Living With Chronic Pain

Do Alternatives To A Regular Chair Really Help?

As I discussed in last week’s post sitting for hours at a desk can leave us dealing with aches and pain all night. Due to the pandemic, many have been forced to work in front of a computer far longer than usual. Finding ways to alleviate the painful consequences has become a priority. As a result, all sorts of chair options have become available. The real question is- do they actually live up to all the hype, and help?

Reclining chairs

One study showed reclining was the most effective way to decrease low back pressure caused by sitting. In fact, 135 degrees was found to be optimal. But maintaining any recline, let alone 135 degrees, can prove difficult. That’s when a reclining chair specifically meant for office use might be the answer. Your neck is comforted by an adjustable headrest, feet won’t slip when secured by a footrest and the attached laptop stand improves productivity.

  • A recliner allows for different reclining angles when 135 degrees isn’t your best fit. makes it harder to slump forward which puts a whopping 190% more pressure on the spinal discs than standing.
  • Can prevent the neck from flexing. Even angling 30 degrees increases the average weight of our heads from 10-12 pounds to an incredible 40 pounds.
  • A rolled up a towel at the base of your back is still recommended for better lumbar support.

Standing desks

One way to manage chronic back pain or prevent it entirely is to allow maneuverability throughout the day. By simply adding a converter to your desk top, a painful resource is changed into a clever opportunity that can be switched from sitting to standing in seconds. This then engages other core muscles instead of those relied upon when sitting for hours. Standing offers the best way to align the spine and maintain proper posture. But don’t forget these tips:

  • Set a fixed height so you don’t have to fidget to find the best height each time you stand.
  • Make sure the your arms stay at a 90 degree angle to the computer whether sitting or standing.
  • Ensure your neck remains neutral in either position as well.
  • Use a memory foam pad on the floor to help decrease pressure on the knees and feet.
  • Try adding a foot stool so your weight can be shifted as needed.

Kneeling chairs

These chairs distribute body weight forward so it’s onto the knees and shins. By making the lower back arch slightly they change the hip/knee angle from the usual 90 degrees to 110 which maintains the natural curve of the back and decreases pressure on the lumbar spine. A padded seat provides additional comfort.

  • Make sure there’s enough padding on the knees to prevent shifting the pain from the back to the knees after a long days work.
  • Ensure you can get in and out of it easily. Those with mobility issues may have difficulty.
  • Some offer arm rests for comfort and a rocker base that adds the option for additional gentle movement.
  • By constantly engaging core and low back muscles they are strengthened throughout the day.
  • Optimal incline is 20-30 degrees

Maintaining this position for hours at a time can also create issues, just in different areas, so alternating between a kneeling chair and a standard one may be the best way to maximize the benefits of both.

Exercise ball

Yoga ball chairs are an option to conventional ones. The balls force you to engage core and lower back muscles at all times to constantly maintain balance. It also provides a gentle release of tension by allowing you to bounce slightly. A regular exercise ball was never meant for the office. Make sure it’s set in a chair so it can’t roll away and cause harm.

  • Unfortunately the height of the ball is not adjustable so make sure to find one that keeps your hips at or an inch above knee level.
  • Check the air pressure daily. A deflated ball encourages poor posture and balancing issues.
  • Look for wear and tear. The last thing you want is for it to burst and send you flying to the floor!

The original concept was to take what worked great in a rehab setting to the office. But sitting on a ball increases pressure on the lower spine and leads to poor posture when it gets impossible to stay upright over the course of a day.


Balance or active stools are an option to an exercise/ yoga ball. They all require active sitting. The lack of a back support or headrest forces the body to engage core and back muscles in order to maintain a proper posture. It’s not done for you as in a standard chair.

  • It’s height forces a half stand position where your feet help take some of the pressure off the lower spine
  • Those with a pivoting or curved base promote balance and stabilizing measures throughout the day.
  • Those that offer a stabilizer and/ or height adjustment feature mean less work is required to maintain an upright position, but it still allows more freedom of movement than a conventional chair.

All these alternatives to a standard chair offer differing advantages. But using just one throughout the day can create other problems. That’s why studies have shown the best way to prevent pain is to vary the different methods throughout the day so that your posture and position are not static. When tiring from one, switch to another. And don’t forget to use the chair stretches shown in my Tuesday posts. Just a few minutes every hour or two can make a real difference.


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