Where should the lumbar support be on office chairs? Is lumbar support even that important? Yes, and yes, but there’s a lot more to it.
Sitting for 8 hours per day in an office chair with subpar lumbar support (for example, the Ikea Markus office chair) can trigger back issues you didn’t know you had. You can solve a the issue by:
- Buying a top ergonomic office chair.
- Ensuring its lumbar support fits the natural curve of your lower back.
Today I’ll explain how to find a chair with great lumbar support, why you need it, how to adjust it for optimal workplace ergonomics, and how to ensure it feels comfortable on your back.
Where Should The Lumbar Support Be?
Shown above: the lumbar region is shaded in red. It’s the part of your back that curves towards your belly button.
Sit in a chair and feel behind you. Feel the gap? It should be around and slightly above your waist. Congrats, you’ve found the lumbar area of your spine!
Generally, the top of the lumbar support should align with the curve of your spine, while the bottom should reach 5 to 7 cm below your waistline.
Check the height and angle of your office chair’s seat pan, so that your hips remain above your knees.
- A lumbar depth of between 1.5cm to 5cm works well for most people.
- People with a higher BMI (Body Mass Index) generally benefit from taller lumbar support that targets higher up the back.
- Women benefit from more pronounced lumbar support due to the increased curvature in their lower back.
Why Your Lumbar Support Position Matters.
Most office chairs have lumbar support, but only premium ergonomic office chairs allow you to adjust their height and tension (firmness).
You’ll encounter problems if your lumbar support is too low, or too high. It needs to be just right (obviously, Goldilocks was onto something):
- If your lumbar support is too low, your upper back can slouch forward, possibly leading to biomechanical issues. Low lumbar support arches your upper body, stretching and tensing in a way that can lead to back and neck pain.
- If your lumbar support is too high, you may experience excessive pressure in the upper area of your back while your lumbar area spills out in the wrong direction. This is uncomfortable and non-ergonomic, as it forces you to sit unnaturally.
Types Of Lumbar Support.
Office chairs feature several types of lumbar support, with variations in levels of comfort, design and materials. Here are the four main types of lumbar support, including the pros and cons of each.
1. Fixed Lumbar Support.
This is a good compromise if you only sit for 3-4 hours per day and don’t want to spend upwards of $500 on an office chair.
The “one-size-fits-all” approach to lumbar support isn’t ideal for people with sensitive backs. If you experience lower back discomfort when sitting, you may need an office chair that can help relieve it.
- Doesn’t require fiddling.
- No mechanical parts that can break.
- Not ideal for people with sensitive backs.
- About 20% of users will find it uncomfortable.
2. Adjustable Lumbar Support.
Adjustable lumbar support can tailor the shape of your office chair’s backrest to your body shape. An office chair with a fully adjustable lumbar support should have the following features:
- Adjustable Height. Gives you the ability to target the right location on the vertical axis of your back.
- Adjustable Depth. Allows you to control how much the lumbar support juts outwards or inwards. Essential to ensure that the chair fits the curvature of your back.
- Adjustable Tension. Usually found in more expensive ergonomic chairs, it is a knob or a lever that adjusts the amount of resistance you feel back from the chair. The higher tension, the more pressure your back will need to exert before the mechanism “caves in”.
- Offers the most targeted support.
- Offers the highest level of comfort.
- Requires fiddling to get it right.
3. Dynamic Lumbar Support.
Dynamic lumbar chair support is typically found on high-end ergonomic office chairs (e.g., the Humanscale Freedom and Herman Miller Cosm), meeting room chairs and chairs designed for hot-desking environments.
It automatically adjusts depth and firmness in response to the pressure the user’s back exerts on the chair.
- Prevents “chair adjustment” time suck before every meeting.
- Feels like the chair reads your mind and adjusts accordingly.
- The most expensive option.
- Doesn’t always feel 100%.
4. External Lumbar Support.
External lumbar support is an attachment you can add to a chair without built-in lumbar support. The most common external lumbar support is a pillow.
- Some people use a rolled towel, but this method is far from ideal.
- Portable and easy to swap from chair to chair.
- Low cost.
- Can be replaced if it degrades over time.
- Compromises aesthetics.
- May not work with all office chairs.
Why Is Lumbar Support Important?
Lumbar support improves your posture by helping you sit upright, ergonomically soundly.
If you tend to walk with hunched shoulders, an office chair with lumbar support can train you to stay more upright – even when you’re not in the office.
Why Do I Find Chairs With Lumbar Support So Uncomfortable?
Below are the three most common causes, and tips for ensuring that your chair feels snug, secure and pleasant to be in.
- Improperly Adjusted Tension. The most common reason for discomfort is excessive pressure caused by a poorly adjusted tension lock. Remedy by twisting the tension lock to the minimum and incrementally notch it up in 20-minute intervals until it feels like “too much” – then back off by one notch.
- Improperly Adjusted Width. Some high-end office chairs, like the Aeron Remastered, feature lumbar support with adjustable wingtips that can add or decrease the pressure you feel at the sides of your back. Tweak these settings to see if you can find relief.
- You’re Not Moving Enough. Even with the best lumbar support, if you’re sitting for hours without moving, your back will likely become a little sore. Ensure you’re getting up and moving about throughout the day (buying a standing desk helps).
What Should You Look For In A Good Office Chair?
We’ve discussed the importance of good lumbar support in your office chair, but without other ergonomic features, it won’t matter how good your chair’s lumbar support is. Here are some of the key features of a supportive office chair.
- Adjustable lumbar support. A chair with adjustable lumbar support is the best choice. Adjusting your lumbar support up and down allows you to position it in the inward curve of your back properly. Most non-adjustable ergonomic chairs are built with an “average” person in mind, which will not be the ideal chair for everyone.
- Backrest with adjustable tilt and tension lock. Studies show the best two angles for sitting in a chair for long periods are 90 degrees (upright) and 135 degrees reclined, which is 50 per cent of the way between upright and flat. An adjustable backrest allows you to select the right one, and lock it in that position.
- Neck rest: Neck support gives your neck a place to rest while anchoring the rest of your posture and stopping you from slouching and craning your neck.
- Adjustable arm height: If your arms are too high, you will raise your shoulders to compensate. Adjustable armrests support your arms in the right spot, allowing your forearms to stay horizontal and your shoulders relaxed.
Final Words About Where The Lumbar Support Should Be.
Now that you know where the lumbar support should be on your office chair, there’s no excuse not to buy an ergonomic chair that offers perfect lumbar support.
While good lumbar support on your office chair won’t cure all of your office problems, it can make a huge difference to your overall comfort.