Finding the Best Office Chair for Your Back

Authored by: Dr. Yash Mehta

Whether you’re working in an office full time, splitting your time as a hybrid employee or working remotely from home or wherever you are in the world, people are spending 8+ hours a day in an office/work chair. As a physiatrist, I’m focused on the wellbeing of the whole body so I hope you’re taking breaks, getting up and moving, stretching and building in exercise when you can to limit the impact of sitting for too long. But that said — I also understand the importance of biomechanics and what you sit in does matter.

So, let’s talk about how to pick the best chair to support you through your work day.

Rank your Needs

Many of us have likely heard that “back pain is the #1 cause for disability and the #3 cause overall for ALL medical visits”. So it’s important to target root causes for pain and ergonomics, the study of people’s efficiency in their work environment.

Everyone does their best to pick a good chair but how do you know if your current office chair is causing back strain? We all lead very dynamic lives and there are various factors that can contribute to our back pain. However, a good way to check if it is in fact your current office chair that is ailing your back is to check these 5 factors, in order of greatest to least importance.

  1. Back rest with adjustable lumbar support — the best case scenario is lumbar support that can adjust in and out, up and down, and angle based on your specific body shape. An additional feature that helps is if the back rest is flexible and can angle as you move your back forward or backward, which allows continuous, dynamic lumbar support.
  2. Height — Ideally you want your chair height so that your forearms are level with your desk, but also want to try and maintain contact with your feet and the ground. If you have to choose one, choose the former, and have a prop for your feet.
  3. Arm rests — armrests should be adjustable and sit at your elbows so your elbows can have about a 90 degree angle when seated and typing. If the elbows are too high, that is not good for your shoulder, and the armrest should be adjusted or removed.
  4. Seat depth — the depth of the seat matters in hopes to keep your pelvis balanced, and to avoid putting too much pressure on your mid hamstrings or the posterior calves. Sitting with your hips slightly higher than your knees helps take some pressure off of your lower back and hips
  5. Head rest — although we are talking about the back, this is an important feature as the neck can also cause downstream back pain as well. The goal of a headrest is to support the neck as you try to maintain a posture where your chin is tucked back and your shoulders are rolled back.

Understand What Support Should Look Like 

The backrest and lumbar piece should be making firm contact with your low back. If you sit back in your chair, and realize there is still space between your low back and the chair, the lumbar region is not adequately supported. You can solve this by incorporating a separate lumbar support or make sure your chair comes with the proper support.

Ensure Support in WFH Environments 

When you’re not in an office, but working from home or somewhere else in the world, you have the freedom to sit wherever you want. So instead of an office chair, you may be on your sofa, in a recliner or large comfy chair, at a kitchen table, in a coffee shape or a thousand other possible locations. That’s the beauty of remote work. But make sure it doesn’t become a pain in the back. Do that by keeping the same support factors in mind. It’s especially important if you’re sitting on something soft — like a couch or bed. In that case, make sure you have pillows — maybe specifically a lumbar support pillow or gel seat cushion, to give your back the support it needs.

Topics covered

Featured Resources

Insights to Achieve a Pain-Free Life

Join the Patients We’ve Helped on the Road to Recovery