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The Best Office Chair For Upper Back Pain

Back pain is one of the most common work-related injuries and this is caused by ordinary work activities such as heavy lifting and even sitting in an office. For some, the latter may come as a surprise, because it’s hard to imagine getting injured while in a relaxed, steady position. While there’s nothing wrong with sitting for work, sitting for hours on end all day is what makes it so harmful to the body. Since you can’t avoid sitting for your office job, you have to find ways to make it a better experience for you, which means using a good chair.

So what is the best office chair for upper back pain? You need a chair that is designed for maximum ergonomics in order to minimize the risks of repetitive injury resulting from sitting all day, such as upper and lower back pain, neck strain, and leg pain. An ergonomic office chair can help maximize back support and maintain good posture even while you’re sitting. But owning or having an ergonomic chair is not enough - you have to adjust it in such a way that it will improve comfort and reduce inflammation of the spine.

Addressing Poor Posture and Risks

Posture is the main reason why it’s necessary to have a good office chair to use continuously in the workplace. In order to understand more the importance of having an ergonomic office chair, you should get to know the potentially harmful situations that can result in back injury which should be identified and avoided. Here are two situations and their corresponding solutions.

Prolonged Static Posture

The common office worker has gotten used to sitting in the same position for at least one hour, but do you know that a healthy body can only tolerate staying in a single position for about 20 minutes? This is why you get really uncomfortable a short time after you’ve been at your desk in the office, or sitting on an airplane or movie theater. 

This applies to standing in one place as well. When you stand at an assembly line for extended periods of time it tends to result in back pain, especially if you’ve been standing on a concrete floor. When you regularly hold the same position, it slowly lessens the elasticity of your soft tissues and then stress builds up which causes discomfort in the neck, back, and legs.

Fatigue

The typical office worker will tell you that sitting in an office chair for days can actually result in fatigue, just like when you lift heavy objects or you get insomnia. This can make you move more awkwardly. This is why doctors always remind office workers to get up from the desk after half an hour to stretch their limbs and give their stiff muscles a break.

Importance of Correct Posture for Sitting in an Office Chair

Maintaining good posture is crucial both at home and at work. While performing any activity, a back-friendly posture is very important in preventing and managing back pain. Having an incorrect posture while sitting in an office chair, while driving, and while standing for long periods of time is a common cause of back pain. 

Many of us spend hours at our desks, in front of our computers. Unsurprisingly, this results in neck pain or back pain. A lot of this pain can be avoided by adopting a user-friendly workstation, which can be arranged by adjusting the position of your office chair, computer, and desk. Sitting correctly in the said chair is also important. A lot of us are guilty of sitting towards the front of our chairs and end up hunching forward to look at our computer screens. The correct posture is to sit back and make use of the chair’s lumbar support to keep your head and neck straight.

If your job involves sitting in your chair for long periods of time, make it a habit to get up and take short breaks for stretching and walking.

Creating a Posture-friendly Workstation

woman in white suit, glasses sitting on chair at her desk in office, holding arms behind the head with close eyes

In setting up a comfortable workstation, you have to consider where the computer screen is situated, the kind of office chair you’re using, and where your hands and feet are placed. 

1. Choose the Surface Height for the Desk That Is Best For Your Tasks

Keep all positions in mind, whether it’s sitting, standing, or semi-seated. Typical computer entry work could be sitting or standing, while architects and draftsmen may require a higher surface for drawing. The height of the worker and the height of the work surface should complement each other. 

2. Fit the Height of the Computer Screen

As you sit comfortably in your office chair, your gaze should be at the level of the center of your computer screen. If you don’t have an adjustable desk, you can raise your laptop or computer monitor using a stand or books if needed.

Making changes to your workstation will be worth it in the long run especially if you consider the damage that comes with sitting or standing with a wrong posture. When sitting in an office chair for long periods of time, the natural tendency of most of us is to slouch down or slouch over in the chair, which can overstretch our spinal ligaments and strain the discs, as well as the surrounding structures in our spine. After a while, sitting incorrectly can damage our spinal structures and contribute to making our back pain worse.

Guidelines for Setting Up Your Office Chair

You don’t stop at buying an ergonomic chair- say, a Herman Miller Aeron chair, a Sayl chair, or a Steelcase gesture chair- and just sit on it as usual. You have to make some adjustments in order for the chair to really do its purpose in improving comfort and reduce aggravation to your spine as you work. First, you have to establish the height needed for your desk or workstation. This will depend on the kind of work that you do and your own height as well. You will have to position your office chair accordingly (possibly with the tilt tension function) with the height of the workstation and this should complement your height.

Once your desk has been situated, you can now adjust your office chair according to your physical proportions. Here are important points to remember to make sure that your work area and your office chair are as comfortable as could be and will put the least amount of stress on your spine.

  • Elbow measure - sit as comfortable and as close as possible to your desk, making sure that your upper arms are parallel to your spine. Rest your hands on your work surface and check if your elbows are at a 90-degree angle. If not, adjust your chair height until you get the position right.
  • Thigh measure - you should be able to slide your fingers easily under your thigh at the leading edge of your office chair. If the gap is too tight, you can prop your feet up with an adjustable footrest. If you are really tall and there is more finger width between your thigh and your chair, elevate your desk or work surface so that you can raise the height of your chair.
  • Calf measure - push your bottom against the chair’s backrest and then try to pass your clenched fist between the back of your calf and the front of your chair. If you’re having a hard time doing that, your office chair might be too deep. To fix this, you can adjust the backrest forward, place low back support (a pillow, rolled-up towel, or lumbar support cushion). If this doesn’t work, consider getting a new office chair.
  • Low back support - while your bottom is pressed against the back of your chair, there should be a lumbar cushion that causes your lower back to arch slightly. This is necessary so you wouldn’t slouch down or slump forward in the chair, which happens when you get tired after an hour or two of sitting and working. Never slouch forward or slump in your chair, as this can put additional stress on your lower back structure, especially on the lumbar discs. An adjustable lumbar support is important for protecting your lumbar curve.
  • Adjustable armrest - adjust the arm rest of your office chair until it can slightly lift your arms at the shoulders. A lot of people don’t make use of their armrests, which is a wasted opportunity because an adjustable arm can take some strain off your shoulders and upper spine. Using your armest will also make you less likely to slouch forward in your chair. 

Choosing the Right Ergonomic Office Chair

Man in headset having break and drinking coffee while working at home

Sitting in an office chair for prolonged periods of time adds stress to the structures of your spine. This is why it’s important to have an ergonomic office chair that supports the lower back and promotes proper sitting posture to avoid developing or compounding back problems. There are many kinds of ergonomic chairs available in the market so in order to narrow down your choices, there are a few things that you need to look for when shopping for your chair. This allows you to make the chair work well according to your specific needs. 

Here are your top considerations when choosing an ergonomic chair for your workstation:

  • Height - the height of your office chair should be easily adjustable. The easiest way to do height adjustment for this is via a pneumatic adjustment lever. A seat height that is about 16 to 21 inches off the floor should be okay for most users. This safe adjustable seat height will allow you to have your feet flat on the floor, with your thighs horizontal and your arms even with the height of your desk.
  • Width and depth - your seat should have enough width and depth to support your body comfortably. The standard is usually 17-20 inches wide. Your seat depth from front to back should be enough for you to be able to sit with your back against the backrest of the chair. There should also be approximately two to four inches between the back of your knees and the seat of the chair. Your seat’s forward and backward tilt should be adjustable also.
  • Lumbar support - your chair should be able to support your lower back. Sitting for long periods without support for the inward curve of your lumbar spine will cause you to slouch and strain your lower spine structures. Your ergonomic chair should have a lumbar adjustment so you can get the proper fit to support your lumbar area. The seat cushion or lumbar support pillow should support both the back and the buttocks - memory foam is a great option for this one.
  • Backrest - your chair's backrest should be around 12 to 19 inches wide. If the backrest is separate from the seat, it should be adjustable in angle and height. The natural curve of your spine should be supported, especially your lumbar region. If your chair’s backrest and the seat are in one piece, the backrest should be adjustable in forwarding and back angles. There should be a locking mechanism that will secure your backrest from going too far backward once you have set your preferred and appropriate angle.
  • Armrest - your padded armrest should be adjustable too and allow your arms to rest comfortably and your shoulders to relax. Your elbows and lower arms should be able to rest lightly and your forearm should not be on the armrest while you are typing.
  • Headrest - most office chairs do not include a headrest, but if you decide to get one, you should go for an adjustable headrest.
  • Swivel - ergonomic or conventional style, your office chair should be able to rotate easily so you can reach different areas of your desk without straining your muscles.
  • Seat material - the seat and back of your chair should have enough padding to make it comfortable for you to sit on for long periods of time. Opt for a seat and back that have cloth fabric (such as a breathable mesh chair) rather than a hard surface.

Ergonomic Chair Alternatives to the Traditional Office Chair

Newer styles of ergonomic chairs have been designed as an alternative to traditional office chairs. The ergonomic features are created with good support, good posture, and comfort in mind. These chairs can be very useful for you if you’re suffering from lower back pain or discomfort.

  • Kneeling ergonomic chair - this ergonomic desk chair has no back and places you in a modified kneeling position. This chair’s design promotes good posture by sliding your hips forward and aligning your back, neck, and shoulders. The seat is the chair’s primary support, with additional support coming from the shins. The design distributes the weight between your pelvis and knees. This reduces the compression on your spine and therefore reduces the tension and stress in your lower back and leg muscles. This kneeling chair comes with a forward-slanting seat that leads to a more natural position for your spine. 
  • Exercise ball ergonomic chair - it seems weird to use an exercise ball as a chair for work, but a fair lot of people swear by this. The ball is large enough to support your body in prolonged sitting and can work as a desk chair or computer chair. Because it’s a ball, there is slight bouncing as you sit, which will keep your legs moving, stimulating blood circulation.  It keeps your muscles busy and reduces their stress and fatigue. 

    Slouching will be difficult when sitting on the ball and your efforts to stay on the ball will encourage proper posture. Since the ball comes in different sizes, you can easily find one with just the right height for you. You can even have it customized by modifying the base frame with wheels to improve your mobility. You can even have a backrest attached as well.
  • Saddle ergonomic chair - as the name suggests, the chair is shaped like a horse’s saddle and positions you somewhere between sitting and standing, just like when you’re riding a horse. This posture allows your legs to widen and drop naturally, which creates a stable and healthy position. This is great for those with lower back pain. The chair has adjustable height and the design eliminates usual concerns such as forward slouching and circulation problems.
  • Recliner chair - if sitting in a reclined position is most comfortable for your back, then this chair is for you. The design of this chair will greatly benefit those who are dealing with pain from degenerative disc disease or lumbar spinal stenosis. If you plan to use the chair for working, there are small tables available that can be attached to the chair and can swivel it over to allow you to do paperwork or use your laptop comfortably.

How to Reduce Back Pain in the Office

Woman stretching while working from a home office

Aside from investing in a good ergonomic chair, there are other things you can do to lessen the strain of office work on your back. 

1. Always Remember to Stand Up and Stretch 

No matter how comfortable your chair and adjustable seat is, it doesn’t mean you can forgo getting up for a good stretch or a short walk. Prolonged status posture is bad for your back and will lead to chronic back pain and muscle strain. Make it a point to stand, stretch, and walk even for just a minute or two for every half hour of sitting in your office chair. Even a quick stretch or a short walk to the pantry or bathroom will make a difference in your posture. 

If you can afford to do so, taking a 20-minute walk is even better, as this will promote healthy blood flow and will bring nutrients to your spinal structures. Moving your body on a regular basis will keep your muscles, joints, ligaments, and tendons loose. This will make your body feel more comfortable overall and you can focus more and become more productive at work.

Learn more: 9 Stretches for Upper Back Pain Relief

2. Wear Supportive Footwear

If your job requires you to stand a lot or if you need to wear high-heeled shoes to work, you might experience some form of pain after a while. Standing for prolonged periods of time, especially on heels, can affect your body’s gravity center and result in the compensatory alignment of your whole body. This will have a negative effect on your back support and posture. 

Adjusting your stance and wearing the right shoes can definitely help. Prop a leg up on a footrest when standing for a long while. Wear shoes with supportive orthotics or place a rubber mat on the floor you’re standing on to improve comfort.

3. Keep a Relaxed Posture

It’s easier said than done especially if you’re already wrapped up in work or busy doing other things but do try to maintain a relaxed healthy posture overall. You can do this by avoiding restricting movements such as clenching muscles or adopting a stiff, unnatural posture. This should come more naturally for people who already have neck or back pain as they tend to limit movements that can aggravate the problem.

Are you suffering from back pain due to sitting too much at work? If you’re in New York City, visit New York Pain Care and get the relief that you need.  The facility takes care of pain issues related to the spine & back, shoulders, elbows, hand, & wrist, knee, neck, as well as hip, foot & ankle. You can also consult them for sports injuries, headaches, and other types of chronic pain. Call now and let New York Pain Care help you towards a pain-free lifestyle.

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