The Office Chair: What to Consider for Lower Back Issues
By Kirsty Angerer, The Travelling Ergonomist on 20th May 2019
There are some staggering statistics in the UK, and in fact globally, around people suffering with lower back issues which you can find in Blog 1 of The Chair blog series. If you are suffering from a lower back issue, then you are suffering from a musculoskeletal disorder.
The term musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) covers any injury, damage, or disorder of the joints or other tissues in the upper and lower limbs or the back. MSDs are cumulative which means they typically do not just come out of nowhere. They will occur from being in poor postures for extended periods of time.
There is typically not just one thing that causes an MSD to occur. It would be a combination of a few factors accumulating over an extended period of time. Some of these risk factors are;
- Work postures and movements
- Repetitiveness and pace of work
- Force of movements
- Lack of influence or control over one's job
- Increased pressure
- Lack of or poor communication
- Monotonous tasks
- Perception of low support (e.g. manager or co-worker)
A lower back issue for example may come about from poor working postures due to the pace of work increasing alongside a particular project, particularly if this project is continuing for a period of time of let us say 3-6 months and is also requiring you to sit for most of the day at your computer.
There are three types of back injuries that we can suffer from and they are strain, sprain or a herniated disc. A strain occurs when a muscle or the tendon that connects it to a bone is overstretched or torn. A sprain occurs when a ligament is overstretched or torn. Ligaments are strong bands of tissue that connect bones to each other. A herniated disc occurs when the outer ring of an intervertebral disc is torn, allowing the soft central portion to leak or bulge out.
Unfortunately, at some stage in our lives, we will all suffer with degenerative joint disease which, as spinal discs compress, vertebrae come in contact causing painful bone damage and the eventual fusion of vertebrae. We can certainly reduce the onset of disc degeneration by leading a healthy lifestyle, moving regularly and doing tasks in neutral postures.
In a seated position, a neutral posture would be where your feet are planted on the floor or footrest, your thighs are parallel to the floor, making sure that your hips are slightly higher than your knees, your hands are in your lap with your shoulders down and relaxed, elbows by your side and head facing forward. What tends to change this posture is the tools on our desk such as our keyboard, mouse and monitor.
Our posture is driven by two things - our hands and our eyes. So we want to make sure that our tools are close to us to avoid any unnecessary stretching and leaning forward. This leaning forward posture, otherwise known as trunk flexion, is the leading cause of lower back discomfort or pain. By bringing your tools closer to you, you are encouraging yourself to sit back in the chair, gaining the full support of the backrest.
There are very few occasions where I would recommend an external lumbar support or an additional cushion to add to your chair. This is mostly because they usually do more harm than good. As they are not part of the chair, you lose the integrity of the design of the chair. Due to them being an external feature of a chair, they are usually not in the right place so will often not be giving you the appropriate support. And finally, due to the lumbar supports being a few inches thick, when you sit in the chair you start to lose a few inches of seat depth. When this happens there will be a big gap between the front edge of the seat and the back of your knee. This will ultimately cut part of your blood circulation mid-thigh and could create lower back discomfort.
If you are pregnant or suffering with a herniated disc though, an additional lumbar support may be helpful. Obviously, as a woman goes through pregnancy her body changes. Having additional support for those few months can be helpful as long as the chair is also properly set up. Having additional support in the back when you are suffering with a herniated disc can also relieve pain and help in the healing process. Once you are back fighting fit, you should not need an external lumbar support, providing your chair can be adjusted adequately.
If you have had a recent fall and hurt your coccyx, otherwise known as your tailbone, then you may find it uncomfortable to sit properly on any chair as there will be increased pressure up the spine. You can get chairs that have their seat designed with a coccyx cut-out already built in which are great. Otherwise, for the duration of the healing process, you may want to consider a coccyx cut-out seat cushion which sits on top of your office chair and has a cut-out at the back so there is limited or no force going up your spine.
Whether you are suffering with back pain or not, you want to make sure you are setup in a neutral posture when seated, along with keeping your tools close to you to encourage you to sit back in your chair and take regular movement breaks to encourage blood circulation and nutrients to flow around the spine and body.
How we at Osmond Ergonomics can help
Selecting an appropriate chair is essential in ensuring physical comfort as well as the prevention and management of musculoskeletal pain and injury.
Our comprehensive chair portfolio offers a wide range of seating and our extensive range of bespoke adaptations enables us to cater for those who find standard chair options unsuitable, uncomfortable, inadequate or simply the wrong size. This may be due to dimensional challenges (too big/too small/too wide/too narrow), musculoskeletal issues (back or neck pain, upper limb disorders) or because of disabilities (e.g. spinal curvature or limb amputation).
Your search for better posture, comfort and performance starts here and our Customer Service team will be delighted to help if you find the variety of chairs and options all a little overwhelming.
If you would like to discuss your requirements with us please contact us online or call our expert team on 0345 345 0898.
Kirsty Angerer, The Travelling Ergonomist
Kirsty Angerer is a Certified Professional Ergonomist, Frequent Flyer, Workplace Wellness Advocate, Fitwel Ambassador, and Self-Confessed Ergonomics Nerd. She has worked in the areas of ergonomic program development and training for managers and employees for quite some time, now with a global client base. Travelling the world regularly, she strives to make it a more healthy and comfortable place.
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