How to choose the best chair for back pain

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If you are reading this post, you may be wondering if there is such a thing, a chair for people with back pain. Chairs and back pain. Unfortunately, the two can go hand in hand and chairs are the reason a lot of people have back pain, to begin with.  Sitting is one of the worst things we can do to our bodies.  This discussion will center on how to choose an office chair.  Please see my post here if you are looking for a great office chair to help with your back pain.

Rows of chairs demonstrating the best chair for back pain

In this post, I will explain how to choose a chair to help out with back pain.  If you sit for hours on end behind a desk, I hope to help you discover a chair that will fit you properly and maybe, just maybe will help ease, or prevent back pain altogether.  Check out this article for more information about sitting and back pain.

A properly designed and adjusted chair helps keep the spine in a neutral position.  I see chairs and other office equipment being advertised all the time as “ergonomically correct”.  Well, I don’t think there is a one size fits all solution for ergonomics.  You have to find what works for you.  My co-worker may think he has the best chair in the world and I might sit in it and not share his opinion.  That is why you have to find the one that works for you.

Now there certainly are standards to which your chair selection should adhere.  If you are tall, or short, small built or otherwise, your chair should fit you.  Again, there are some guidelines that people should adhere to, but the final decision will depend on how the chair fits your body.

As elementary as this may sound, there are some basic guidelines for selecting an office chair.  The anatomy of the chair is important to know.  I know, I know, you thought I was going with anatomy, like human anatomy.  Sorry, I digress.  There are parts of the chair to be familiar with.  These parts are the backrest, seat, armrest (or the chair may not have armrests) and base.

Okay, so let’s dive right in.


Lumbar support for the best chair for back pain
Image courtesy of Herman Miller

The backrest of your chair should follow the curvature of your spine and provide lumbar support.  If the backrest size or position is not appropriate for you and doesn’t follow the shape of your spine, this could lead to poor back support, which will lead to poor posture which may cause back pain.  A chair should have ample lumbar support. If it does not come with a lumbar support, there are other options available.  You can purchase a foam lumbar support, or use a rolled up towel.  Check out my recommendation for back support here. To avoid these options, you should select a chair that has an adjustable lumbar support.

Adjustable lumbar support

The ability to adjust the lumbar support up and down is important, so you can be sure to support your low back in just the right spot.  Also make sure the adjustable lumbar support will lock in place once you have it set right, so it won’t move around on you.  Another great feature for the lumbar support is to move front to back, or horizontally.  This will allow shorter users the ability to fully use the lumbar support without having the backs of their knees jammed into the seat of the chair.


Seat for the best chair for back pain
Image courtesy of Herman Miller

The seat of the chair should, first of all, be comfortable, and should be adjustable to allow your feet to be flat on the floor.  If the seat height is not adjustable, you can use a footrest so your feet have a firm foundation to rest on.  Ideally, when you are seated in the chair, you want to have your feet rest firmly on the ground and your knees should be at approximately a 90-degree angle.

If the seat is too high you might find yourself scooting forward in order to have your feet on the ground.  This can have a couple of negative effects.  If your feet are not touching the ground, you can lose circulation in your legs, causing numbness.  Also, if you have to scoot forward to touch the floor, this can cause you to lose the support you get from the backrest, helping to keep the natural spine curvature.

The whole idea is for the chair to help support your spine and keep it in the right position.  If not, this can lead to poor posture, poor circulation and ultimately back problems.  Also, make sure the seat is big enough for you.  If the seat is too small, you may find it uncomfortable to sit on, and it may restrict movement.  If it is too large may cause you to lose the support you need as you try to find the right spot to sit.


Armrest for the best chair for back pain
Image courtesy of Herman Miller

To armrest or not to armrest?  That depends on your preference.  First, let’s talk to the pro armrest crowd.  If you choose to go the armrest route, you will need to make sure it is properly adjusted.  Once again, everything needs to be adjusted!  If the armrest is too low, you will find yourself hunched over, too high and your shoulders and neck can ache.  Either one of these extremes can affect your posture and ultimately how your body feels.  So, it is important to make sure the armrests are tailored to your exact specifications.

The armrest should be well positioned to support your lower arms and let your shoulders relax.  They should allow easy access when you sit down or stand up.  If the armrest cannot be adjusted, it may be possible to remove them altogether.  Again, this will depend on personal preference.

Another point to consider is the material the armrest is made of, it should be comfortable. A hard or sharp armrest will not do you any favors.


Base of the best chair for back pain
Image courtesy of Herman Miller

I would definitely say a chair needs to have five legs.  A chair with fewer legs may be prone to tipping over.  Casters are important as well.  You need to be able to move the chair around easily.  If a chair doesn’t have appropriate casters, the chair will be difficult to maneuver.  If the chair is difficult to maneuver, you are likely to leave it in one place.  You will then find yourself reaching, bending for items, instead of just non chalantly scooting yourself.

Along with the right casters, also take into consideration the surface that you will be using the chair on.  If you have thick carpet, you may want a hard plastic mat to put on the floor so it will make rolling around on the chair that much easier.  I would think that most office chairs will have a swivel base, but just in case, think about that as well.  You will definitely want to be able to maneuver as easily as possible.  So the ability to swivel 360 degrees is critical.

I hope these tips have helped and you are more informed about choosing the right chair for back pain.  Please let me know if you have any questions or comments below.  I will do my best to reply as soon as possible.  Thanks for reading, I appreciate it.


2 thoughts on “How to choose the best chair for back pain”

  1. I am really picky about chairs. I have back problems as well as bursitis in my hips so I need just the right chair. I am also tall and it drives me crazy to have chairs that are not adjustable or only built for short people so the lumbar support does me no good and the curvature of the chair is totally opposite of where I need it!

    It is really hard to find a chair with enough lumbar support! I wonder why?

    I am prone to lean forward and rest on my arms. I don’t even realize I am doing it and then get aching knots in my shoulders and upper back. I like a chair where I can tip the back backwards and totally rest while still being upright enough to work. For that to work, the seat has to tip up a bit to in order to keep everything in line. If I can find a comfortable chair I hang onto it for years! When I switched jobs I was able to keep my chair since it was in the same building and for the same Department with the State of Alaska. I have gone looking for new chairs and can’t find any that work! So, I keep an old one that does.

    I also hate that most all chairs (and seats in cars) now have sides that curve up. They claim this is ergonomic but that has been found to be false. It was a huge fad and unfortunately now they are everywhere. The curved up sides kill my hips due to the bursitis since I can’t have pressure or heat on them.

    Like you said though, there is no one size fits all ergonomic chair. Everyone is different and may need very different chair styles.

    Great pointers here!

    • Thank you so much for your very thorough comment. I agree it can be really challenging to find an office chair that is just the right fit. Thankfully many are adjustable, so people can find a fit that is good for them. You are right though, there is no one-size-fits-all. It is very important to have a chair that fits you correctly as we spend so much time sitting each and every day. If you are interested, I also have a post about sit stand workstations. I think that is such an important alternative to sitting all day long. Thanks again for taking the time to comment, I really appreciate it.


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