Sit Smart – How to choose the right chair and avoid back pain at work (Endorsement PT)

Working environment can play a big part in our health and wellbeing as we spend most of our hours at work.

Back pain is one of the two biggest causes of absence from work other than stress. It is mainly due to poor posture or awkward twisting movements i.e. bending or reaching, or a combination of the two.

If you are spending long periods at work without a break, or if you are sitting on an uncomfortable chair or at a poorly arranged workstation you are more likely to have repetitive strain injury (RSI). It could also be due to incorrect technique while using a computer keyboard and mouse, mobile phone or hand-held device.

Sitting hurts the back more than standing. To protect your back at work you need to sit smart by getting a chair that provides support for your middle and lower back. The right position is your knees at 90 degrees and your spine at a neutral posture.

The Right Chair

The seat pan

  • should not be too long for your legs; the gap between the front edge of the seat pan and the back of your knees to be at least 0.5 inch
  • to be long enough to provide you the comfortable support for at least three-quarters of the length of the thigh; the one that curves down (waterfall front) prevents the seat from catching you behind the knees
  • it should be contoured to allow the distribution of the weight evenly and should be comfortable to sit on. The edge should be soft and contoured so that it does not cause compression of the thighs and buttocks and the rear should give comfortable support.
  • adjustable-tilt seat pan is not an essential feature, but it may be helpful in some situations to help to maintain a balanced seated posture by changing the tilt of the seat pan.

Height adjustment

  • Ideally the height of the chair should be adjustable to accommodate shorter as well as a taller person and should be pneumatically adjustable to the seat-pan height while one is sitting on the chair. Mechanical height adjustment (spinning) mechanism which is less convenient to use.
  • There should be a range of height adjustment of the seat pan so that the front of the knees is in level or slightly below level and the feet are firmly on the ground so that there is no need to use a footrest. The adjustment of seat height should be easy to reach and operate when you are seated.

Back rest

  • The chairs should have comfortable cushioned lumbar (lower back) backrest that is curved, can be adjusted up and down, and forwards and backwards to best fit the lower back shape.
  • It should be large enough to provide good back support and should not interfere with the ability to move the elbows back behind the torso.
  • Moving the back while you are sitting helps to maintain a healthy spine. One needs to look for chairs that allow one to easily recline, and provide good back support in different reclining postures. Locking the chair backrest in one position generally is not recommended or beneficial as it would restrict the back support.

Ample space for hip room

  • While sitting in the chair, the seat pan should be at least one inch wider than the hips and thighs on either side.
  • Insufficient cushioning and inappropriate contouring can cause discomfort, imbalance, and hip and back fatigue. To figure out how comfortable it will be, one will need to sit in a chair at work for a couple of days.

Base of the chair

  • The chair should have at least a 5 pedestal base with casters that glide freely over the floor surface if the chair mobility is important to help you to do your work.

Arm rests

  • Most ergonomic chairs have armrests, and they should be adjustable. They should be broad, contoured, cushioned, and comfortable and while sitting one should be able to easily adjust the height of the armrests. One should be able to easily move the arms while typing or using the mouse.

Foot rest

  • One may not need a foot support always to sit comfortably. A free-standing, floor-mounted support that allows you to rest your feet out in front of you in a comfortable manner is to be chosen if one needs foot support. One should not rest the feet on the pedestal base of the chair for prolonged periods as circulation could be restricted to some extent.

You need to make sure you change your posture as often and not sit in the same position for long. Frequent short breaks are better than fewer long ones for your back. This gives your muscles a chance to relax and prevent you from becoming stiff and tense.