Healthy Back Tips

September 2007

Chair Selection

In the modern day workplace, most workers spend the majority of the day seated at a computer.  Unfortunately, many workstation set-ups contribute to work-related musculoskeletal problems involving the lower back, neck, shoulder, elbow and wrist/hand.

One consideration in addressing workstation ergonomics to alleviate painful musculoskeletal conditions is the desk chair.  Chair selection is often a highly individualized process, however, there are a few important features that are important to keep in mind.

An ideal chair is dynamic and encourages movement. Ergonomic chairs also allow the backrest to recline.  Periodic reclining throughout the day permits decompression of the spinal column decreasing back stress. The reclined sitting position lessens compressive load on the spine when compared to upright and slumped sitting, as well as reduces muscle effort.
If a dynamic seatback feature is unavailable, an adjustable backrest angle is recommended so that you can manually adjust the seatback into a reclined position for brief periods throughout the workday.
Adjustable arm rests attached to the backrest provide continuous arm support regardless of task or seat position helping to reduce muscle tension in the shoulder and neck muscles.
A seat pan angle that adjusts from a 5° forward tilt to a 10° backward tilt may facilitate a desired lumbar alignment. For example, a forward tilt seat pan angle enables the low back to maintain a normal arch position with less muscle effort thereby preventing excessive slump posture.
An adjustable or customized lumbar support within the backrest will allow for sufficient support of the natural contours of your lower back and decreases the tendency to slump sit.
Seat depth adjustments should permit a 2" clearance between the knee crease and the edge of the seat when you sit all the way back in the chair.
The seat height should also be adjustable so as to allow the feet to contact the floor firmly. Transferring weight though the legs and feet into the floor helps to reduce compressive loading in the low back. Inclined footrests can also be used for this purpose and are helpful for short leg individuals.
A swivel component allows for the chair to rotate, which prevent twisting and reaching.
Adequate cushioning (preferably gel seat cushions) promotes even weight bearing distribution and comfort.
Controls for all chair adjustments should be easily accessible to prevent back strain from bending or twisting.

Below are examples of an ergonomic chair made by Human Scale called The Freedom Chair.

For more information specific to your condition, contact the Atlanta Back Clinic, or call us at 770-491-6004 to set up an appointment with a physical therapist.