8 months ago

The Best Office Chair For Lower Back Pain (And Why You Need One)

office chairs for lower back pain

If you are a physically active worker it's likely that you don't have to do much sitting during the day. 

And that's a great thing.

​Because staying active and on the move is the best thing you can do to manage your chronic lower back pain.

However there will be some of you that have to combine ​your active work with a few hours of desk work as well. 

And ​those few hours sat behind desk on a computer or doing paperwork can take a massive toll on your back if you're not careful. 

However there are things you can do to minimise this pain, such as:

  • Sitting with a good posture.
  • Setting up your work area so that you are not straining your neck, back or eyes.
  • Taking regular microbreaks.
  • Investing in an office chair that provides lumbar support and keeps you correctly aligned as you sit.

And for this article I'm going to focus on the last part. 

Because sitting in a generic, cheap, one-size fits all type of office chair is a recipe for disaster. 

Choosing an ergonomic office chair on the other hand will allow you to sit with the correct posture and take pressure off your back.

Which is absolutely vital in maintaining your health and keeping your pain levels down if you have to sit for a few hours per day.

Luckily there are some fantastic models on the market and I​ will review and recommend the following chairs.

These start from the best high-end option all the way through to the best budget option (click on the links to go straight to that detailed review):






Otherwise keep reading and I'll explain why sitting for a prolonged period is so hazardous for your back.

And I'll show you just what benefits investing in a high quality ergonomic office chair will bring you.

Why Do So Many Office Workers Suffer From Back Pain?

office worker back pain

As you may have worked out by now, sitting down all day isn't great for your back.

But why is that?

There are two main reasons for this.

Firstly, when you are in a seated position your vertebrae become compressed against each other​.

And this can lead to a weakening in the discs that support them (1).

​The thing is, your spinal discs are designed to expand and contract while you move.

​This allows them to take in the blood, oxygen and nutrients they need to keep them healthy and be able to support the full movement of your spine.​

​​However when you are sat down your spine is compressed and your discs get squeezed.

This starves them of oxygen and nutrients and they deteriorate.

And the result of this is your spine becomes less flexible and your lower back ends up having to carry more of the burden in your day to day life.

Which leads to more back pain!​

Secondly, sitting in the same position for too long weakens your muscles.

Our bodies are designed to move so regular movement is necessary to maintain healthy muscles and ​joints (2).​

But when we are forced to sit for hours at a time our hamstrings, glutes and abdominal muscles all remain unused.

These are the muscles that are vital for supporting our spine, however leaving them dormant like this only weakens them.​

And in turn your backs get less support than ​it needs.

This leads to increased muscle soreness and stiffness especially in the hip area.​

And the combined tightness in the hips added to the lack of spinal support from weakened abs, glutes and hamstrings create muscle imbalances in the body which can pull your spine out of alignment.

This can lead to you developing posture problems as the body works to compensate for the lack of support and increased load on the lower back.

And a bad posture puts even more pressure on your lower back and leads to even more pain!​

​So sitting sounds pretty dangerous right!

And that's why investing in an office chair that can counteract these things is vital.

Because using a ill-suited office chair can make these problems even worse.

Why Do Bad Office Chairs Cause Back Pain?​

Bad office chair causes back pain

The main problem with cheap, mass-produced office chairs is that they are designed as a one-size fits all solution.

And what you end up with is a one-size fits no-one!

This leads to the following issues:​

  • As you can't adjust them to fit the individual they encourage you to sit with an awkward posture which puts pressure on your spine.
  • This leads to you developing a poor posture over time that lasts long after the workday is over.
  • They don't provide any lumbar support, so your spine ends up in an unhealthy 'C' curve rather than a healthy 'S' shape.
  • As you can't adjust the height of the arms your shoulders and upper spine take on more of a strain.
  • The foam padding that most cheap chairs come with flattens out quickly, leaving you with no support underneath you and a sore bum!
  • And as they are cheaply made they tend to break easily, which can make them even worse to sit in all day.

What Are the Benefits of​ Using an Ergonomic Office Chair?

ergonomic chair for back pain

Photo credit: Mark Pang

An ergonomic office chair is one that is designed to be fully adjustable to each individual.

They are full of support and can be customised to fit you like a glove.

This helps you to ease your back and hip pain when sitting for longer periods and also brings the following benefits:​

  • ​Improved lumbar support for your lower back.
  • Adjustable backs to suit the spinal curvature of any spine, so you can create a natural 'S' shape in your spine as you sit rather than a 'C' shape.
  • Tilt control so you can recline with comfort and support.
  • Tilt control also allows you body to move naturally in the chair which keeps your core muscles active as you sit.
  • Increased seat depth which allows your lower back to rest against the back of the chair and takes pressure off your thighs.
  • ​Being able to adjust the hip position of the seat improves your posture and helps you to avoid a forward-tilting pelvis.
  • Adjustable arms allows you to get them at the right height to support you and take the strain off your shoulders, neck and upper spine.
  • Adjustable seat height allows you to get to the right height for your desk so you can place both feet flat on the floor which relieves pressure on your lower back.
  • The mesh backs and seats allow your body to breath as you sit, keeping you cool, comfortable and sweat free.
  • The 5-point castor bases provide greater stability, balance and even distribution of weight.
  • Using an ergonomic chair encourages you to maintain a healthy posture during the day, and these habits can improve your overall posture too.

​Pretty cool don't you think?

And besides all these great benefits, ergonomic chairs are also more comfortable and allow you to work for longer periods without experiencing back, neck or shoulder pain.

The Best Ergonomic Office Chairs For Back Pain

Here I review what I consider to be the best ergonomic office chairs for lower back pain.

I've included high-end chairs here alongside budget options, so you can choose a good one depending on what you want to spend.

Although some of the high-end ones may seem expensive, they are a fantastic investment if you are going to be using them every day.​

And I'll start with the Daddy of all ergonomic office chairs, the widely lauded and newly updated Aeron Chair by Herman Miller.

Price scale: $ - low-end, $$ - mid-range, $$$ - high-end, $$$$ - top-end.​

Aeron Task Chair By Herman Miller

$$$$

Herman Miller Aeron chair
Herman Miller Aeron Task Chair

Features

  • ​Graphite frame.
  • Extremely adjustable all over.
  • PostureFit sacro-lumbar support pads.
  • Tilt mechanism with 3 postures.
  • 8 zone pelicle mesh on back and seat to distribute pressure evenly.
  • Black vinyl armpad.
  • 2.5 inch carpet castors.
  • 12 year warranty.

Adjustability

  • Tension of tilt mechanism can be adjusted to match your bodies movement.
  • Seat angle has two adjustments (neutral and engaged).
  • Two adjustable PostureFit pads to support the lower back and sacral regions.
  • Fully adjustable arms that can be adjusted up, down, in, out, backwards and forwards.
  • Adjustable height.

Comfort

  • Curved design allows you to adopt a natural posture.
  • Able to be fine-tuned to the finest detail to ensure comfort and support.
  • Pelicle mesh is breathable keeping you cool and comfortable.
  • Tilt mechanism allows your body to move naturally during the day, increasing comfort.

Summary

The Aeron Task Chair by Herman Miller is a giant in the field of ergonomic chairs that are good for back pain for a good reason.

It's awesome!​

Not only is it incredibly well designed, durable and built using the highest quality materials, it is engineered to be able to fit any individual spine like a glove.

The Aeron chair comes in 3 different sizes depending on you height and weight.​

And almost every feature on this chair can be easily adjusted and fine-tuned in precise detail.

Firstly the pneumatic lift allows you to adjust the height of the chair so you can get it to the right level to use at your workstation while still keeping both feet firmly placed on the floor.

This also works to take pressure off your thighs as you sit and increases circulation and blood flow to your muscles.​

​You can also adjust the seat angle depending on what task you're doing.

There are two settings, neutral (which keeps the seat parallel to the floor) and engaged (which gives you a 5 degree forward tilt).

This forward tilt is great for maintaining a good posture if ​you have to do a lot of computer work. 

The backward tilt mechanism is a wonderful feature here too.

There are 3 positions that you can lock into to limit the amount you can tilt back (upright, mid-recline and full-recline).

You can also adjust the tension of the tilt, so you can make it a struggle to push back in the chair, or make it easy and smooth the move between positions.

This second option is great for eliminating back pain as it allows the chair to mirror your body's natural movements, allowing you to remain comfortable when constantly change positions during the day.

The chair will help you remain balanced and in control as you recline, both supporting your spine and allowing you movement.

And this will allow the muscles that support your spine that become restricted and weakened in traditional office chairs to remain active and working throughout the day.​

And the good news for your back keeps coming.

There are two individual PostureFit support pads as part of the back of the chair that are designed to support and stablise your lumbar and sacral regions respectively.

Both of these pads can be ​adjusted to fit the curve of any spine and are designed to mimic a healthy standing posture as you sit.

The back and seat of this chair are made with a custom designed pelicle mesh that contains 8 different zones of varying tension.

This mesh allows the pressure on your body as you sit to be evenly distributed, taking the strain off any areas like the lower back or bum that take the full load​ in traditional chairs.

This chair is also great if you suffer from shoulder or upper back pain as the arms are fully adjustable.

You can adjust the height (from 6.8" to 10.8" above the seat), you can slide them forwards and backwards by 2.5", and you can pivot them inwards by 17.5 degrees or outwards by 15 degrees.

All of that means you can get the arms into the perfect postion for your body type to be able to take all the stress and strain off of your shoulders and upper spine.

So as you can see this chair is gold when it comes to back support. But it's also very comfortable too.

The curved design makes it easy for you to adopt a comfortable, natural posture as you sit.

And the fully adjustable tilt ​mechanism allows your body to move comfortable and naturally throughout the day.

Also unlike chairs that use foam or leather, the pelicle mesh allows heat, air and water vapour to pass through it.

So not only does the even pressure ​distribution of the mesh make the chair comfortable, it will also keep you cool and comfortable during the day.

And finally the 5 point castor base provides great stability as you sit, keeping you well-balanced.

So with so many great features, are there any downsides?

Well yes there is a massive one, and that is the hefty price tag.

As a one-off cost for a chair it can be pretty shocking.

But when thought of as a long term investment in your health, investing in an Aeron chair makes sense over the long-term.

Not only is it built to the highest quality, it comes with a 12-year warranty, so this is a chair that will serve you for years to come.

And the design has just been updated and improved for 2017 based on the latest research into the effects of prolonged sitting, so now is a great time to buy this new version.

I guess the decision on whether to invest this much in a chair depends on how much you are going to be using it. 

If you just need a chair for an hour or two per week, then it might not make sense for you.​

However if it's something you are going to use every day then the Aeron chair is definitely worth the investment.

Pros and Cons​

  • Can be adjusted precisely to fit any individual.
  • Tilt mechanism allows your body to move naturally, keeping muscles engaged.
  • ​PostureFit lumbar support pads support and stabilise your lower back and sacral areas.
  • Adjustable arms take the strain off your neck and shoulders.
  • Curved design makes it easy to maintain natural posture.
  • 8 zones of differing tension in the pelicle mesh of the back and seat means pressure is evenly distributed.
  • Breathable mesh keeps you cool and comfortable.
  • Built to last plus a 12-year warranty.
  • New design fresh for 2017.
  • It looks great!
  • Comes with a hefty price tag.

Overall Back On Site rating: 4.8 out of 5 stars


Ergohuman High-Back Swivel Chair

$$$

ergohuman chair
ergohuman chair

Features

  • High back model.
  • Comes with a headrest.
  • Split back lumbar support.
  • Syncro-tilt mechanism with 3 positions.
  • Breathable mesh on back and seat.
  • Single lever adjusting mechanism for ease of use.
  • Leather armpads.
  • 2.5 inch plastic castors.
  • Lifetime warranty.

Adjustability

  • Tension of tilt mechanism can be adjusted to match your bodies movement.
  • Seat can be moved backwards and forwards.
  • Lumbar support can be adjusted, but not seperately from the back of the seat.
  • Arms can be adjusted up, down, backwards and forwards.
  • Adjustable height.
  • Can change seat depth.

Comfort

  • Adjustable seat depth takes pressure off thighs.
  • Can be fine-tuned for comfort and support, but not as precisely as the Aeron.
  • Mesh is breathable keeping you cool and comfortable.
  • However mesh on seat is also a little firm.
  • Tilt mechanism allows your body to move naturally during the day, increasing comfort.

Summary

The Ergohuman High-Back Swivel Chair is a well-made and durable ergonomic chair that is designed to give great lumbar support throughout the day.

It is another highly adjustable chair, although these adjustments are not as great as the Aeron chair meaning it can't be fine-tuned as precisely.

The height can be easily adjusted using the pneumatic lift which allows you to get it to the right level to use at your workstation while still keeping both feet firmly placed on the floor.

ergohuman chair

​Photo credit: Michael Dorausch

​You can also adjust the seat backwards and forwards, although it doesn't have the option to be tilted forward.

Moving the seat forwards shifts your pelvis forward which can create a nice curve in your lumbar area.​

You can also adjust the seat depth, which is a good feature as it makes it more comfortable for your thighs and ​pushes your lower back into the back of the chair at the correct angle.

The tilt mechanism has 3 positions that you can lock into to limit the amount you can tilt back.

You can also adjust the tension of the tilt, so you can decide how much give you want the chair to have when you are reclining.

So while this doesn't mirror your body's natural movements quite as well as the Aeron, it still allows you to remain comfortable and supported while constantly changing positions during the day.

Again this will allow the muscles that support your spine that become restricted and weakened in traditional office chairs to remain active and working throughout the day.​

This chair also comes with a lumbar support that can be moved up and down to fit the curve of your spine and help you to maintain a healthy seated posture.

However this lumbar support is attached to the back of the chair, so it can't be adjusted seperately. You have to move the whole lot together when adjusting.

The back and seat of this chair are made with a firm, breathable mesh that aims to keep you cool and provide strong support throughout the day.

The arms are also adjustable in that they can be moved forwards, backwards, up and down, which is great for taking the strain off your shoulders.

However they​ can't be pivoted inwards or outwards, which may mean you have to position your arms in unnatural positions depending on your body shape.

This chair also comes with an adjustable headrest which can be moved up or down and tilted up and down.

However while this is good for your neck, you can't move the headrest forward, so it is mainly of use when reclining.​

ergohuman chair

This chair is good for people who suffer from back, shoulder or neck pain while sitting for long periods.

It is also really easy to use as it has a single lever that adjusts the seat height, depth and the tilt mechanism.

However it splits opinion slightly when it comes to comfort.

​While many people find this chair to be very comfortable, others complain that the hard mesh seat can become uncomfortable when used for extended periods.

I guess it's a matter of personal preference here.

What the seat brings in terms of strong support and breathability over a padded seat, it may lose in terms of general comfort.

However this mesh will keep you cool and comfortable during the day, unlike leather or foam padded seats..

The syncro tilt mechanism and tension adjustment also ​allow you to recline easily and with support, making this a comfortable choice.

​And the chair is good for tall people, coming with a high back.

Finally it also comes with a 5 point aluminium base that provides great stability and balance as you sit.

So now for the negatives on top of what I've already discussed.

Although cheaper than the Aeron it is still fairly pricey, and if you are looking to spend big on a chair you need to weigh up whether it's worth spending the extra and buying an Aeron instead.

Also the neck rest may not be comfortable for everyone.

I know this is not a feature I like personally, but that may just be me as most others seem to see this as a real benefit.

All in all though I'd have to say the Ergohuman chair is a great choice as a slightly cheaper option than the Aeron if you are looking for a top-end ergonomic chair that is designed with eliminating back pain in mind.

Pros and Cons​

  • Highly adjustable to fit the individual.
  • Tilt mechanism and tension control allows your body to move naturally, keeping muscles engaged.
  • Lumbar support for your lower back.
  • Adjustable arms to take strain off your neck and shoulders.
  • Adjustable seat depth good for relieving pressure on thighs.
  • Neck support.
  • Breathable mesh keeps you cool and comfortable.
  • Lifetime warranty.
  • Well-suited for tall people.
  • Can't adjust lumbar support seperately from back of the chair.
  • Mesh seating may be too hard for some.
  • Neck support not comfortable for everyone.
  • Can't tilt neck support forwards.
  • Can't adjust the chair as precisely as the Aeron.
  • No option to tilt the seat forward.

Overall Back On Site rating: 4 out of 5 stars


Space Seating Professional Airgrid Managers Chair

$$

Space Seating Professional Airgrid
Space Seating Professional Airgrid

Features

  • Medium back model.
  • Dark airgrid back mesh with built-in lumbar support.
  • Thick padded eco leather seat.
  • Tilt lock in upright position and adjustable tilt tension.
  • Plastic armpads.
  • GreenGuard certified - low chemical emissions.

Adjustability

  • Tension of tilt mechanism can be adjusted.
  • Height of arms can be adjusted.
  • Adjustable height.

Comfort

  • Padded seat is very comfortable.
  • Tilt tension can be adjusted so you are supported and comfortable as you recline.
  • Mesh on back is breathable keeping you cool and comfortable.
  • However padded seat not breathable, may make you hot if used for long periods.

Summary

The Space Seating Professional Airgrid Managers Chair is a great value comfortable ergonomic chair that comes with built-in lumbar support.

This chair is made to a simple design and is built for comfort, however there are still a few adjustable features.​

There is a pneumatic seat height adjuster which allows you to get it to the right level to use at your workstation while still keeping both feet firmly placed on the floor.

ergohuman chair

You can also adjust the tension of the tilt mechanism which allows you set it to the resistance you want when you are reclining.

However unlike more expensive chairs, this chair doesn't have any tilt locking postions when you recline.

This means that the chair will push you back into an upright position after you lean back.

Instead there is just one tilt lock which keeps the chair in ​an upright position if you don't want it to be able to recline.

While this may not be a huge problem, it does mean you can't stretch back and relax as well as in other chairs.​

The arms can also be adjusted up and down, which helps to take the strain off your shoulders.

However they​ can't be moved backwards and forwards or pivoted inwards and outwards, which means you may have to position your arms in unnatural positions during the day depending on your body shape.

This chair comes with a built-in lumbar support that is part of the Airgrid mesh backing.

This lumbar support can't be adjusted like others can which may pose a problem if it doesn't hit the right spot for you.

However the Airgrid mesh that the back of the chair is made of is firm and breathable, which will keep you cool and provide strong support throughout the day.

Unlike the back, the seat is made of eco leather and is thick and padded which makes it extremely conmfortable to sit in.

There is a chance that this padding may make you hot if you sit in the chair for long periods as it doesn't allow the heat and air to pass through like a mesh seat can.

Overall though this is a very comfortable chair.​

The curved design makes it easy to sit with a natural and healthy posture.​

ergohuman chair

And the syncro tilt tension adjustment will ​allow you to recline comfortably with support.

The chair comes with a 5 point nylon base to provides great stability and balance as you sit.

But as with any lower end option it lacks some of the features of the more expensive models.

For instance the lumbar support isn't as good and as I've already mentioned it cannot be adjusted to fit the individual.

Also the armrests are not the best as they are made of plastic which may prove uncomfortable for some people.

It's also not as durable as other chairs, especially the padded seat which may show signs of wear and tear is used heavily.

So maybe this chair is a better option for a home office rather than something that you'll sit in for 8 hours per day.

Something to also be aware of is that it is better suited to taller people as the chair is quite high off the ground even in the lowest height setting. 

​So it may be not work for you if you are under 5 and a half feet tall, as you need to be able to place both feet flat on the floor to be able to take the strain and load off of your lower back while you sit.

However, despite these issue​s this chair is fantastic value for the price and a big upgrade over a run of the mill, generic office chair.

It's easy to use, comfortable, well made and supportive for your back.​

Pros and Cons​

  • Overall a very comfortable chair.
  • Tilt tension control allows your body to recline naturally, keeping muscles engaged.
  • Lumbar support for your lower back.
  • Adjustable arms to take strain off your neck and shoulders.
  • Breathable mesh back to keep you cool and comfortable.
  • Well-suited for tall people.
  • Environmentally friendly - low chemical emissions.
  • Well made and great value for the price.
  • Lumbar support isn't the greatest and can't be adjusted.
  • No option to tilt the seat forward.
  • You can't lock the tilt in postition when reclining.
  • The armrests are not high quality and the plastic material may become uncomfortable.
  • Not suitable for shorter people (under 5 and a half feet).
  • Seat material not durable enough for heavy use. 
  • Padded seat may make you hot during extended use.

Overall Back On Site rating: 4.2 out of 5 stars


Amazon Basics Mid-Back Mesh Chair

$

Amazon basics mesh chair
Amazon basics mesh chair

Features

  • Pneumatic height control.
  • Breathable mesh on back and seat.
  • Padded mesh seat.
  • Tilt lock in upright position and adjustable tilt tension.
  • 1-year limited warranty.

Adjustability

  • Tension of tilt mechanism can be adjusted.
  • Adjustable height.

Comfort

  • Padded mesh seat is very comfortable.
  • Tilt tension can be adjusted so you are supported and comfortable as you recline.
  • Mesh on back is breathable keeping you cool and comfortable.

Summary

The Amazon Basics Mid-Back Mesh Chair is a decent low-priced ergonomic chair.

This chair is comfortable and durable for the price, however you don't have many options to adjust it to your liking.

There is a pneumatic height control adjuster which allows you to get the seat to the right level to use at your workstation while still keeping both feet firmly placed on the floor and taking the strain off your lower back.

ergohuman chair

You can also adjust the tension of the tilt mechanism which allows you set it to the resistance you want when you are reclining.

However again, like the Space Seating chair, this chair doesn't have any tilt locking postions when you recline.

Instead there is just one tilt lock which keeps the chair in ​an upright position if you don't want it to be able to recline.

And unlike the other chairs, a big downpoint with this chair is that the arms are not adjustable.

They are also set into a low position on the chair.

This means that unless you are lucky your arms will be forced to hold an awkward position as you work, which will increase the strain on your neck and shoulders. 

There is also no dedicated lumbar support.

Instead the curved design of the chair aims to provide support for your lower back by promoting a natural curve in your spine as you sit.

This actually works pretty well, but as it's not adjustable you are again at the mercy of luck in it hitting the right spot for your body shape and height.​

However the mesh on the back of the chair is firm and breathable, which will keep you cool and provide strong support throughout the day.

Amazon basics mesh chair

And the mesh seat comes with extra padding which makes it more comfortable to sit on.

Overall though this is a pretty comfortable chair.​

The tilt tension adjustment will ​allow you to recline comfortably with support.

And like all the chairs here it comes with a 5 point base to provides great stability and balance as you sit.

Being a budget option this chair will obviously be missing a lot of the benefits of the more expensive models.

So it may be better for a short-term option rather than a chair for the long-term or one that will get regular use.

But it is a comfortable and durable chair that will be far better for your back than a regular, cheap office chair.

Pros and Cons​

  • Comfortable and durable.
  • Tilt tension control allows your body to recline naturally, keeping muscles engaged.
  • Breathable mesh back to keep you cool and comfortable.
  • Cheap!
  • ​Not many adjustable options.
  • No special lumbar support.
  • No option to tilt the seat forward.
  • You can't lock the tilt in postition when reclining.
  • The armrests can't be adjusted and are set quite low.

Overall Back On Site rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Rounding Up

Hopefully these reviews have helped you to make your mind up if you are deciding which kind of ergonomic chair will suit you best.

However while these chairs are great, you also need to make sure you are doing other things correctly too.

Things like setting up your workstation correctly, taking microbreaks every hour, and stretching yourself out every now and then.

I found a great article on Nerd Fitness (which you can find here) that explains how to do all this really well and which I'd highly recommend you check out.

I hope you enjoy your new chair and that it greatly improves your working days.​

Share here!

Daniel

A 30-something painter and decorator, psychology graduate, and veteran of 5 spinal surgeries. Looking to explore the physical, psychological and emotional effects of living with chronic low back pain.