Yarrrrr, my spine be curved, and so be my chair?
January 21, 2011 9:03 PM   Subscribe

I switched jobs about a month ago, and since then, my back has been killing me. Help me be more comfortable.

I have mild scoliosis which has been treated with physical therapy in the past. I recently left a job of 5 years, at which I had a very tall-backed cushy chair (and according to my SO, the kind of chair you'd find at Office Depot, but I'm guessing more of an "executive style"). It was so gorgeously comfortable, and sitting all day rarely made my back hurt.

Now that I've started a new job, I'm sitting in a much different kind of chair, and my back has been killing me. According to my SO, this kind of chair is supposed to be better for you because it never lets you "relax", therefore it strengthens your back muscles. However, the posture is the complete opposite of all of the stretches I did in physical therapy, and very different from the posture of the chair at my old job. I've also read that sitting straight up is actually worse for you than leaning back in a chair. I'm not talking about slouching here-- I don't slouch.

So, now I'm confused by all of the different information. My experience with physical therapy and sitting in a chair that never once hurt my back in 5 years tells me that this is the wrong kind of chair for me, but my SO (who happens to be my coworker, yay) tells me that it's better for me in the long run and that I need to adjust. Is he right? Because getting through 8 hours is torture right now, and I don't really have the option of getting up every 15 minutes to an hour to walk or stretch. I'm considering splurging on one of those massage/heating chair pads or begging for a new chair, but I figured I'd go the free advice route first. What do I do? If it's relevant at all, my bum hurts sometimes too, which also really never happened at the old work place. Bothers me less than the back pain because it doesn't stick around, but it might be connected. Thanks in advance!
posted by two lights above the sea to Health & Fitness (14 answers total)
My first thought is have you played with the settings? Can you adjust anything? If you can maybe you should play with the adjustments and see if anything helps.

I'm not a professional anything, but if you're miserable I think something has to change. If your chair can't be adjusted so that you're comfortable then you need a different chair. You're at work to work, not work out. Sitting all day is hard enough with out dealing with an uncomfortable chair.
posted by TooFewShoes at 9:14 PM on January 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

We have an ergonomics person who tailors our workstations. He always tells us if something hurts, then it needs to be adjusted. Pronto. Unless your SO has some specialized training in ergonomics or medicine or something, then his usefulness in this situation is probably as an amateur masseur.

Go in on Monday and ask for a different chair. You have an existing back condition. Your chair is aggravating the problem. That chair may be the bestest thing for other people, but it's not working for you.
posted by 26.2 at 9:35 PM on January 21, 2011 [4 favorites]

IANAD or PT or anything like that, but it seems to me that even if this new chair is "supposed" to be better for most people, you are not most people. YOU have mild scoliosis that previously required physical therapy. You may need different accommodations than others. You shouldn't have to beg for a new chair (ask, sure, but beg??) or spend your own money on expensive chair accessories.

Can you call up your old PT and ask for clarification from someone who knows your specific case?

Also, again, IANAD/PT/person actually involved in your life, but you can't (which I am reading as "aren't allowed to") rise from your seat once per hour to stretch? That's not healthy, especially if your work involves staring at a computer screen. And especially if you have a medical condition e.g., scoliosis.
posted by hansbrough at 9:36 PM on January 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

Ask your HR department if you can get an ergonomic evaluation. When I started my job several years back, I was *so* excited to have an Aeron chair for the first time ever - but within days I was so disappointed, because it triggered back pain something awful! (My existing issues are a herniated cervical disc, very slight scoliosis, and trapezius myalgia, FWIW. The most comfortable chairs for me? The smallest, cheapest ones, with no arms, from the big-box offices stores.)

I was really hesitant to do anything about it because I was new, so I put up with it for several weeks while my back got so painful that I was taking some pretty strong pain meds, which I hate doing. I got brave and asked my HR department if I bought my own chair from Staples or wherever, could they have somebody bring it in and assemble it for me, since I wasn't supposed to lift anything bulky. They did me one better - flew out an ergonomic consultant from corporate headquarters, gave me an evaluation, and got me a chair that fits me. I'm not very tall - in my case, the "one size fits all" approach of the standard size Aeron chairs didn't fit me at all, regardless of the fact that it's like $1000 and supposed to be better for you.
posted by chez shoes at 11:02 PM on January 21, 2011

Good for you shmood for you! You are spending 8 hours a day in pain! Get a chair that doesn't hurt you and save the physical therapy for when you are off work. You know what works for you, - $100 from Office Depot and you will feel much better.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 1:03 AM on January 22, 2011

You choose to wear comfortable shoes and clothes to work. On your own dime.

If your job won't provide a better chair then buy one of your own. Just make it clear who owns it. I've done it and it makes a huge difference in my productivity. Since your last job had a great chair then consider getting one just like it.

Chairs from larger suppliers have a HUGE range of colors and options. So there's probably a way to find one that work for you and also fit in with any existing office decor plans.

Yes, a chair can be expensive. But that's a drop in the bucket compared to a ruined back and poor worker performance.
posted by wkearney99 at 7:07 AM on January 22, 2011

adjust your chair.
posted by KogeLiz at 8:03 AM on January 22, 2011

Just another data point - a Herman Miller Aeron chair I bought last summer, gave me a herniated lumbar disc, which has now completely destroyed the quality of my life. You're not the only one, and I'm still searching for a good chair...
posted by dbiedny at 8:17 AM on January 22, 2011

What about the chair isn't working for you? I found two counter intuitive adjustments work for me, but as many people have already mentioned, all this varies by individual. I need my chair to tilt forward slightly and I keep my chair lower than one might expect. I have the small Aeron even though I'm 6' tall and 200 pounds.

Have you watched the crazy flash user guide on the site you linked? It appears your chair has an adjustable back tension and back stop. These two things should allow you to lean back fairly easily if you have it set right.
posted by advicepig at 8:41 AM on January 22, 2011

Response by poster: I've tried adjusting the chair, of course. Thanks for all the awesome support everyone. My SO and I are going to an ergo store (who knew they existed!?) and then office depot after. I didn't mean to make him sound like a jerk, I think he just misunderstood how bad it could be. He found this ergo store and was chair shopping before I even woke up this morning. He rocks.
posted by two lights above the sea at 10:39 AM on January 22, 2011

I asked for an ergonomic chair at work. My department chair said I would never get one, but the request was approved. I now have the most expensive chair in my university. It is great and I have had it for over 10 years. If that did not work, I would have gone to Office Max and purchased my own chair (but not as awesome as the one I have). If they won't get you a chair, ask if you can bring in your own. As for all you people with ergonomic specialists at work, that is great!! I wish the places I worked had one.
posted by wandering_not_lost at 12:18 PM on January 22, 2011

Response by poster: Oh, I wanted to mention that I am considered a temporary employee at a university, which means I do not get benefits or salary. The lab would pay for something like that out of a grant. I could try to ask, but I doubt they would go for it.
posted by two lights above the sea at 3:27 PM on January 22, 2011

I'm short and find the seat on my chair at work is too deep, even with the back adjusted as far forward as possible. I recently bought one of these, and it's great. I got one for home too, and a couple of other shorties in the office have found it very comfortable and got their own.

I can't find it for sale in the US (maybe my Google-fu is failing me) but Amazon has something similar.

The mesh back support provides support where I need it but also allows me to lean against the back of the seat. Before you go spending big money on a new chair, it might be worth trying one of these to see if it'll help.
posted by essexjan at 4:58 AM on January 23, 2011

Now that I've started a new job, I'm sitting in a much different kind of chair, and my back has been killing me. According to my SO, this kind of chair is supposed to be better for you because it never lets you "relax", therefore it strengthens your back muscles.

Scoliosis or not, sit in whatever kind of chair you want. If you want to strengthen your back muscles and keep your spine healthy, do deadlifts. Lamar Grant, one of the best deadlifters ever (he deadlifted 661 pounds at a bodyweight of 132) had a pronounced scoliosis.
posted by Anatoly Pisarenko at 9:56 AM on January 24, 2011

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