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In previous posts we talked about the benefits of moving away from a traditional seated workstation using sit-stand desks or desk raisers. However, this isn’t feasible for everyone, so today we will talk about how to select a more back-friendly chair and how best to modify it for a healthier spine.
Chair set up
A good office chair should:
- Support an upright posture
- Be adjustable
1) Support an upright posture
An upright posture is important to minimise load on the muscles and joints during sitting. We therefore want a chair that supports an upright posture and doesn’t encourage you to slump. So when looking for a chair opt for one:
- Of a suitable size for your body dimensions. The length of the seat pan is particularly important. If you are of a smaller stature, the seat pan will often be longer than your thighs. For your knees to bend comfortably over the front of the seat this means that your hips have to move forward away from the back of the chair, which reduces the support for the lower back.
- With a suitable lumbar support. A lumbar support is important as it helps to maintain the natural curve of the lumbar spine which reduces the load on the spinal discs and the lessens the stress on the muscles and joints. Read more about lumbar supports below….
2) Be adjustable
Although sitting upright is better than sitting slumped, there is no single “perfect” sitting posture. Sitting rigidly with “good” posture will still lead to problems over time so it’s therefore important to stay as mobile as possible. With this in mind, along with taking regular breaks, ensure you also regularly adjust the position of the chair to help vary the load on the spine.
If buying a new chair, look for a chair with the following adjustable elements:
- Seat back (able to recline 95 to 105 degrees).
- Seat pan (tiltable)
- Seat (height adjustable) – so that feet can reach the floor with knees no higher than hips.
- Arm rests – to properly support elbows.
The human spine naturally forms an S shape, with the spine curving forwards at the lower back, outwards at the middle back and forwards again at the neck. When we sit most of us have a tendency to slump, which reverses the natural curve of the lower back. In this slumped position the muscles at the bottom of the back are stretched and more pressure is placed on the discs which is why sitting is a common factor in many low back complaints. Slumped sitting also changes the posture of the neck and shoulders and cause or exacerbate neck and shoulder pains.
A lumbar roll can assist in preserving the normal alignment of the lower back helping to alleviate neck and back pain. Although many chairs have a built in lumbar support, because most chairs are designed for an “average” build, it often isn’t adequate and doesn’t properly support the lower back.
If your chair doesn’t have any lumbar support, or the lumbar support isn’t substantial enough for your body type a lumbar roll is an inexpensive but effective addition. They are also very useful for cars which often have a bucketed seat shape putting your spine into a slumped position.
The McKenzie lumbar rolls are very good quality and come in a variety of sizes to suit most people needs. They also comes with an adjustable elastic strap, making fitting and moving the rolls very easy.
Simple, practical advice for creating a healthier workspace. Includes:
- Back-friendly chair set-up & sitting alternatives
- Ergonomic tips for neck, shoulder and arm pain
- The dangers of excessive sitting & what you can do to reduce your risk.
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This page was written by Steffen Toates. Steffen is a chiropractor at Dynamic Health Chiropractic in Jersey, Channel Islands. For more information about Steffen click here.