By Jackie Manning, ARNP, Strive! Health and Rehabilitation
We’ve probably all heard the startling claim that “sitting is the new smoking.” Whether or not this sensationalized statement is true is still up for debate. No doubt, people who are less sedentary and more mobile tend to have better health outcomes. Aside from the stiller lifestyle, into which the comfort of chairs tempt us, the posture of sitting could also contribute to nagging back pain that just doesn’t go away.
Most of us spend hours and hours of our lives perched atop our thrones. Whether purchasing a new chair or working with what you have, it’s important to know healthy sitting techniques and optimal chair design for back health. If you spend a lot of time sitting in an office chair, it’s ideal to use a chair ergonomically designed to promote posture that supports your lower back.
CHOICES, CHOICES! WHICH ERGONOMIC OFFICE CHAIR IS BEST?
Many find the abundance of options overwhelming when it comes to ergonomic chairs. Just remember, no one type of office chair is necessarily the best. BUT there are some key tips to keep in mind when searching for “the one.”
First, seat height matters. Be sure that the seat height is easily adjustable. A pneumatic adjustment lever is the easiest way to do this. On average, a seat height that ranges from about 16-21 inches off the floor should work for most people. This allows you to keep your feet flat on the floor, with your thighs horizontal and arms level to the height of the desk.
Next, consider seat width and depth. You should have enough width and depth to support your bottom comfortably. Most find that 17-20 inches wide is the standard. The depth from the front to back of the seat, should have you sitting with your back against the backrest of the ergonomic office chair, while leaving approximately 2-4 inches between the back of the knees and the seat of the chair. You should also comfortably adjust the forward or backward tilt of the seat.
Lumbar support in an ergonomic chair is very important if not THE MOST important feature. Due to the natural inward curve of the lumbar spine, sitting for long periods without support, leads to slouching and strains the structure in the lower back. Check that the chair has a lumbar adjustment both for height and depth, allowing for a proper fit to support that inward curve of the lower back.
If your chair doesn’t have this feature, you can also use a “lumbar roll”—a round cushion that supports the lumbar curve. Another option would be something like the “Wonder-Roll”—a self-inflating, infinitely adjustable, portable device that attaches to your chair. (Little known fact: The CEO of Strive, is actually the inventor of the Wonder-Roll). Order these products from your healthcare provider, on Amazon, or from SelfCareCentral.com).
Although it’s typically the most common complaint, the lower back isn’t the only area that can suffer when it comes to sitting. Poor posture can also create upper back and neck pain. As we sit all day in front of that computer screen, we all tend to slouch, rounding our shoulders and craning our head forward.
That slouched, head-forward position is horrible for your neck and upper back. Imagine holding a 12-pound bowling ball close to your chest, now imagine lifting it straight out in front of you. Think about how much energy it would take to hold up that bowling ball and how your arm and shoulders would start to ache after a short time. Well, your head weighs about 12 pounds, and when you jut your chin forward, it’s the same as moving that bowling ball away from your body, creating all sorts of aches and miseries. The good news is it’s pretty easy to fix.
Sit up straight!
A quality chair with lumbar support helps you do just that.
Backrests should be 12-19 inches wide. Check to be sure that the backrest can be adjusted for both height and angle. The backrest should also be able to support the natural curve of the spine.
In terms of padding, the material of the chair seat and back should offer enough cushion for you to sit comfortably for the specified amount of time.
The armrest should be adjustable for your arms to rest comfortably and your shoulders to relax. The elbows and lower arms should rest lightly, and the forearm should not rest atop the armrest while typing.
Don’t forget about the swivel! Your ergonomic chair should easily rotate so that you can reach different areas of your desk without straining.
A wide variety of ergonomic chairs are available today. The above options refer to the traditional office chair. However, you may find that the kneeling ergonomic chair or the saddle ergonomic chair better suit your needs. You will definitely want to take the time, if possible, to try it before you buy it. If this is not possible, then know your return options.
GOOD LUCK AND ENJOY!