Avoid Back and Neck Pain at Work: 5 Tips for Choosing an Ergonomic Office Chair

Do you sit a substantial amount of the time?

Research shows that around 1 in 4 Americans remain seated for eight hours or more each day.

That’s a staggering fact that explains why, at least in part, 80% of adults experience back pain at some point in their lives, while a quarter will report spinal discomfort in the preceding 3 months alone.

Our modern lives are unnaturally sedentary, particularly with the office jobs taking precedence over active jobs.

This leads to:

  • a switched off core
  • weight gain
  • strained skeletal muscles
  • compressed and stressed vertebrae
  • Shortens hip flexor muscles
  • a lack of nutrition to the brain

These reactions lead to a series of health conditions known as office syndrome, which we mention more extensively in our article: “Office Syndrome is Real and It Should Be Taken Seriously.”

See, as our joints move correctly, they fire off what’s called proprioceptive signals or sense of movement and body perception. These signals tell the body where it is in space but, even more importantly, this motion feeds the brain. “Ninety percent of the stimulation and nutrition to the brain is generated by the movement of the spine,” said Dr. Roger Sperry, 1981 Nobel Prize winner for brain research.

But when the body is used incorrectly from prolonged sitting and poor posture, the body compensates from the habitual misuse of the body by stiffening, creating unnatural curves in the spine, and shortening muscles—which sends “Mayday” signals to brain screaming for help. In other words, you’ll feel excruciating neck, hip, and back pain just from sitting all day in an unsupportive chair.

This makes sitting correctly crucial for protecting your back and neck, cognitive function and general wellbeing. That’s why clinicians are starting to call prolonged sitting the new smoking.

But this doesn’t mean that you need to quit your office job. You can avoid the associated health problems of sitting all day with the right ergonomic office chair.

An ergonomic office chair is specially designed to support your lower back and encourages good posture so you can decrease the chances of neck, back, and hip pain from extensive sitting.

Each chair component discussed below should be adjustable so that it can be, as our beloved fairytale maiden Goldilocks said, made “just right” for you.

5 Tips to Choose an Ergonomic Office Chair

1. Choose an ergonomic office chair with proper armrests

Not all chairs have armrests, but a good ergonomic version should. The armrests ought to support your forearms in a neutral position so that your elbows rest at 90 degrees and your wrists can lay level with the desk.

2. Choose a chair with the right backrest for your body

By using a correctly positioned lumbar support, the curves of the spine are effortlessly maintained. Let’s look at an example…

  • Sit without anything placed behind your back.
  • Now, slump. It’s easy for your back to bend and your head to jut forward.
  • Next, place a rolled-up towel behind the curve of your lower back.
  • Shuffle rearwards so the towel remains gently propped between your body and chair.
  • Now, try and slump.
  • The physical support maintains your spine’s ideal curves.

When choosing an office chair, its backrest should be supportive and comfortable. If you are short, tall, or overweight; you’ll need to take these factors into consideration, as these issues affect how far the chair leans back, where your head sits, etc. Moreover, it should be able to be vertically raised or lowered and pushed forward or backward so you can find the perfect position.

3. Choose a chair with a 15-degree back angle

Just as some people prefer their car seat slanted backward and others drive straight-backed like a soldier, we all have individual preferences. Saying that, research indicates that a 15-degree tilt is the magic number that lessens the pressure on the spine from prolonged sitting.

4. Choose a seat height that allows your feet to comfortably touch the floor

While this is a little controversial, the height of the seat should allow your legs to rest comfortably on the floor with a 90-degree knee bend. According to Cornell University, the minimum height should be 15 inches, which suits most smaller people. But it should also have an adjustable range of nine inches to support taller individuals.

If the seat is too high, the back of your knees will shoulder excess pressure. If it’s too low, the upward trajectory of your thighs will result in additional force placed through the bones in your bottom. I’d recommend including a footstool to the equation if your feet do not rest comfortably on the floor with the available chairs on the market. As a vertically challenged person myself, this makes all the difference in avoiding hip and lower back pain.

5. Choose a chair with the right seat depth

The seat’s depth should be long enough for your buttocks to shuffle back sufficiently to allow the use of the backrest, and for your knees to bend naturally at the front. Cornell University recommends 14 – 18.5 inches for adjustable seats. This allows the backrest to be moved without affecting the seat depth. For fixed chairs, they support a distance of 16.5 inches.

The seat pan should be crafted from material that is supportive and comfortable, approximately 1.5 and to 2 inches thick, particularly strong towards the back where most of the bodyweight is placed, curved to match our biology, and wide enough to fully, comfortably support your bottom.

The seat pan may also have an adjustable angle. For most people, 5 to 10 degrees is ideal.

An appropriately constructed, positioned and used ergonomic chair may reduce injury, improve energy, and ease muscle strain and discomfort. The benefits can be profound.

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Other considerations for a healthy body at the office

Choosing the right ergonomic office chairs surely helpful in your day to day work life. But even with the best technology, sitting for 8 hours each day is a long time for a body that was designed to move and often. It is also vitally important to take care of your body beyond a supportive chair.

Remember to:

  • Stand and move around for several minutes every ½ an hour. You need to get your blood flowing back through the body for a healthy body and mind. Set a timer if you need a reminder or after each small task is completed.
  • Draw your eyes away from your monitor regularly to ease eye strain. Again, some people put timers on their computers or phones to remind themselves to look away.
  • Remember to stretch. Reach for your toes, do some side stretches, and twist from side to side. Just remember not to push past your natural limits.
  • Do some neck rolls. Roll your neck around in a circular motion clockwise and then counterclockwise a few times to relieve that all-knowing neck tension from leaning into the screen.
  • Keep a pain-relieving cream or ointment handy. When your muscles invariably tighten, you’ll appreciate the cooling or heating sensation on your neck or back.

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