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Suffering from lower back pain while working from home? I have some good news and some bad news for you. While dozens of reviews online recommend the best office chairs for lower pain, most of them are outdated in the context of November 2023.
I spoke with Antony Lo, Australia’s leading musculoskeletal physiotherapist, who revealed that fixing a bad back with an office chair is the wrong approach.
Antony’s recommended approach to managing lower back pain is below.
Meanwhile, remember that some home office chairs are better at providing back support than others.
Best overall office chair for bad backs.
Above: Steelcase Leap is an all-fabric, premium office chair. Inviting but certainly not ostentatious, it will complement the look of any home office without necessarily elevating it.
Steelcase Leap is one of the best ergonomic office chairs for people with lower back issues.
Almost three times as expensive as the Ergotune Supreme, it represents a considerable investment, but is loaded with ergonomic features that will offer years (if not decades) of comfort.
Steelcase Leap has one of the best levels of build quality I’ve seen on an office chair.
If offers one of the best warranties in the office chair business (lifetime on frame, 12 years on moving parts).
The knob on the right-hand side allows you to adjust the firmness of lower back support, while the focus bar allows you to focus support on a specific area.
- Seat depth adjustment is standard, and the seat pad is made from high-density foam that provides firmness and comfort.
If you lean forward in your Steelcase Leap, you’ll notice that the front edge of the seat flexes downward to prevent the build-up of pressure underneath your legs.
The theme of flexing continues to the rear, with Steelcase’s LiveBack technology allowing the chair’s back to flex.
This enables the Leap can follow the natural contours of your spine, instead of forcing it into unnatural positions.
I want to love the Steelcase Leap office chair. I really do. Instead, I merely like it – largely because of its corporate aesthetic.
It’s not a chair I’d rush to buy for my home office because I’m not a corporate guy – and I don’t want my home office to look like a Westpac cubicle.
- If the Steelcase Leap was priced at around $700, I’d forgive this flaw. In reality, it sells for more than twice that price. At this price point, and in 2023, I expect a better design.
I also don’t love the feel of the Steelcase tilting mechanism. It allows you to recline, but its motion isn’t as smooth as that of the Ergotune Supreme.
Finally, adding my $1 to the endless debate of mesh vs fabric office chair construction, I need to point out that the fabric seat pad is more likely to make your butt sweat in the Australian climate.
It’s not a problem if you live in Melbourne and run air-con all day, but people who WFH and live north of Sydney will likely find an all-mesh chair more comfortable.
I like the Steelcase Leap for its no-fuss commitment to supporting people’s lower backs.
|How Does The Leap Stack Up?||Score|
|Ease Of Assembly||5/5|
Compared with the Ergotune Supreme, it offers a comparable level of lower back support and ergonomics, plus a slightly higher level of build quality – one that’s consistent with its $1,500+ price.
But it’s also considerably less pretty and has a much more stingy return policy.
✔ Hugely adjustable for optimal back support
✔ Well made
✔ Great warranty
✘ Plasticky, office cubicle aesthetic
✘ Doesn’t encourage rocking and tilting
Expect to pay over $1,500 for a new Steelcase Leap, and good luck finding one on sale.
➤ Arm Rest Adjustments: height, reach, width, pivot
➤ Mechanism: synchro-tilt
➤ Lumbar Support: manual tension, manual height
➤ Warranty: lifetime on frame and base, 12 years on mechanisms
Runner up. Best if your budget is limited to $750.
Above: The Ergotune Supreme looks great in a home office environment.
The Ergotune Supreme is my top ergonomic office chair for people with low back pain. It has enough adjustments to ensure it fits you like a glove.
If you suffer from lower back pain and want precise, effective back support but don’t want to spend thousands of dollars, you should give this chair some serious thought.
The Ergotune Supreme has every adjustment that people with bad backs expect in a high-performance ergonomic chair.
You get 11 adjustment points: seat depth and height adjustments, infinitely adjustable armrests, weight-sensitive lumbar support with height and tension adjustment and a 3-position tilt lock.
- You also get a 3-D headrest to keep your neck tension-free when reclining.
If these adjustments don’t help you mitigate lower back problems, you can return the Ergotune Supreme at zero cost to you.
The company will refund the cost of the chair, organise courier pickup from your home and cover the courier’s fee.
This is the most generous return policy I’ve seen from any ergonomic office chair manufacturer on the Australian market.
From an aesthetic point of view, the ErgoTune Supreme is quite pretty. Yes, it’s not as gorgeous as, let’s say, the Herman Miller Cosm, but it also costs four times less.
- ErgoTune’s logo is tastefully embossed on the headrest and adjustment knobs to elevate the chair’s appearance.
A satisfyingly long warranty, with 8 years on the mechanism and 4 years on the frame, completes the package.
ErgoTune Supreme‘s Duraweave mesh, although very pleasant to the touch, can be difficult to keep clean.
Above: The ErgoTune Supreme in Coral Red colour. It’s gorgeous, but not the best choice for messy people.
This isn’t a huge issue if you order your chair in black or never eat at your desk.
Unfortunately, my ErgoTune Supreme is in a bright Coral Red colour, plus I’m notorious for scoffing down my lunches while working.
- The chair has already copped an oil stain that has proven to be rather difficult to remove.
My other gripe is the Ergotune Supreme is the look and feel of the armrests.
- Yes, they’re solid and infinitely adjustable, but I’d prefer if they were made from a more premium material.
They are made from plastic, reminding me of a Kia Sportage dashboard. Not necessarily cheap, but not something you look forward to interacting with, either.
- I’d happily pay an extra $100 for a premium armrest option.
The Ergotune Supreme is the best office chair for people with lower back pain. It has an ocean of adjustment options to make you comfortable.
|How Does The Ergotune Stack Up?||Score|
|Ease Of Assembly||5/5|
In the odd chance that you don’t love this office chair, the company will take it off your hands, covering all costs and taking care of all hassles. It’s a no-brainer.
✔ Outstanding ergonomic options for bad backs
✔ Great build quality and warranty
✔ Risk-free returns
✘ Armrests could be more premium
✘ Fabric-infused mesh can stain if you’re not careful
The Ergotune Supreme retails between $650 and $800, depending on the season and promotions.
You get a $30 discount if you use this coupon to purchase the ErgoTune: 11+ARIELLE.
➤ Arm Rest Adjustments: height, reach, width, rotation, pivot away
➤ Mechanism: synchro-tilt
➤ Lumbar Support: auto depth with tension control, manual height
➤ Warranty: 12/8 or 8/4 years
(Recommended: Full Review Of The Ergotune Supreme).
Best chair for lower back pain if money is not an object.
Above: The Aeron is famous for its advanced ergonomics and precise back support.
The Herman Miller Aeron is my pick if you suffer from back problems, but have a very healthy budget for an ergonomic home office chair.
More than a status symbol for the vein, the Aeron is considered one of the best desk chairs for back pain on the market.
The Herman Miller Aeron features a high-end design with its (now) classic minimalist look.
High-grade mesh, expensive plastic parts and a lot of metal in the frame and base translate to a very robust construction.
(Although I will address one build quality flaw shortly).
- I’ve known people who have used their Aerons for almost 20 years.
Instead of buying a new office chair every few years, you could view this as an investment that will pay dividends in the long run.
Aeron’s arm pads are the best arm pads on any ergonomic office chair, ever.
They’re clad in a durable leatherette material that feels expensive to the touch and is sufficiently soft to preserve your elbows.
- Adjustable lumbar support received an optional upgrade in the Remastered version of the Aeron.
Called the PostureFit SL, it offers you the ability to target your lumbar spine as well as your sacrum, provides a huge amount of adjustability and encourages you to keep your hips tucked.
In the context of providing precise support and relief for someone with lower back pain, this is one of the best lumbar support systems on the market.
Criticising the Herman Miller Aeron is a bit like criticising Michael Jackson. It’s etched in history as one of the best ergonomic office chairs, and its strengths overshadow its weaknesses.
That said, weaknesses do exist.
- Many people online have complained about the excessive firmness of lumbar support on the latest version of the Aeron.
I personally find its lumbar support to be just fine for my body, but it seems not to agree with about 10% of people.
It’s not a chair that you buy online.
The absence of seat depth adjustment is another reason to try before you buy. Instead of forcing you to dial this in yourself, Herman Miller created this chair in three different sizes (A, B, C), each with a different seat width, height and depth.
Even though this office chair is built like a tank, I don’t love that it feels wobbly.
Kick it, and instead of rolling away with the smoothness of a precision instrument, the Aeron drifts off to the sound of clunking sounds that are consistent with loose metal parts coming together.
This is quite normal in the office chair world (and does not detract from Aeron’s ability to help with lower back pain), but I wish that spending over $2,500 on an office chair meant no rattles and smaller gaps between parts.
You will either love or hate the Herman Miller Aeron.
It’s a polarising chair that you’ll either view as a ridiculously overpriced and unnecessary example of everything wrong with capitalism or the tool that eases your lower back problems while transforming your home office into a deliciously enticing space.
|How Does The Aeron Stack Up?||Score|
|Ease Of Assembly||5/5|
While the Aeron is undoubtedly an expensive piece of home office furniture, it will give you premium back support and mountains of comfort for years to come.
To get the best results from an Aeron chair, visit a Herman Miller showroom.
✔ Classic good looks
✔ Best arm pads ever
✔ Will last forever
✘ High upfront investment
✘ Lumbar support system can be uncomfortable for some users
The Herman Miller Aeron isn’t cheap. Expect to pay about $2,500, depending on options.
Second-hand Aerons are a good option. You can pick one up on Gumtree Australia for about $900 and sell it a few years later for about the same price.
➤ Arm Rest Adjustments: height, reach, pivot away
➤ Mechanism: weight-sensitive
➤ Lumbar Support: depth with tension lock, height
➤ Warranty: 12 years
Best budget office chair for lower back pain.
Above: Quite stylish and practical, the Sihoo Chair will support your lower back without breaking the bank.
If you don’t want to spend a lot of money on an office chair but still want to minimise the chances of back pain, the Sihoo M57 Chair is your best option.
I don’t usually recommend that you limit your ergonomic chair budget to just a few hundred dollars, but if that’s all you can afford right now, the Sihoo Chair is a much better option than you slouching in a dining chair.
The Sihoo M57 Chair is by no means a state-of-the-art ergonomic device, but is surprisingly supportive and very adjustable.
In fact, the lumbar support of this chair can be moved up, down, left or right – similar to the system you’ll find on the $2,500 Herman Miller Aeron.
- This makes the Sihoo M57 a great choice for people with lower back problems, as its back can be shaped to match the natural curvature of your spine.
I discovered this chair on Amazon when I started working from home after returning from abroad.
- Its mesh is of good quality, the casters are smooth, the adjustable lumbar support is almost unheard of at this price point, and the armrests adjust in 3 dimensions.
The positioning supported my back and eased lingering back pain I developed while sitting in a budget coworking space chair.
I don’t seem to be alone. Over 1,000 reviewers on Amazon have provided 5-star reviews, with many mentioning that the Sihoo M57 Chair keeps their back relaxed and supported.
I don’t love the Sihoo’s chrome base. Come on – you’re buying this for your home office space in 2022, not for Wall Street in the 1990s.
- The 1-year warranty is short enough to raise my eyebrows for all the wrong reasons. I don’t expect it to have an impressive warranty period at this price point, but 1 year is quite short.
This is a strong hint that the Sihoo’s build quality is not on the same level as that of other ergonomic office chairs on this list. The components are likely sourced from the lower end of town to keep the cost down.
Let’s call a spade a spade. The Sihoo Chair is an inexpensive chair on Amazon.
It reminds me of office furniture that you’ll find in any Australian Officeworks store. It’s not great. It’s not bad. It’s not very exciting. Yet, the Sihoo M57 fulfils its intended purpose quite well.
|How Does The Sihoo M57 Stack Up?||Score|
|Ease Of Assembly||4.5/5|
Due to its ergonomic design with high levels of adjustability and back support, the Sihoo Chair is the best office chair for lower back pain under $400.
✔ Adjustable lumbar support is rare at this price point
✔ Has 3D armrests
✘ Unexciting design
✘ Short warranty
The Sihoo Chair retails for between $300 and $400 on Amazon, depending on the time of the year and current specials.
➤ Arm Rest Adjustments: height, reach, rotation
➤ Mechanism: synchro-tilt
➤ Lumbar Support: height, tension
➤ Warranty: 1 year
Boring all around.
Above: The Elite Balance doesn’t disappoint, but is overpriced. You can get a lot more support for your lower back at this price point.
Elite Furniture is one of Australia’s most trusted online furniture retailers, and Elite Balance is one of their most popular ergonomic chairs.
Take a close look, however, and cracks begin to emerge.
(Related: 7 Best Budget Office Chairs).
The Elite Balance has a reasonably sleek look for a mid-market chair. Its party trick is the removable, zip-on seat pad cover, which you can wash to keep the chair looking clean.
To keep your lower back happy, the chair has adjustable seat height, seat depth, 3D armrests, recline tension, and lockable the recline.
- The breathable mesh allows for a good amount of airflow, which means you don’t have to deal with a sweaty backside in the hot Australian climate.
Quality of the mesh is definitely good; it’s almost on par with mesh used in the ErgoTune Supreme.
Curiously, I found that the Elite Balance chair can feel quite upright and stiff initially, but eventually becomes surprisingly comfortable.
I was surprised that the Elite Balance features a nylon base at this price point. When you charge people almost a thousand dollars for an ergonomic office chair, you need to offer a metal base.
(Even the much cheaper Sihoo Chair features a metal base).
- Some people who reviewed the chair online found the lumbar support too aggressive for their lower back.
I’m not surprised, as the range of adjustments on this chair isn’t extensive.
I would, however, like to see Elite offer a more generous return policy to ensure you don’t get stuck with a chair that doesn’t help your lower back.
They’ll allow you to return the chair within 7 days but insist that you pay a 25% restocking fee and cover the cost of return shipping.
The Elite Balance is a pretty good office chair, but there are far better options.
|How Does The Elite Balance Stack Up?||Score|
|Ease Of Assembly||3/5|
The Sihoo Chair, for example, is three times cheaper and is nearly as good, while the Ergotune Supreme is about 30% cheaper and is much better.
About a thousand bucks. Check current pricing here.
➤ Arm Rest Adjustments: height, reach, adjustments
➤ Mechanism: synchro-tilt
➤ Lumbar Support: height, reach
➤ Warranty: 3 years
Comparing The Best Office Chairs For Bad Backs.
Here’s a summary of scores and a guide to what they mean, to help you easily see how we picked the best chair to help with your bad back.
|Steelcase Leap||Ergotune Supreme||Herman Miller Aeron||Sihoo M57|
|Ease Of Assembly||5||5||5||4.5|
What does each criterion mean in the context of choosing an office chair for a bad back?
- Ergonomics are important because they determine whether the chair is adjustable enough to support your body in the best position and help you deal with your lower back issues.
- Aesthetics are important because a welcoming office elevates your mood and increases productivity. If the space makes you feel like you want to be there, you’ll probably stay there for longer.
- Build quality is important because you don’t want the chair to feel cheap and nasty.
- Ease of assembly is critical for people with bad backs. Some office chairs arrive fully assembled, while others require you to crawl on the floor, looking for the right nut while reading unhelpful instructions.
- Price is important in a relative, rather than an absolute, sense. The real question is whether the chair fulfils its purpose, compared with other chairs at the same price point?
- Warranty is important because you don’t want to find a chair that works for your lower back, only for it to fall apart one year later.
- Return policy is important because the chair may not relieve your back issues despite your best research efforts. Generous return policies allow you to return the chair with zero hassle and cost to you.
(Related: 7 Best Home Office Chairs).
How To Select The Best Office Chair For Back Pain.
When selecting an office chair for back pain, it’s easy to get lost in a myriad of options and marketing propaganda.
Don’t get distracted. You need to look at just two things.
1. Is The Chair Sufficiently Adjustable?
Different office chairs offer different levels of adjustability, so how much is enough?
There’s no absolute definition, but if you have lower back issues, you need to satisfy at least the following checklist:
- Does the chair have an adjustable seat height?
- Does the chair’s backrest recline independently of the base?
- Does the chair have height-adjustable armrests?
- Does the chair have automatic or manual lumbar support with adjustable height and tension control?
The following are also desirable for helping you maintain good posture but not necessary:
- Does the chair have an adjustable backrest with height and reach adjustments?
- Are the armrests adjustable for width, reach and angle?
- Does the chair lock off in multiple recline positions?
- Does the chair lock off in a forward tasking position?
2. Does The Chair Facilitate Movement?
Sydney-based musculoskeletal physiotherapist Antony Lo is fond of the saying, “motion is lotion”.
“Sitting in a perfectly supported ergonomic position with a neutral spine all day is far from ideal,” says Antony. “Your spine needs to move. Changing your positions frequently is much more important than choosing the perfect ergonomic office chair”.
- This is both refreshing and sobering to hear.
Office chair manufacturers have told us for decades that chairs can solve back problems.
While good office chairs can certainly alleviate symptoms of pain in people with bad backs, movement and motion are what helps us focus on targeting the causes of back pain.
What Are The Common Causes Of Back Pain?
Several false narratives exist about pain, posture and movement.
I don’t want to pretend to be an expert on back pain, but as someone who has suffered several sports-related lower back injuries, I can point you in a direction where experts can help.
- Dr Jordan Feigenbaum specialises in helping people trapped in an endless cycle of misinformation about pain.
His blog post On Pain And Movement is a must-read for anyone suffering from lower back pain.
If you’re more of a visual learning type, Dr Feigenbaum has also delivered an excellent talk that explains why not all pain is bad, and provides strategies for relief.
A few takeaways before I wrap up:
- An office chair can’t “cause injury”, as the fear-mongering marketing propaganda of office furniture companies likes to emphasise. But…
- A poorly designed office chair can aggravate your existing conditions.
- A premium ergonomic chair can lull you into a false sense of security that movement and exercise aren’t necessary for a healthy spine.
- Changing positions throughout your day is critical. Spend an hour working in your ergonomic chair, then work standing for an hour, and then work from the couch. Mix it up.
Final Words About Choosing A Chair For Lower Back Pain.
A good chair with proper support and correct seat depth won’t help you cure chronic back pain, but it can help you alleviate its symptoms.
Consult your physical therapist if you experience any issues, and remember – motion is lotion.