Back support for an office chair – why it’s important

One of the most important features on an office chair is adjustable back support.

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One of the most important features to look for when selecting an office chair, is lower back, or lumbar support. Ergonomic and orthopaedic office chairs in South Africa are fitted with various types of back support that range from multi-adjustable backrests, to portable lumbar cushions that are attached to the chair by means of a strap.

One of the most important features to look for when selecting an office chair, is lower back, or lumbar support.

Sitting for long periods of time in a chair with poor back support increases the stress in the lumbosacral discs, resulting in pain and discomfort in the lower back.

It is more difficult to maintain the natural elongated 'S' curvature of the spine by sitting on a chair without good back support.

Office chairs with good lumbar support will keep your spine aligned in it’s natural elongated ‘S’ shape.

orthopaedic work office chair
Good lumbar support keeps your spine aligned in it’s natural elongated ‘S’ shape.

Made up of 34 bones, the spinal column holds the body upright, allows it to bend and twist, and provides a conduit for major nerves running from the brain to every other part of the body. It provides the structural and nervous system support for your body.

lordosis and kyphosis curvature in back
Lordosis and Kyphosis curvature in the spine

The five vertebrae (L1 to L5) in the spine between the diaphragm and sacrum are known as the lumbar spine. This section of your spine curves slightly inward, called lordosis, before extending down to your tailbone.

An office chair with good lumbar support will maintain the lordosis curve while you are sitting.

lumbar spine
Lumbar vertebrae in the lower spine, L1 to L5

1. What happens when you sit?

When you sit with your thighs at a 900 angle to our back, two major skeletal movements take place. Firstly, the long thigh bones (femurs) rotate in their pelvic sockets through approximately 600. Thereafter, the ligaments attaching the femurs to the pelvis, pull on the rear of the pelvis. This rotates it backwards through the remaining 300Due to the rotation of the pelvis, the natural lordosis curve in the lower back changes to a kyphosis curve to create a ‘C’ shaped spine as shown below.

what happens when you sit and kyphosis in lumbar spine
When you sit the kyphosis curve squeezes the front edges of the vertebrae together to create a ‘C’ shape (right). This increases the pressure on the front portions of the intervertebral discs.

Most of the change to a kyphosis curve occurs in the first three or four vertebrae above the pelvis. During this process, the front edges of the vertebrae squeeze closer together while the back edges spread further apart. This increases the pressure on the front portions of the intervertebral discs. For more information, see What actually happens when you sit?

To prevent poor sitting habits, select an ergonomic or orthopaedic chair with good lumbar support.

Without proper lumbar support, prolonged sitting with a “C” shaped spinal curve can lead to:

2. Why the back support on an office chair should be adjustable

Because our bodies are so varied, chairs with a fixed or pre-defined lumbar support, are not suitable for everyone. An adjustable lumbar support allows you to position the lumbar cushion to best fit and support the curvature of your spine.

In South Africa where we commonly have “hot desking” and office chairs are used by more than one person, an adjustable lumbar support is all the more essential. Remember that when it comes to office chairs, “there is no, and never will be, a one-size-fits-all”.

3. Who needs an adjustable lumbar back support on their office chair?

The simple answer…..EVERYONE!

An adjustable lumbar back support is recommended if you are sitting on your office chair for long periods of time, and/or you have persistent muscular back pain or musculoskeletal disorders.

Why do we have such a broad range of office chairs?

  • Every person’s back and body shape is unique.
  • Office chairs are not all the same and the level of back support afforded by each model will not suit everyone. There is no “one size fits all”, so find a chair that suits YOUR back!
  • Don’t be conned by anyone who claims that they have “an office chair that will suit everyone”. It doesn’t exist.

Protect your back with an Office Chair that provides superior lumbar support

We offer a broad spectrum of of chairs with both fixed and adjustable lumbar support to suit almost every need.

Buy office chairs with superior lumbar support ONLINE

4. Different lumbar support options and how they work

Lumbar back support for office chairs in South Africa is available in various forms that range from the most basic to more advanced ergonomic options. Office chairs with a high ergonomic rating will have backrests that include multiple types of lumbar support adjustment. Let’s have a look at a few variations.

a. Height adjustable

This option allows you to adjust the lumbar support vertically to suit your lumbar curve.

Vertical lumbar adjustment (Alya)

In order to get optimum results, sit as far back into your seat as possible with your back fully supported by the backrest.

Now adjust the lumbar support so that it rests in the small of your back to maintain the natural curve of your spine.

Ensure that the lumbar is not too high or too low as this may lead to slouching and discomfort.

b. Depth adjustable

This option allows you to change the horizontal depth of the lumbar support. 

When you adjust the depth of the lumbar support cushion on an office chair, ensure that you keep the spine in a natural position. Don’t over or under accentuate the inward curvature of your spine.

Over accentuation will result in unnecessary strain as your spine is forced into an extreme lordosis, while under accentuation will not provide the necessary support and comfort.

Note: Females have a greater inward curvature (lordosis) than males, and would benefit from a more pronounced lumbar support.

Lumbar depth adjustment (Alya)

c. Office chairs with a height adjustable back and fixed lumbar support

Here the entire chair backrest can be adjusted vertically so you can align it with your lumbar curvature. 

Usually, the adjustment is accomplished by means of either a ratchet mechanism that has a number of setting positions, or alternatively a handwheel that allows variable adjustment.

Height adjustable backrests with fixed lumbar support are available in South Africa on our orthopedic office chairs.

backrest adjustment on ortholux orthopedic office chair
Height adjustable backrest on the OrthoLux
Height adjustable backrest on the OrthoAir

d. Height adjustable backrest on an office chair with an independently adjustable lumbar support

Here the entire chair backrest and lumbar support can be adjusted vertically and independently from one another.

An office chair with a height adjustable backrest is particularly beneficial for a taller person as it provides support for the upper back and shoulders. The vertical adjustment of the backrest has various height settings to suit your personal preference.

For optimal comfort, the separate lumbar support on these office chairs can then be adjusted to "fine-tune" the back support settings. This combination is available on the OrthoAir Orthopedic Chair.

e. Office chair with a height adjustable back and inflatable lumbar support

The height adjustable backrest can be adjusted vertically to suit different users.

Designed for exceptional back support, the built-in pneumatic lumbar cushion on this office chair has an internal bladder that can be inflated via a simple hand pump. In this way, the position and firmness of the back support can be adjusted to an optimum level.

This back support is available on the OrthoMax Orthopedic office chair.

back support for office chair south africa
Height adjustable backrest with inflatable lumbar support on the OrthoMax

f. Portable lumbar back support cushion for office chairs

These cushions are made from moulded foam and then upholstered with either a plain or breathable mesh fabric.

Portable lumbar support cushions come in various shapes and sizes and can easily be attached to your office chair or car seat by means of adjustable straps.Their application is ideal for any seat with insufficient lumbar support.

5. How to adjust the lumbar back support on an office chair

Lumbar support should always be adjusted in conjunction with the correct chair setup.


Working in an office requires you to spend a significant amount of time sitting on your office chair.  An office chair that supports the lower back and promotes good posture is essential to avoid developing or aggravating back problems. The Latest Trends in selecting a Comfortable Office Chair.

A chair with adjustable lumbar support should not be an option or a consideration. It should be a “must have”.

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