by Dr. David Borenstein M.D. updated 6/2020
More and more of us are spending increasing hours in front of computers. Whether it is working from home, Zooming with family, or playing games, our anatomy is set in front of a screen. One would think that this would offer greater comfort, but that is not the case. We are designed to move, not sit all day. Muscles appreciate the contract and extend of movement. This process allows for greater blood flow, improved oxygenation, and better function. Sitting in one place, results in less blood flow and increasing fatigue. Except for those lucky enough to have access to a standing desk, a day with the computer results in an aching neck and lower back. Can what we sit on prevent some of this discomfort?
For purposes of this discussion, the focus will be for chairs to be used at home or the office. The chair may be used to prevent back pain or rehabilitate individuals with low back pain. The chair should have a firm foundation with a thin cushion top. The area on the seat surface should allow for some movement of the legs. The chair seat should not be too low, causing legs to be close to the chest. Legs should be at ninety degrees or slightly higher than your hips if you prefer a flat back. A book or a small bench under the feet will result in a pelvic tilt, if legs do not reach the floor comfortably. This position takes pressure off the joints in the back. The back of the chair should not be higher than the lower edge of the shoulder blades and have a slight backward tilt. Arms rests at the correct height will allow for taking pressure off the shoulders and neck muscles, decreasing muscle strain. Chairs without arms will allow the arms to pull on shoulder joints and supporting structures that can result in muscle tightness and pain.
You can determine if you would benefit by a lumbar support by wrapping a rolled up towel around your waist. If the addition of the towel decreases your pain, you should consider a seat support. Some supports are constructed with foam while others are inflatable. They may be needed all or part of a day. Supports should be removable and not part of the permanent construction of the chair.
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You may have access to a variety of chairs to choose from in your location. You may try a few different ones before you find the one that fits the best. Not infrequently, the simplest chair without all the expensive adjustments ends up being the most comfortable.
Also no matter the comfort of the chair, that is not a substitute of getting up frequently. Simple stretching is important throughout the day. A minute of stretching every hour or two can pay great dividends with a low back and neck free of pain.