Back Support for Office Chair

One of the most important features to look for when selecting an office chair, is lower back, or lumbar support.

Sitting for long periods of time in a chair with poor back support increases the stress in the lumbosacral discs, resulting in pain and discomfort in the lower back. Without good back support, specifically in the lumbar region, it is more difficult to maintain the natural elongated ‘S’ curvature of the spine.

Office chairs with good lumbar support will keep your spine aligned in it’s natural elongated ‘S’ shape.

Proper lumbar support will help keep your spine aligned in it’s natural elongated ‘S’ shape.

Ergonomic and orthopedic office chairs in South Africa are fitted with various types of back support that range from multi-adjustable backrests, to inflatable lumbar supports and finally, portable cushions that are attached to the chair by means of a strap. Executive office chairs with a headrest, may offer better support for your upper back and neck.

The Human Spine

Made up of 34 bones, the spinal column holds the body upright, allows it to bend and twist, and provides a conduit for major nerves running from the brain to every other part of the body. It provides the structural and nervous system support for your body.

The lumbosacral spine consists of five lumbar vertebrae (L1-L5) between the diaphragm and 5 sacral vertebrae (S1-S5).

The five vertebrae (L1 to L5) in the spine between the diaphragm and sacrum are known as the lumbar spine. This section of your spine curves slightly inward, called lordosis, before extending down to your coccyx or tailbone.

lumbar support for the spine
Lordosis and Kyphosis curvature in the spine

An office chair with good lumbar support will maintain the lordosis curves while you are sitting.

lumbar spine
Lumbar vertebrae in the lower spine, L1 to L5

1. What happens when you sit?

When you sit with your thighs at a 900 angle to our back, two major skeletal movements take place. Firstly, the long thigh bones (femurs) rotate in their pelvic sockets through approximately 600. Thereafter, the ligaments attaching the femurs to the pelvis, pull on the rear of the pelvis and rotate it backwards through the remaining 300Due to the rotation of the pelvis, the natural lordosis curve in the lower back changes to a kyphosis curve to create a ‘C’ shaped spine as shown below.

When you sit the kyphosis curve squeezes the front edges of the vertebrae together to create a ‘C’ shape (right). This increases the pressure on the front portions of the intervertebral discs.

Most of the change to a kyphosis curve occurs in the first three or four vertebrae above the pelvis. During this process, the front edges of the vertebrae squeeze closer together while the back edges spread further apart. This increases the pressure on the front portions of the intervertebral discs. For more information, see What actually happens when you sit?

Lumbar Lordosis is defined as the normal inward curvature of the spine in the lumbar (lower) region of the back.

To prevent poor sitting habits, select an ergonomic or orthopedic chair with good lumbar support.

Kyphosis is as an outward curvature of the spine, sometimes referred to as a C-shape.

Without proper lumbar support, prolonged sitting with a “C-shaped” spinal curve can lead to:

  • Backache.
  • Neck pain and tension headaches.
  • Sciatic nerve pain or sciatica.
  • Impaired breathing due to the compression of your lungs which restricts the blood flow to your vital organs, specifically your brain. This can result in fatigue and poor concentration.
back support for office chair
Kyphosis, or C-Shape is an outward curvature of the spine

2. Why the back support on an office chair should be adjustable

Because our bodies are so varied, chairs with a fixed or pre-defined lumbar support, are not suitable for everyone. For example, two people of similar weight and height could have vastly different body types. An adjustable lumbar support allows you to position the lumbar cushion to best fit and support the curvature of your spine.

In South Africa where we commonly have “hot desking” and office chairs are used by more than one person, an adjustable lumbar support is all the more essential.

The Golden Rules:

  • Every person’s back and body shape is unique.
  • Office chairs are not all the same and the level of back support afforded by each model will not suit everyone. There is no “one size fits all”, so find a chair that suits YOUR back!
  • Don’t be conned by anyone who claims that they have “an office chair that will suit everyone”. It doesn’t exist.

Case Study – Back Support for Office Chairs

Let’s look at a comparison between myself and my colleague, George.

George

Muscular physique and 175cm tall. Long torso and shorter legs.

Ronel

Slim physique and 167cm tall. Long legs and shorter torso.

Because George has a long torso, he needs an office chair with a higher backrest to support his entire back. He therefore prefers a chair like the Fenix with it’s tall backrest, or the Rio which has a backrest that can be adjusted vertically. In both cases, the lumbar support reaches high enough to ensure George can sit comfortably while maintaining a good seated posture.

Due to my arched back and shorter torso the Activ is better suited to support my exaggerated lumbar curve and body type. The lumbar support on the Activ is adjustable in height and depth. This feature allows me to control the firmness of the support into my back. 

The Leila is another chair that matches my body type. The height adjustable lumbar support consists of two kidney-shapes positioned on either side of the spine, thereby leaving the actual spine free to the touch. Interestingly, the Leila has become a firm favourite with many of our female customers.

George’s preferences: 

Ronel’s preferences: 

fenix ergonomic chair
Fenix Ergonomic Chair
rio ergonomic office chair with height adjustable back support
Rio Ergonomic Chair
activ ergonomic office chair with height and depth adjustable back support
Activ Ergonomic Chair
leila ergonomic office chair
Leila Ergonomic Chair

Our body shapes are all different, so the type of back support we need on our office chair will differ from one person to the next. At Wellback, we have a variety of orthopedic and ergonomic office chairs with various types of back support to accommodate diverse body types.

There is no office chair that has a “one size fits all” back support.

3. Who needs an adjustable lumbar back support on their office chair?

The simple answer…..EVERYONE!

An adjustable lumbar back support is recommended if you are sitting on your office chair for long periods of time, and/or you have persistent muscular back pain or musculoskeletal disorders.

4. Different back support options for office chairs

Lumbar back support for office chairs in South Africa is available in various forms that range from the most basic to more advanced ergonomic options. Office chairs with a high ergonomic rating will have backrests that include multiple types of lumbar support adjustment. Let’s have a look at a few variations.

Vertical lumbar adjustment on the Alya

a. Height adjustable

This option allows you to adjust the lumbar support vertically to suit your lumbar curve.

In order to get optimum results, sit as far back into your seat as possible with your back fully supported by the backrest.

Now adjust the lumbar support so that it rests in the small of your back to maintain the natural curve of your spine.

Ensure that the lumbar is not too high or too low as this may lead to slouching and discomfort.

b. Office chair with depth adjustable back support

This option allows you to change the horizontal depth of the lumbar support. 

When you adjust the depth of the lumbar support cushion on an office chair, ensure that you keep the spine in a natural position. Don’t over or under accentuate the inward curvature of your spine.

Over accentuation will result in unnecessary strain as your spine is forced into an extreme lordosis, while under accentuation will not provide the necessary support and comfort.

Lumbar depth adjustment on the Alya
Female spine during pregnancy

Note: The Female Spine

Females have a greater inward curvature (lordosis) than males and often benefit from a more pronounced lumbar back support like that on the Activ or Alya office chair. With these chairs, both the depth and firmness of the lumbar support cushion can be adjusted.

Female spines allow women to bend further backwards during pregnancy. This improves the weight distribution over their pelvis.

c. Office chairs with a height adjustable back and fixed lumbar support

Here the entire chair backrest can be adjusted vertically so you can align it with your lumbar curvature. 

Usually the adjustment is accomplished by means of either a ratchet mechanism that has a number of setting positions, or alternatively a handwheel that allows variable adjustment.

Height adjustable backrests with fixed lumbar support are available on our Wellback 100, 200 and 300 orthopedic office chairs.

wellback office chair back support adjustment
Height adjustable backrest on the Wellback 100
rio ergonomic office chair
Height adjustable backrest on the Rio

d. Height adjustable backrest on an office chair with an independently adjustable lumbar support

Here the entire chair backrest and lumbar support can be adjusted vertically and independently from one another.

An office chair with a height adjustable backrest is particularly beneficial for a taller person as it provides support for the upper back and shoulders. The vertical adjustment of the backrest has various height settings to suit your personal preference.

For optimal comfort, the separate lumbar support on these office chairs can then be adjusted to “fine-tune” the back support settings. This combination is available on the Rio Ergonomic Chair.

e. Office chair with a height adjustable back and inflatable lumbar support

The height adjustable backrest can be adjusted vertically to suit different users.

Designed for exceptional back support, the built-in pneumatic lumbar cushion on this office chair has an internal bladder that can be inflated via a simple hand pump. In this way, the position and firmness of the back support can be adjusted to an optimum level.

This back support is available on the OrthoMax Orthopedic office chair.

orthomax office chair back support adjustment
Height adjustable backrest with inflatable lumbar support on the OrthoMax
gaming chair
Gaming chairs commonly have portable or loose lumbar and neck support cushions

f. Portable lumbar back support cushion for an office chair

Common on Gaming Chairs, these cushions are made from moulded foam and then upholstered with either a plain or breathable mesh fabric. 

Portable lumbar support cushions come in various shapes and sizes and can easily be attached to your office chair or car seat by means of adjustable straps. Their application is ideal for any seat with insufficient lumbar support. 

Conclusion

Working in an office requires you to spend a significant amount of time sitting on your chair. Finding an office chair that has good back support is essential to avoid developing or aggravating back problems. We are all different and we need an office chair that correctly supports OUR unique back and body shape. There is no “one size fits all”. 

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