Ask the Chiropractor: What is the ideal chair to use?

As a Chiropractor I often treat people with lower back, upper back or neck problems as a result of sitting for long periods of time.  This often stresses the muscles, joints, ligaments, intervertebral discs that support the spine. This leads to pain, muscle tightness, and even headaches.  Though not always debilitating, these problems tend to get in the way of us living our lives to the often.  I often get asked, “What is the most ideal chair to use?”.  This is a tough question to answer because everyone is different.

Here is my advice.

The best chair that you can use is one that you can get out of frequently. I say this often, “Our body is meant to move, it is not meant to stay in the same place for long periods”.  Staying in one position too long can have negative effects on the body. Ideally, to offset these negative effects,  we should take mini-breaks every 20 minutes or if that is not possible at least every 50 minutes.  Frequent adjusting of your posture is often a benefit as well.

What should I think about when choosing a chair?

When it comes to purchasing a chair though, comfort and adjustability is most important.  When looking at chairs ask yourself these questions:

  1. Does the seat pan fit you comfortably?  Ideally, the seat pan should not press up against the back of your knee (the popliteal fossa) because it will lead to too rigid of a sitting posture.  It should also be contoured to allow for even distribution of pressure but too deep of a contour which will lead to restriction of leg movements.Saddle type seats are preferred.
  2. Can you adjust the seat height? A seat that allows you to adjust the height of the chair is ideal especially if the chair is going to be used by more than one person.  If the seat is too low there will be too much pressure on the ischial tuberosities (the bone you sit on). If the seat is too high there will be an increase in pressure on the back of the thighs.
  3. Can the angle of the back rest be adjusted?  To reduce the amount of muscle activity of the erector spinae muscles (the muscles of the spine that travel all the way up the spine to the neck and head) and pressure on the intervertebral discs having a chair that can be angled backwards slightly with an angle of 95 to 105 degrees from horizontal is ideal.
  4. Is there any lumbar support? When a person slumps forward or backwards into their seat this results in more strain/pressure on the intervertebral discs.  Having a chair which provides lumbar support, even when the back rest is angled, will further help reduce strain on the spine and limit forward and backward slumping.
  5. Are there armrests and can they adjustable? Ideally the arm rests should be able adjustable up and down and in and out.  The arm rests should be adjusted to support the arms so the muscles of the “shoulder” (trapezius, levator scapule and rhomboids) can be relaxed.

If you are in the market for a chairs and you want to objectively evaluate and compare chairs take a look at this ergonomic seating evaluation form provided by Cornell University

Regardless of all these choices, make sure that you choose a chair that is comfortable, adjustable, that allows you to change positions and that you take frequent breaks approximately every 20 minutes.

I hope this has been a help. Until next time…

Dr Notley

The only dual credentialed Chiropractor and Athletic Therapist in Winnipeg

Reference 

How to choose an ergonomic chair Cornell University Ergonomics Web. Accessed May 26, 2011
Liebenson, C. Rehabilitation of the Spine: A Practitioner’s Manual,Second Edition. Lippincott Williams & Wilkins. 2007

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