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Lumbar Support In a Chair: What Really Works?
Lower back pain is a huge problem among working adults. Many office chairs don’t have good lumbar support, so many people who work long hours sitting down end up with aches, cramps, and seizing in their lower backs. Approximately one in four working adults experience low back pain. This pain can often be prevented by proper support from a high-quality office chair.
But what does good lumbar support actually look like? Some chair companies may advertise supportive chairs, but how do you really know what you’re getting?
In this article, we’ll tell you all about the science behind lumbar support and tell you exactly what to look for when shopping for your next office chair.
What Is Lumbar Support?
The purpose of any type of lumbar support in a chair is to help support your back and maintain the natural curvature of your spine while you sit. Without this support, our bodies tend to compensate by leaning forward and slouching, which can lead to pain, or even muscular damage in the shoulders, neck, and back.
Scientists have studied what makes for good lumbar support in a field called ergonomics. Ergonomics uses knowledge of our body to adjust and customize all types of working conditions, all to prevent soft tissue injuries and musculoskeletal disorders caused by sudden or sustained exposure to force, vibration, repetitive motion, or awkward posture. Office chairs that are designed following ergonomic principles should support the back while allowing you to sit comfortably without strain.
Types Of Lumbar Support In Chairs
There are a few main types of lumbar support you’ll see in chairs on the market today, and each has different strengths and weaknesses. In general, there are a few guidelines to keep in mind when shopping:
- A lumbar depth, also known as the amount of space allowed for the bottom curve of your spine, should be about 0.6” to 2” for the general population.
- Women tend to have more curvature in their lower back than men do, so they may benefit from more pronounced lumbar support.
- People with a higher Body Mass Index, or BMI, will generally prefer taller lumbar support that targets higher on the back.
There are four common types of lumbar support you’ll see in office chairs. We’ve broken them down, along with their pros and cons, below.
Fixed Lumbar Support
Fixed lumbar support refers to any type of lumbar support that is fixed into the backrest of the chair and cannot be repositioned or modified in any way. This is the most basic type of lumbar support and is usually found in lower-end office chairs.
While fixed lumbar support is better than no lumbar support at all, it's not ideal. Every person has a unique curvature to their spine, and one type of lumbar support doesn’t fit all. If the fixed lumbar support is positioned incorrectly or protruding too much or too little, it can actually be counterproductive and can cause pain rather than prevent it.
Adjustable Lumbar Support
Like the name suggests, adjustable lumbar support allows the user to adjust the lumbar area to perfectly fit the unique curvature of their spine. Chairs with adjustable lumbar support usually allow the user to control a variety of factors. The height, or location of the lumbar support, can be adjusted to target the precise area of the back where support is needed. Users can also adjust the depth to control how much lumbar support protrudes outwards and the firmness to control how soft or firm the lumbar support is.
The best adjustable lumbar support chairs employ at least two or three of the above adjustment options. Adjustable lumbar support chairs are amazing because they cater to every unique individual and can be adjusted depending on the day or whether you feel like you need more or less support. It just takes a short while to find the perfect combination of height, depth, and support for your unique spine.
Dynamic Lumbar Support
Dynamic lumbar support automatically adjusts its depth and firmness based on your posture to provide constant support at all times. This type of lumbar support is usually only found in high-end office chairs. Because it adjusts automatically, it requires essentially no effort to adjust and supports your back no matter what position you sit in.
Dynamic lumbar support can be highly beneficial when properly implemented, as it automatically adapts to constant changes in the curvature of your back as you sit. In some dynamic lumbar support chairs, the entire backrest reacts to postural changes, while in other designs, the backrest is in multiple pieces, which move separately. The only drawback is that chairs with dynamic lumbar support tend to be higher in price.
External Lumbar Support
External lumbar support doesn’t come built into a chair but is rather added in the form of a cushion. Many chairs on the market include an external lumbar pillow as an inexpensive alternative to a built-in lumbar. There are also dedicated lumbar pillows you can purchase if your office chair isn’t providing enough support.
Most lumbar pillows that come with chairs are cheap and do little to actually support the back. However, there are a variety of high-quality lumbar pillows on the market today. These are a fairly inexpensive option that allow you to customize your lumbar support without having to buy an entirely new chair.
Lumbar support pillows can be highly ergonomic and can come in a variety of different sizes and shapes to match your body type. For example, for people who experience lower back pain, an external pillow with a cutout around the posterior pelvic tissues has been shown to increase comfort and help alleviate pain.
Which Type Of Lumbar Support Is Best?
Unfortunately, there isn’t one “best” type of lumbar support. Everyone’s body is unique, and every spine has a unique curvature. Lumbar support is not one size fits all. When shopping for a chair with good lumbar support, consider the needs of your particular body. Where do you typically experience back pain? Where do you find you need the most support?
A chair with dynamic lumbar support, such as the all33 Backstrong, is ideal. It supports your spine no matter what position you sit in and provides ideal lumbar support while allowing for adjustments. Plus, the Backstrong is much more affordable than other dynamic support options on the market today.
Other Ways To Protect Your Lower Back
While lumbar support is extremely important, you can do a variety of other things to help support and protect your lower back. These things should not be used in place of a chair with proper lumbar support, but can be used as additional measures to help further support your back and relieve pain.
- Adjust Your Workspace: An ergonomic workspace is more than just a supportive chair. It is important that your desk and computer are also at the proper height, so you’re not hunched over or straining your neck. Your desk should be at approximately elbow height when seated, so that you can type on your keyboard while keeping your elbows at a 90-degree angle. The top of the screen of your desktop or laptop should be at eye level when looking forward. Your feet should also be flat on the ground when seated.
- Take Regular Breaks: Even if you have the perfect chair, you should still be standing up to stretch your back regularly. Sitting for an extended period of time can cause cramping and strains, and going too long without a break makes you more likely to slouch or hunch. If you have to, set timers on your phone to remind yourself to get up and walk around.
- Strengthen Your Core: Having a strong core is so important to the health of your lower back. Your core muscles work with your lower back muscles to help support your entire upper body. Without a strong core, your back takes the brunt of the load, which can cause strain. Try to work out your core a few times a week to increase strength and provide internal support.
Having an office chair with proper lumbar support is crucial to preventing pain, strain, and muscle damage in your neck, back, and shoulders. While many chair companies claim their chairs provide proper support, it can be difficult to know which ones are legitimate. Make sure to do your research before you purchase, and use this handy guide to help determine what kind of lumbar support is best for you.
To learn more about our ergonomically designed chairs with dynamic lumbar support, click here.