One of the areas in our lives where we, as back pain sufferers, have the least amount of control over our environment is at work. Theoretically speaking, under government guidelines, all work spaces should adhere to basic ergonomic principles which have been formulated and recommended to help prevent exacerbation of existing physical problems and development of on the job injury. In reality, we all know that the bottom line has more to do with the purchase of office equipment for most employers; and that a one size fits all approach is the generally accepted one.
It is possible, however, to reduce discomfort and worsening of existing conditions. Half the battle is ergonomics in your office equipment, especially your office chair. But part of it is also making sure that the set up of the chair is optimum.
Building an Ergonomic Office
Guidelines exist for the proper height of not only the chair but your workstation. These fall into six categories.
First, the height of the workstation must be adjusted according to the height of the worker. The computer screen should be situated at your resting eye level. Seated, eyes closed with your head in a comfortable and natural position, open your eyes ---the center of the computer screen should be where your eyes naturally focus—raise or lower if not to avoid neck strain.
Second is low back support. You should sit in your chair so that the tailbone is full to the back of the seat. Built in lumbar support in your chair should cause a slight lower back arch which prevents the natural tendency to slump and minimizes load strain on your spine.
Third is elbow measurement. Your upper arms should remain parallel with your backbone, forearms lie flat on the arm rest, and elbows should maintain a 90 degree angle and be able to reach your keyboard or writing surface comfortably
Fourth is thigh measurement. Seated you should be able to comfortably slide your fingers between the bottom of your thigh and the top of the chair seat. If the space is too tight, or your thigh rises above the chair seat level, the chair should be adjusted up or down accordingly.
Fifth is armrest position. As you sit in the chair, your arms should slightly raise the level of your shoulders, adjust the armrest height accordingly if not.
Sixth is calf measurement. Sitting in the chair you should be able to pass a clenched fist between the back of your calf and seat front; if you cannot the seat depth is too deep. If you can move the backrest forward, it should be done, if not a towel or lumbar support pillow may be used. If neither option works, a new chair is in order.
Choosing Office Chairs for Bad Backs
Here is a quick list of possibilities:
The Gaiam Yoga Balance ball chair incorporates the ergonomic benefits of a yoga ball into a sturdy 20 inch high base. Inflation of the yoga ball makes this an adjustable option that dynamically helps strengthen core and back muscles as well as offering a comfortable seating option. The Gaiam is an affordable budget priced option (under $100).
The Allseating Therapod Therapist Highback chair is a fully adjustable chair with body specific adjustments including multi-adjustment backrest, armrest and seat as well as a tilt adjustment that allows a user to keep their feet on the floor in correct ergonomic position while tilting backwards. There are several caster options which allow the chair to roll only when sitting in the chair (pressure braking), or alternatively when someone is not sitting in the chair (reverse pressure braking). The Therapod Therapist is a mid range price option ($300-500).
A higher end option is the Aeron Chair by Herman Miller. Retailing in the $800-$1000 price range, it offers an astounding and absolutely unheard of 12 YEAR Henry Miller warranty. The Aeron is distinguished by the Miller Posturefit butterfly pad that supports the pelvis and allows forward rotation; pneumatic lift adjustment from 16 inch to 20.5 inches high; fully adjustable tilt tension, a revolutionary suspension system married with a flow through seat architecture preventing heat buildup; independently adjustable armrests, and a built in tilt limiter to prevent tip overs.
These are just a few of the options in three price ranges. A good source for price and feature comparison of ergonomic chairs is Amazon.com—especially valuable is there rating system where reviews are available on the sales page from actual users. And Amazon offers great prices and shipping options!