benefit. I have a “Backfriend” folding seat which I find invaluable. If I go visiting I always ask for a dining chair to sit on or I sit on the floor.’
‘When confronted with dining chairs without lumbar support – in hotels etc – use a “Backfriend”, remain at the table for as short a time as possible. All my own upright chairs slope BACK and offer LUMBAR SUPPORT – great for lower and upper back pain relief. These all relieve tremendously the likelihood of pain in my mid-back building up – but make me a social eccentric!’
There is one difficulty with straight-backed chairs for lower and upper back pain relief – namely, it isn’t always possible to use them. For example, a straight-backed chair would be impractical to use at a desk, especially if you have to move back and forth between your desk and your typewriter or computer, turn to talk to people, or rummage through files.
For working at a desk, you might want a rolling office chair with a built-in lumbar support. Scores of different brands and models, ranging in price from modest to extremely expensive, are available at office furniture and department stores, and over the Internet.