Optimal Desk Chair and/or Mattress for a Bad Back
October 18, 2013 8:17 AM   Subscribe

If you are someone with disc problems, have you found that a certain desk chair and/or mattress has made a significant difference in your level of discomfort?

The discs in my lower back are a mess and my doctors have said there isn't much I can do about it other than controlling my weight, strengthening my muscles, and being careful. I have made peace with this and have accepted I'm always going to have periodic pain.

The last six months have been the worst yet - and then I spent 10 days on vacation in Spain and had absolutely no pain at all. I'm convinced this is due to a combination of the rock hard beds in Spain and walking around all day rather than sitting in a desk chair. I've been home a week and my back is giving me problems again after returning to my usual routine. Getting some sort of job wherein I walk around all day is not really an option, but I'm willing to shell out cash for a new mattress and convince my employer to buy me a new chair if those things will make a difference.

Have you found either of those things to help your back problems, and if so, do you have specific recommendations for me? Thanks.
posted by something something to Health & Fitness (9 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I absolutely LOVE my Simmons Beauty Rest, Ultra, super, concrete firm bed. We've had it for over a decade and it's still like sleeping on a rock.

If you find a good chair let me know!

How about bringing in a big ball to balance and sit on?
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:19 AM on October 18, 2013

When I started having back issues, I got a HumanScale Freedom chair from Relax the Back and had it ergonomically set up for me. HUGE DIFFERENCE. It was an investment, but it made a bigger difference than a new mattress (I think a Simmons branded by Crate & Barrel).
posted by hrj at 8:28 AM on October 18, 2013

I've had a bit of an issue with a wonky lower back myself (scoliosis made it a weak spot, in my case, and I've thrown my back out 3 times), and a friend also has similar issues (he's got an extra vertebrae, which does all sorts of funky things to his lower back and center of gravity). We both swear by high-density foam mattresses. I haven't had any problems with my back since I got one.

They have high-density foam mattresses in Ikea, but I got mine from super-cheap at a mom-and-pop place that just sold me the bare slab of foam; they let me lie down on a few different firmnesses to test it out, and I think I went with the ultra-firm. It was only a couple hundred bucks, and has lasted me nearly 10 years now.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:30 AM on October 18, 2013

If standing or walking are easier for you than sitting, have you thought about a standing desk? If you have a standard computer/monitor setup, it would be fairly easy to kludge one together in your office with a couple of crates or $10 worth of wood from the hardware store. I find that when I use a standing desk, I end up shifting and pacing and generally moving around more than when I sit all day, which is better for me in all sorts of ways.
posted by decathecting at 9:00 AM on October 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I've thought about it, but unfortunately I'm the executive assistant to the CEO in a very traditional office with expensive, heavy wooden furniture in an anteroom to the boss's suite. Other people at my company have standing desks but I don't think it would be appropriate for my situation.
posted by something something at 9:12 AM on October 18, 2013

I have disc issues in my back. I do yoga almost everyday, and this has helped immeasurably. Simple stretches such as child's pose, as well as just stretching your arms over your head and also down to your toes (bending your knees) are great and are things you can do throughout the day. You don't necessarily have to do a yoga routine, but there are lots of these kinds of stretches you can do throughout your working day to help your back.

Regarding your chair, I always find that cushioning helps my back as opposed to a hard chair. having your feet up in some way is important too. if you are able to sit cross-legged in your chair or on the floor, or to put your legs up in some way rather than being in the seated position all day, that will be better. If you can't get a standing desk or have your feet up in any way, make it a point to stand up and stretch periodically.
posted by bearette at 10:13 AM on October 18, 2013

I have back issues. The absolute best purchase I ever made was a sleep number bed. Beds that are too firm cause me back pain. We have an upper level model with the pillowtop and it is soft. I sleep on a soft sleep number of 35, my wife likes a firm 75-80. We both sleep great.

My employer picked up a very comfortable ergonomic desk chair for me. Adjustable in just about every way... Once it was customized for me, it fit perfectly. Trial and error may be best here.

If a standing desk is possible for you, they are of great benefit. I recommend using one with a architect/drafting style chair. You get a normal sitting posture when needed, and a desk that is the correct height when you need to stand.
posted by Leenie at 12:55 PM on October 18, 2013

I've found my Swopper to help with my back pain immensely. Check out the Ergo Ergo for a cheaper option.
posted by sxtrumpeto at 9:30 PM on October 18, 2013

Other people at my company have standing desks but I don't think it would be appropriate for my situation.

I'd encourage you to really consider your options here, and to talk about this with your boss. If others are doing it, obviously they cannot deny you doing it as well. There is surely a way to make it aesthetic and functional in the space you have. A console like desk (think hostess stand at a restaurant) with a large plant to the side, perhaps? One possible middle ground is to have a standing desk as a secondary desk in the same space, perhaps off to the side against a wall, where you can shift from one to the other throughout the day. If the standing desk has enough surface area to spread out projects, even better. A gel floor pad is great. A scrap of 2x4 nearby to stretch your calves when you aren't even thinking about it, also nice. Standing will change your life.

Also, when a friend was in the hospital for four days after throwing out his back, every doc on rotation said in one way or another "WALK. Every day, just walk. It's the best thing you can do for your back, period." And then build your core strength and stretch your hamstrings daily. That was the advice. That and a standing desk has him feeling stronger than ever now.
posted by AnOrigamiLife at 12:52 AM on October 19, 2013

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