When you have a bad back, lots of tasks that other people consider to be downright simple can be painful and hard to navigate. Among them: sitting still. Depending on what kind of ‘bad back’ you have, there are a few different possible solutions, all of them involving some form of chair. Which is the ‘best’ chair for your bad back depends on why your back is bad in the first place.
The Most Common Kind of Bad Back: Muscle Strains and Tendon Sprains
By far, the most common cause of ‘bad’ backs is a pulled muscle or a sprained tendon or ligament. (This, in turn, is most commonly caused by overworking your back; try not to do that.) If your back responds well to an ice pack, but also responds to a hot water bottle or heating pad, you probably have this problem.
If your bad back is muscular or ligamentary, your solution comes in two forms. The first is to get a chair that supports your back properly. You need good armrests, superior lumbar support, a back that tilts to the correct angle, and a seat pan (“butt rest”) that can be moved forward-backward, tilt front-to-back, and move upward and downward. This basic suite of ergonomic controls is necessary for every office chair, but you need one step further: you need an office chair that makes it easy to move, as well.
In specific, you want a chair whose seat pan and back will tilt smoothly along with your thighs and back as you move — so as you reach for something on the other side of the desk, the seat pan and back will tilt forward, maintaining support on your back and butt, and then they’ll smoothly return to normal as you sit back. As you lean back and stretch, the seat pan will tilt forward again to account for your straightening legs — but this time, the seat back will tilt backward to help you straighten out your body as best you can. This kind of motion will allow you to remain properly supported through your entire range of motions, which in turn means you’ll actually move more often…which is itself a big part of helping your back heal. The guide to the best chairs for back pain has a list of chairs with these features.
Another Common Pain in the Back: Nerve Pinches
If, on the other hand, your back is bad because you have a nerve pinch, you have an entirely different problem. Your problem is that moving at all at can cause your spinal column to exert pressure on the nerves coming out of it, causing sharp shooting pains.
In the case of a back pain caused by a nerve pinch, you need a chair that’s going to keep your lower back as supported as it can be. Excellent lumbar support is the order of the day — not just ‘does it have lumbar support’, but ‘is the lumber support in this chair adjustable to my needs?’ Because your spine actually changes shape over the course of a day, the support you need in the morning isn’t necessarily the same support you need by the end of your shift. Lumbar support that can be moved up, down, back, forth, and rotated around the ‘spine’ of the chair back will give you the best chance of getting through your day without setting off your nerve pinch.
Are there other kinds of bad back? Absolutely — but honestly, there are enough of them and they’re rare enough that it’s unlikely you’ll find the ‘best’ chair for a bad back of those more exotic varieties.