Ryan Fiorenzi
May 8, 2021
Ryan Fiorenzi is one of the founders of Start Standing. After suffering from constant back pain for 8 years, he began researching, consulting with experts, and experimenting with different therapies which ended up getting rid of his pain. Ryan is a graduate of the University of Michigan, a published author, teaches at his Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu school in Michigan, and has been interviewed by several podcasts for his experience getting rid of his back pain.

Your Chair and Back Pain

If you’re suffering from back pain, sitting for hours on end could be contributing, or even causing your discomfort especially if you have a worn-out or uncomfortable office chair. Most people tend to sit with poor posture in chairs that offer little support. Poor posture puts pressure on your vertebrae and muscles. This is especially when you’re sitting for long periods. Sitting is already troublesome for your body so this is why it is important to make sure your chair has certain features like lumbar support and adjustable armrests and enable you to maintain as best a posture as you can for your time spent sitting. Finding the best office chair for your back could change your life!

The first thing that needs to be addressed is that sitting all day isn't good for your back, even with a high-quality office chair. Ergonomic experts recommend getting up and moving every 20 minutes. This can include standing, using a leaning chair, or even making use of a yoga ball while you work. One of the easiest ways to include both standing and sitting into your workday is to use an adjustable standing desk. These are desks that can be used at a sitting or standing height allow you to easily break up your sitting time and increase movement throughout your workday.

Our Process

Our three-step review framework is extremely in-depth and takes place over 2 to 4 weeks.

Once we choose a topic, in this case, ergonomic chairs for back-pain sufferers, we invest a considerable amount of time to understanding the topic so we can make informed and educated recommendations for you. We often conduct interviews with doctors, and chiropractors, review published studies on ergonomics, and draw from our extensive first-hand office furniture experience of our team. We come away from this process informed on what your body needs in an office chair from a medical standpoint and which features are most important for you to consider.

Once a foundation knowledge on the topic is established we then focus on generating the pool of products to consider. We start with listing major chair manufacturers. We use this list of companies to help us compile all the major chairs available to you on the market. Next, we refine the list considering which chairs are current models or discontinued, how available they are to buy from retailers, which chairs have a proven track record, and weigh how well they are supported by warranties and quality customer service.

The last part of our process involves creating the criteria we will use to pick our top recommended chairs and their respective categories. We then verify our findings with first-hand impressions after use of each chair. Through our research we have come up with the following criteria and the elements we think you should seriously consider when shopping for an office chair to address your back pain problems:

  • Range of Adjustment: Being able to change the height of the seat (usually done pneumatically), the lumbar support, as well as the height of the armrests (if applicable) is extremely important for finding the position that will minimize the strain on your back, neck, and arms.
  • Quality of Materials and Construction: The general rule with office chairs is that you get what you pay for. Higher-quality chairs will last longer and stand up to more wear and tear.
  • Seat Depth: You should have enough room when sitting that your back is supported on the back of the chair with the lumbar support, and the backs of your knees aren't touching the seat pan.
  • Lumbar Support: When sitting, your chest could be sticking out and your shoulders should be pulled back so that if someone is looking at you from the side, your ears are lined up in the same plane as your shoulders. One of the ways to do this is to have the lumbar support keep your lower back from rounding.
  • Adjustable armrests: Way too many chairs are sold with fixed or sometimes absent armrests. Your arm position can have a dramatic impact on your comfort and surprisingly your back pain. Armrests reduce the pressure on your spine, making it easier to maintain good posture and find a comfortable typing position.
  • Overall Value: Some chairs cost thousands of dollars, which isn't in the budget for most people. The good news is that you don't need to spend a fortune to get a chair that will be comfortable and give you the support to keep you in the best position.

Best Office Chairs for Back Pain

While we do recommend an overall top pick we do understand that back pain suffers have a spectrum of needs, budgets, and preferences in an office chair. Depending on what is important to you we are recommending a variety of chairs in different categories below:

Modway Articulate

Best Value

  • Back height and seat depth are both adjustable
  • Breathable mesh seat and vinyl seat
  • Adjustable armrests
  • Chair can incline and recline with a locking function
  • 5 hooded caster wheels to help you move over carpet
  • Available in 7 colors in mesh; vinyl is available (in black)
  • For the money, this is a very sold chair with great ratings and reviews

Best Budget

  • Flash Furniture Office Chair has key ergonomic features typically found at higher price points
  • Adjustable height armrests
  • Contoured backrest to support the lower back
  • Soft front edge of the seat to maximize comfort
  • Quality fit and finish considering the price

Best Executive Chair

  • Innovative Air Kinetic lumbar support feature supports your lower back while you are stationary or moving
  • One of the few executive style chairs available with key ergonomic features and design
  • Eco-friendly leather material
  • Easy to use seat adjustments thoughtful locations
  • Occasional issues with armrests but backed up by a good warranty

Best High-End Office Chair

  • The Leap is a real investment in your office chair at over $1,000 but is world-class in every way.
  • Designed for business use it will stand up to years of heavy abuse
  • Patented LiveBack technology changes shape as you move for overall comfort and ergonomics
  • Ships fully assembled (most chairs require assembly)
  • Adjustable seat height and depth
  • Adjustable armrests and arm depth
  • Adjustable headrest
  • Passive seat edge angle helps minimize pressure on the back of your thighs
  • 500 lbs weight limit

Best Kneeling Chair

  • The Dragonn Kneeling Chair offers an alternative to a conventional office chair and has been proven to help alleviate back pain and keep your body in a more natural comfortable position while you work.
  • Can help strengthen core muscles and improve your posture
  • Adjustable height
  • Durable and thick padding
  • 250 lbs weight limit

Compare Table

Chair Min Height Max Height Seat Width Seat Depth
Modway Articulate 19" 24" 19" 19"
Flash Furniture High Back 17.5" 21.75" 21" 20"
Serta Works Executive 19" 25" 23" 25"
Steelcase Leap 15.5" 20.5" 19.25" 18"
Dragonn Kneeling 21" 28" 10" 18"

Features to Look for

Office chairs vary dramatically in features and more specifically what is adjustable and what is fixed. At first glance many chairs appear to be the same, they go up and down, tilt back and forth, but it goes way beyond this if you have back pain.

  • Height Adjustable Lumbar - This is possibly the most important feature back pain sufferers should look for. Many chairs do have lumbar support but it's often not height adjustable. Since upper body sizes vary dramatically, (even for people of the same height) where you need the support will be different from person to person.
  • Tension Adjustable Lumbar - commonly found on high-end chairs, adjustable tension allows you to dial in the level of force applied to your lower back. Many cars have this feature in the diver seat for good reason. Being able to control the force of lumbar support can dramatically improve comfort and posture.
  • Adjustable Seat Position - adjusting your seat forward and back is a truly excellent feature, especially for tall people or people with long legs. Many office chairs do not have deep seats, so having the ability to pull the seat forward can reduce the tendency of sliding out of your seat or moving into a bad posture
  • Adjustable Tilt Position- While most chairs do allow you to tilt back, being able to adjust the position of the tilt can be handy and offer a slight change in backrest position. Tilting back can also temporarily reduce lower back pressure.
  • Adjustable Tilt Tension - Most chairs have this feature but it's worth mentioning, most people don't use it! In some cases, many people don't even know what the knob does! Tilt tension adjustment is great to experiment with as it will depend on your weight and support preferences
  • Height Adjustable Armrests - a stable in any good office chair is height adjustable armrests. Everyone's body is different and that applies perfectly to your arm geometry. A chair without armrests or armrest adjustment simply can't support you properly. The weight of your arms should be carried by an armrest at the proper height.
  • Laterally Adjustable Armrests - Rarely found on in-expensive chairs, lateral adjustment armrests bring your armrests in or outward depending on the width of your torso relative to your chair. This feature can be of particular benefit for children, small or petite people, and large or tall people with broad shoulders.
  • Headrest - While most chairs do not come with headrests, there are some in all budgets that do. A headrest may be something you want to consider in your chair if you have back pain. Headrests can help keep your head in a more neutral position vs acting as a lever on your upper body pulling you forward or back. The presence of a headrest can also help coach your body into maintaining good posture.

Choosing a Budget

Since sitting can have such a dramatic impact on your body you should consider an office chair purchase as is an investment in your health and comfort. We recommend the following when setting a budget:

  • Don't let your budget prevent you from getting features you truly need as a back pain sufferer
  • Don't spend extra on features you don't think you'll need
  • Consider how often you will use the chair and set a budget appropriate to its use. A chair used sparsely doesn't need to be an expensive one while a chair used 40 hours a week should be higher-end with plenty of features and adjustment.

Office Chair and Sitting Back Pain Frequently Asked Questions

Here are our answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about office chairs for back pain.

What is the best office chair for back pain?

There's no one chair that will help every back pain sufferer. Depending on your budget, you'll want to look for a chair that has lumbar support and allows for ergonomic adjustments.

What should you look for in an office chair?

The criteria we recommend include having adjustable: height lumbar, tension lumbar, seat position, tilt position, tilt tension, height armrests, lateral armrests, as well as a headrest.

Why does my back hurt when sitting?

According to Cornell University, up to 90% more pressure is put on your back when you sit than when you stand. Most people sit in ways that cause tension and imbalance in your back and neck.

How should I sit for best ergonomics?

Your head should be back so that if someone looked at you from the side, your ears line up with your shoulders. Your chest should be out, shoulders back, and your elbows should be close to your body.

How often should I take breaks from sitting?

Experts recommend changing positions every 20 or 30 minutes by standing at your desk, taking a short walk, stretching, or any activity that increases blood flow to muscles throughout your body.

More Resources on Back Pain

Suffering from back pain can extend far beyond your chair. Here are some other things you can do in addition to getting a quality chair suited to your body:

  • Maintain Good Posture - A quality ergonomic office chair can help you maintain better posture, but ultimately you have to train yourself and develop muscle memory to achieve. Check out our guide on proper workplace ergonomics for both sitting and standing.
  • Try Kneeling - If you fear getting a new office chair won't relieve your back pain, consider kneeling. Kneeling chairs are becoming more popular due to their ergonomic benefits
  • Try Standing- Standing is the best position for your spine and can be very effective in preventing or alleviating back pain. A standing desk may be worth considering.
  • Try a Lumbar Pillow - many of the office chairs on this list have great lumbar support for back pain. If the support isn't enough for you we recommend pairing a lumbar support pillow. This will also allow you to position the support exactly where you need it.
  • Other Back Pain Causes - Even if you spend a lot of time in pain while sitting, it could be related to something else in your daily life such as your sleep position, exercise habits, obesity, or a medical condition. A quality chair can only do so much if your back pain is caused by something other than excessive sitting.