Which Chair is best for Back Pain? Ergonomic or Active Sitting?

Which Chair for Back Pain? Ergonomic or Active Sitting?

When it comes to sitting, we all think we’re experts because we all do so much of it. In fact, across most industrialized societies people spend, on average, nearly 11 hours each day just sitting. Unfortunately, the human body wasn't meant to be so immobile for such long periods of time. The static posture that sitting forces on us can breed misery with a variety of health related symptoms, tight muscles, and just plain, old, chronic back pain.

Enter the hope of ergonomic chairs. 

With a promise to resolve our discomfort by providing us with the perfect static posture, so-called “ergonomic chairs" purport to relieve back problems with an expensive, and yet static, single posture solution. The fact is, no matter how expensive or or how upscale an ergonomic chair manufacturer’s brand might be, most people soon find themselves switching to a new position or, frankly, squirming. That’s a good sign for you and your body, but a bad sign for the ergonomic chair in which you might have just invested.
    The discomfort and impetus to squirm that we feel with static sitting is an alarm bell, telling us that staying in one position, any position, for protracted periods is simply hard on our anatomy. Children get this intuitively, squirming whenever they can get away with it.

Get up, stretch, and sit back down on an Active Sitting chair

Active sitting means that your spine, muscles, and vertebrae are free to make tiny, almost imperceptible adjustments while sitting. It's exactly 180 degrees from the fixed-position of a static ergonomic chair. Active sitting is what happened when your forefathers took a break from the hunt, rested their spears against a tree, and took a seat on a round rock. Although relaxed and perhaps enjoying the scenery, their back, vertebrae, muscles, and tendons, all remained in an active state — continually self-adjusting, re-balancing, and strengthening. Active sitting, unlike static sitting, is naturally therapeutic, strengthens your core musculature and encourages a more consistent circulation of the joint fluid that nourishes the delicate cartilage in all of your joints.
     So, when it comes to choosing which chair is best for back pain, we’re not dismissing the possibility that a static, ergonomic chair might work for you. But once you begin to see the difference between static sitting and the therapeutic advantages of Active Sitting, the price of that slick, ergonomic office chair (not to mention the chair itself), might just make you squirm a little more.

Some added easy reading- that might just pull you from your easy-chair.

For starters, in a New York Times article titled Is Sitting a Lethal Activity?, Mayo Clinic researcher James Levine offers a revealing look into current research around the problems imposed by inactivity and static sitting. As Mr. Levine says, “For most of us, when we’re awake and not moving, we’re sitting. This is your body on chairs: electrical activity in the muscles drops — the muscles go as silent as those of a dead horse... leading to a cascade of harmful metabolic effects.” 

   Yikes, but furthering Mr. Levine’s insights, Marc T. Hamilton declares in an academic, but easy-to-read article published by the National Institute of Health, “It is time to consider excessive sitting a serious health hazard...” The article is a good look on inactivity imposed by sitting.

   By now, you might just be starting to see static sitting as a metabolic catastrophe for your health. Take a look at how social architect Galen Cranz views the issue and imagines solutions. She says quite simply that “Changing your posture means changing your lifestyle.” She asks you to “Take another look at your space. Where can you incorporate a choreography of different postures into your life?”

 Want more? Just send me an email at tosler@uvm.edu. I’ll be more than happy to add your name and email to our reading list.

peter jacobs

Shark communications , 255 S Champlain St, Burlington, VT, 05401, United States

Shark Communications is a creative and digital marketing agency led by award-winning creative Director, Peter Jacobs. From waterfront, dog-filled offices in Burlington, Vermont, Shark serves clients in a wide variety of industries with a strategically-planned mix of branding, marketing, web, SEO, and digital solutions. With award-winning design and marketing for the 1998 US Winter Olympic Trials, to numerous radio, web, television and film awards for clients large and small, Shark's creative excellence has received widespread recognition and continues to provide the core for delivering a higher level of marketing across both traditional and digital media.