This article was written in response to the question:

What’s the best way to avoid a sore back from sitting at a computer all day?

Asked by Anonymous • 329 votes

One of the problems with office work is that many of us are using chairs that don’t fit our bodies very well or give adequate support to the back, said Jack Dennerlein, a professor at Northeastern’s Bouvé College of Health Sciences in Boston who specializes in ergonomics and safety. If you are experiencing back pain, you may be able to adjust your chair to increase its lumbar support. A good office chair will have an adjustable seat pan that you can slide back and forth as well as adjustable back and height features. First, sit in the chair so the lumbar region of your back, your lower back, is resting on the back support. At the same time, your feet should be resting comfortably on the ground and the back of your knees should be about three-finger widths from the edge of the chair, said Dr. Dennerlein.

Some high-end chair brands have adjustable seat pans, including the Steelcase Leap chair, which retails for between $800 and $900 and offers an adjustable seat and plenty of lumbar support.

The Steelcase Criterion chair sells anywhere from $350 to $850 online, depending on the model, and boasts seven different adjustments “to offer support through the full range of dynamic seating postures.”

The HumanScale Freedom chair is the winner of several design awards and also has an adjustable seat pan as well as “weight-sensitive recline, synchronously adjustable armrests, and dynamically positioned headrest.” ($400 to $1,400)

The Herman Miller Aeron chair is also popular because it comes in small, medium and large sizes and claims a PostureFit design that “supports the way your pelvis tilts naturally forward, so that your spine stays aligned and you avoid back pain.” ($680 to $850)

If all that sounds really wonderful and really too expensive, there may be a simpler solution to ease your back pain at work. Invest $15 to $30 in a lumbar chair pillow to make sure your back is getting the support it needs even when you are not sitting in a $900 chair.


Ask Well

This article was written in response to the question:

What are good exercises for folks who spend much of their day sitting at a computer?

Asked by Deborah • 1139 votes

The answer is simple. Get up and move around frequently during the day. While you could do calisthenics in your cubicle or standing desk pushups, your co-workers may not appreciate your workout.

Jack Dennerlein, a professor at Northeastern’s Bouvé College of Health Sciences in Boston who specializes in ergonomics and safety, suggests a variation on the 20-20-20 rule used to reduce eyestrain. In the case of the eyes, the rule is to take 20 seconds to look at something 20 feet away (instead of your computer), and repeat this every 20 minutes. But Dr. Dennerlein notes that this eye rule can be applied to movement as well. Every 20 minutes, walk 20 feet away for 20 seconds or more. Stop by a co-worker’s desk. Get a cup of coffee. Pace. Just don’t sit.

An interesting solution for both sore backs and a sedentary workday is the sit-stand workstation. (For more information about these stations, you can read the article “Taking a Stand for Office Ergonomics.”) Dr. Dennerlein said he now has one both at the office and at home and likes the effect it’s had on his work habits.

“It gets me moving around,” he said. “It keeps me varying my postures. When I stand at my desk, if I’ve got a thought I’ll walk around. Instead of just sitting and turning and looking at the window, if I’m already standing then I’ll walk over to the window and come back.”

Dr. Dennerlein notes that standing for long periods of time is not good for you either. The key is to vary your work posture throughout the day. “Just keep moving and changing things around,” he said. “I think people should be empowered to make adjustments to see what feels right for them. And one thing that might feel comfortable in the morning might not feel comfortable in the afternoon.”