Back pain is one of the most common complaints and illness in the workplace worldwide. Very common is back pain in the lower back, i.e. in the region of the lumbar vertebrae. These complaints are often experienced by people who have a sedentary job.
To prevent back pain an ergonomic office chair is an important preventative measure and a good investment in healthy posture of the spine. Some office chairs offer a special support in the lumbar region or offer this as an additional option.
Does an ergonomic office chair with lumbar support effectively prevent back pain or is this more of an extra without much effect on proper ergonomics and back health?
To answer this question , it should first be understood what an ergonomic sitting posture is.
Back ergonomics – human spine
A healthy spine (columna vertebralis) has the shape of a double S when viewed from the side. This natural curvature of the spine acts primarily to cushion shocks, protecting sensitive pieces such as the brain during movement. If this cushioning were not provided, our brains would receive severe shocks even during normal walking.
The spine can be divided into five different sections: the cervical spine at the top, the thoracic spine underneath, then the lumbar spine, and finally the sacrum and coccyx at the bottom.
In addition to the ideal shape of the spine, the individual intervertebral discs (discus intervertebralis) also help to cushion the weight and provide elasticity and mobility. The intervertebral discs consist of an outer fibrous ring and an inner gelatinous core made up of approximately 80-85% water, which acts like a deformable water cushion.
Thus, the spine, together with the intervertebral discs, provides an optimal posture for the back.
However, when we sit, in most cases we create an incorrect shape for our back. On the one hand, this comes from the flat seat surface, which causes the sacrum and coccyx to become rounded. To avoid this, there should be a slight wedge-shaped elevation at the back of the seat to ensure an ergonomic sitting posture.
However, what is even more often missing from most chairs is good lumbar support, also called lordosis support or low back support. This is the area of the lumbar spine, in the lower back. Since many office chairs lack this lumbar support, the spine loses the S-shaped curve in the lumbar area and this creates additional pressure on the intervertebral discs in addition to an incorrect sitting posture. Furthermore, many people sit in the front area or on the edge of their office chair at the front, which quickly causes them to fall into an unhealthy hunched-back posture. Thus there is no lumbar support and the neck vertebrae are also placed in a wrong curvature.
The absence of lumbar support is one of the main reasons why many people develop a herniated disc in the lower back, especially in the L4 and L5 vertebrae.
Lumbar support ensures proper ergonomics
For good back ergonomics, a pronounced lumbar support is a must in any chair. An ergonomic office chair can only be said to have adequate lumbar support when there is an outward bulge (towards the back) in the lower quarter of the backrest cushion.
This bulge must be present not only on the side, but also in the middle of the backrest cushion, thereby returning the spine to its natural S-shape and providing appropriate support. As mentioned, this is unfortunately not the case with many office chairs. Therefore, special care should be taken to ensure that this support is present for proper ergonomics when sitting.
As a rule, ergonomic office chairs offer an adjustment option for the backrest. This means that if the curvature is present in the cushion, the lumbar support in the back cushion can also be adjusted in height.
Better quality office chairs usually offer an additional adjustable lumbar support as an option. This can be either a mechanical or pneumatic addition in the back cushion, which allows the curvature in the cushion to be adjusted as needed.
The mechanical add-on is installed in the backrest cushion in such a way that a rotary knob can be used to apply more or less pressure, i.e. more or less curvature.
With the pneumatic add-on, this is done via an air pump, pumping more or less air into the lumbar area. The only disadvantage with this version is that the air can escape over time and so must be pumped again and again.
The general advantage of an ergonomic office chair with individual lumbar support is that the desired curvature in the lower back can be adjusted exactly. Since, as is well known, each person is unique, it feels different for each person to set optimal back ergonomics with such an adjustable lumbar support.
In order to prevent back problems when sitting and to effectively adopt an ergonomic sitting posture when working at a desk, good lumbar support is a basic requirement. Unfortunately, in practice, a majority of office chairs often lack this lumbar or lordosis support. It is advisable before buying a new office chair to try it out and feel with your own back whether the support in the lower back is really sufficient. Always remember the natural S-shape that a spine should take, even in a sitting position.
If you already own an office chair that has insufficient ergonomic support in the back cushion, it is possible to buy extra add-ons that can be attached to the back cushion afterwards. These are usually smaller cushions made of foam with an anatomical shape, which can be attached to the backrest of the office chair.
Ideal for an optimal ergonomic sitting posture would of course be an office chair that already has all this and is specifically designed to prevent back problems. The benefits of a lumbar support are enormous not only for the back, but for the overall well-being of the person, as the spine can be brought into the correct ergonomic shape. This can also prevent many other classic office ailments such as headaches, shoulder tension, neck problems or especially slipped discs.
If the topic of ergonomics in the office or home office appeals to you and you are interested in it further, my book “Wellness in the Office” can provide you with even more tips and tricks. Combined with humorous drawings, I present 50+1 tips to make your office a little paradise.