How to choose the perfect chair for you!

When you're out to get a new chair be it for the office, dining or camping, it's important to get good support to avoid back injury. Common injuries that are the result of poor sitting posture include disc herniation, muscle tightness and spasm around the low back, muscle pain and strain in the thoracic spine and neck.

As a general rule, your chair should be able to support you in a comfortably upright position, with the seat approximately horizontal or slightly angled up at the front. The more active you are going to be in your sitting, the closer the angle of the front of the seat should be to the horizontal, to allow you to lean forwards without too much spinal flexion.

The backrest to seat angle as a rule of thumb, should be around 95 degrees. If it's too much less than this, or "closed up", you may find it is very tiring to sit in for long periods, and can cause tightness and spasm in the deep hip flexors such as iliopsoas. More open backrest to seat angles will often be favoured by people who have flexed stiff spines, as they will allow them to be upright and see ahead with reduced neck strain.

Your feet should be comfortably able to reach the ground in front of you, with your feet flat. If the chair is too low for you, with your feet flat, your knees will be high and you will have less pressure under your thighs when you're sitting. Problems you may experience are:

-low back pain from sitting in increased flexion

-neck and thoracic pain or strain from compensating for increased flexion in your lumbar spine

-stiff sore muscles at the front of your hips, causing you to have difficulty straightening up when you stand

-feeling of tiredness because of an inability to breathe deeply

If it's too high, you will have to move your bottom slightly forwards to get your feet on the ground in front of you. Even if this is only a few centimetres, it can dramatically change the position of your pelvis and your whole back. Problems you may experience are:

-tailbone pain from increased pressure on this area and the back of your pelvis

-back pain from sitting in increased flexion

-neck and thoracic pain or strain from compensating for increased flexion in your lumbar spine

The contour of the backrest should match the contours of your back when you are sitting slightly back from your well balanced comfortably upright position. This is different for everyone. People who have flat or more flexed spines prefer a flatter backrest, or even a more flexed contour. These people love the mesh backrest style of chair as it allows them to sit in a flexed position, and is in contact with more of their spine. They should be wary of sinking into too much flexion, and allowing their muscles to tighten more into this position. People with more flexible spines and more extension, will prefer an increased lumbar support and a firmer padded feel. People who tend to flex may be pulled into this position because of hamstring tightness. They might prefer a chair that allows their knees to be lower than their hips. A Bambach saddle seat is an example of this type of chair: If you're not sure what is right for you, try sitting on a surface with no backrest, moving your spine and changing your position until you feel comfortably upright. Check if you have any feelings of strain or pain through your back and neck. Keeping this in mind you can hit the shops, trying chairs until you find one that is perfect for you. Aim to try at least 5, and to sit in your preferred one(s) for at least 10 minutes to allow the foam to compress, and to give your body time to settle into position. If possible, try sitting at a desk or doing your usual activity while you are trying the chair out. If you have a history of back or neck problems, it's a good idea to take your chair home for a longer trial before making your final decision. If you don't find a perfect chair, or your chair cannot be changed, remember to try pillows or supports. These can be very useful for increasing your comfort. Try sitting in the best chair you have available, in your preferred posture, and fill in any gaps or add padding to support your spine. The most common area that needs more support is your lumbar spine. A cushion to support your lumbar spine could be located in your lumbar spine or at the top of your pelvis. Remember that cushions don't just have to go crosswise, they can also be vertical. These often work well if positioned running from your lumbar area through to your lower shoulder blades. Sitting on a gym ball can be beneficial if you need more spinal mobility, because you can move more readily on this than on a standard chair. Try moving forwards and back, side to side or with a circular motion. Keep movements as symmetrical as possible to avoid muscle imbalance. Gym balls are useful for building core strength, particularly around the lower trunk - abdominals and pelvic floor. Be aware they can be tiring to sit on all day - have a standard chair handy to give your muscles a break. Moving into a standing position at times is great for your body too - allowing more extension, and letting tight muscles release, particularly at the front of your hips. Stand up desks can be underutilised, so try to make the most of them by setting yourself a reminder on your phone or computer, to change position. No stand up desk? Try to stand up when you're on the phone, or drink lots of water so you have to walk to the bathroom more often! If you are unsure about any of these options, see your physiotherapist for a review of your posture and further advice on how to maintain your body in the right seating for you.

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