Sitting for long periods of time at a desk job isn’t great for anyone’s back. Although smart ergonomics and taking breaks can help most of us fend off the occasional ache and stiffness, employees with chronic back pain are fighting a much tougher battle. So, what can you do to make life easier for team members who deal with frequent back pain?
Invest in Good Chairs
This should go without saying. Yet, in reality, plenty of people are coping with a substandard chair. Office chairs for bad backs need to be chosen carefully — that doesn’t always happen. It’s common for office chairs to have a long life, being bequeathed from employee to employee until the chair finally gives up the ghost for good. Even if a chair isn’t obviously uncomfortable, it may still contribute to back pain. Truly ergonomic chairs for back pain should provide two things: support and the ability to customize the chair to an individual’s needs.
Here are a few qualities to look for in office chairs to help ward off back pain:
This is the big one, but not all supports are created equal. The best chair for back pain is one that offers fully adjustable lumbar support. A fixed lumbar support is the very basic level of ergonomics, where a curve has been added to the bottom of the seat back. While it’s certainly better than nothing, differences in height and body shape can leave some users with less support. It’s better to look for at least one axis of lumbar support adjustability (usually up or down, as in this example) but the more you can find, the better. Asymmetric adjustable support is the highest level, which allows users to adjust height as well as depth, allowing for different levels of support on either side of the spine.
At the very least you want to be able to adjust the height of the armrests up and down. Front and back adjustability is even better, and if you can find a chair with armrests that can adjust in width and pivot that will allow you to fine tune the armrest position for specific tasks.
Everyone’s legs are a slightly different length, and if your chair’s seat pan is too deep or too shallow, it will affect your posture: cue back pain. Having a chair with adjustable height is helpful. And if this is not possible, an ergonomic footrest can also help posture as well.
Some people live to lean back in their chairs, and some like to sit on the edge of their seat. Neither is particularly good for back health, but a chair with adjustable tilt can help you to offset negative effects and encourage comfort and back health.
Offer Ergonomic Training
A great chair is a great start, but just stocking your office with ergonomic seating isn’t enough. For the chairs to do their job, they need to be carefully adjusted to each individual’s body. A few basic rules:
- Adjust your chair height so that your knees are at a 90-degree angle when your feet are flat on the floor.
- Adjust your armrests so that your elbows are at a 90-degree angle. This means you’ll take some of the pressure off of your shoulders and upper back.
To be honest, though, a proper chair set up for someone who suffers from chronic back pain requires a lot of fine-tuning. You could spend a few hours with a manual and still not get it right. Consider calling in a professional to show everyone how to properly adjust and use their chairs so that they reap the benefits. This is also a great time to help employees evaluate and improve their posture and habits, which can have a massive impact on back pain. The Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) has a good list of training resources on their site, which should give you some good leads.
The misery of back pain is hard to overstate. Aside from the element of human suffering, it’s bad for business too. Studies have shown that back and neck pain account for more days off work than any ailment except the common cold, and the lost productivity on the days that sufferers do make it in is obvious. An investment in back health is an investment in the health of both your employees and your company.