What is the best chair to prevent low back pain?

You’ve had months or years of low back pain.  At the very least it’s annoying.  At the worst it’s totally disabling.  And low back pain causes more disability than Alzheimers, asthma, cancer, diabetes, and heart disease combined. Because it is the leading cause of disability in the world.

Gavin Routledge is an Edinburgh Osteopath who has specialised in lower back pain for nearly 30 years.  His own practice audit of over a thousand low back pain patients showed that 71% of sufferers feel worse after or while sitting. As AXB supports those seeking self-help for low back pain / sciatica, this question has to be addressed.  The average American sits for 13 hours a day.  So, the question “What is the best chair to prevent low back pain?” seems like a great one to answer…

This is not a meaningless review of chairs with links to amazon.  The purpose of this article is not to generate affiliate income through payment links.  It’s an impartial assessment.  And hopefully we can help to guide you in what to look for.  After reading this article, you might decide to save yourself upwards of £500.

How do you prevent low back pain?  Treat the cause, not the symptom.

The answer has to be by treating the cause.  And your causes are probably different to the next person’s.  That muddies the waters right away, doesn’t it?  Can a chair treat the causes?  Only those causes directly related to sitting.  So, a key question to ask yourself is “Is my low back pain worse when I sit, or when I get up from sitting?” If the answer is “no”, then you should probably look elsewhere for the cause – and the solution.  And save the money.

If the answer was “yes”….  What is it about sitting that seems to aggravate so many lower back pains (remember that 71% figure above)? Just two things:

  1. The position
  2. Inactivity/duration of sitting

The effect of position on low back pain

Do you sense that how you sit affects your low back pain?  Lots of people are convinced that their posture/position on the chair is a factor. And it probably is. Especially if you think it is.  But what do I mean by that?  Scientific reviews indicate that posture doesn’t really matter.  However the more you associate an activity – any activity – with pain, the more connected they become in your brain.  That might sound like mumbo-jumbo.  You might think I’m trying to say it’s all in your head.  And I sort of am.  Remember that the amount of pain your experience is ultimately always controlled by your brain.  See The Pain Equation for an explanation.

But what about posture?

Many studies have shown that posture doesn’t seem to significantly affect pain levels.  There have been some smaller studies that showed longer periods sitting in a slumped position did increase low back pain. Routledge says, “Personally, I think it does matter.  I know that if I spend 20 minutes with a slumped lower back it’s likely to ache.  But if I spend the same 20 minutes sitting upright, then it doesn’t ache.  And that’s true for thousands of low back pain patients I’ve seen.”

The more you sit, the more low back pain you might get

Again, a lot of scientific reviews maintain that length of time sitting isn’t a factor.  But there are all sorts of flaws in the way researchers assess this.  A lot of studies relied on people remembering how much they sat.  We are very bad at remembering this sort of thing.  And worse at estimating. We finally found a study that seemed more rigorous in its approach to tracking the amount of time people spend sitting.  And surprise, surprise… They concluded that the longer you sit, the more low back pain you’re likely to get.

So if duration is more of a factor than position, does it matter what chair you buy?  Maybe not.  Maybe it’s that annoying old answer – get up and move more often.

Sit and move?

Or could it be that varying your posture when sitting helps?  And what about moving while you sit? Might that help?  In short, yes.

Variety is the spice of life

These days, enlightened ergonomists have a saying – “Your best posture is your next posture”.  As shown above, you need to stop thinking about a perfect posture.  ANY position you stay in for long periods will come at a price.  Especially if you do it day after day.  So you need to have 2 or more seated postures you can choose from. And standing for a while is always a good option.

Fidget your low back pain away

Routledge says “I rarely sit still for long.  I sit on a wobble cushion when I’m working from home.  And I sit on a ball chair at work.  This makes it easier for me to move while sitting.”

The advantage of these labile surfaces is that you can move while you sit.  “I wobble frequently.  It’s good for my lower back.  It’s a bit like the effect walking would have on your back. Nice, easy rhythmic motion.  Most lower backs like walking.  And they like wobbling.  It’s the opposite of staying still when sitting. Remember…. Move, don’t stay still.”

No best chair to prevent low back pain

Spending hundreds of pounds/dollars/euros isn’t likely to resolve your lower back pain.  Frequent movement is likely to help.  If you want a free assessment of your low back pain / sciatica click the link.