The human body functions ideally for walking, climbing, and rising higher above savannah grass to watch out for prey and predators. Unfortunately, most humans spend a lot more time sitting at a desk or computer than they do avoiding lions and chasing lemurs—that's just one way that our daily activities have changed. This disconnect leads to severe discomfort in your spine.
Since your spine is a stacked system, if you aren’t supporting the lower back properly, your upper back is going to feel it as well. This means that even if you treat the obvious causes of your upper back discomfort, without proper lower back support, your shoulders and neck are likely to still feel the pain and tension.
The good news is that there are some easy solutions to the problem of improper lower back support. Putting these quick fixes in place can improve your overall feeling of well-being almost immediately, not to mention combatting that pesky low back pain.
What Is Lumbar Support?
The lumbar spine is the name for the lower third of your spinal column.
Here is an easy way to picture what that means: imagine your spine as a big “s,” the thoracic spine is the area of the “s” that bulges out at your shoulders, and the lumbar spine is the part of the “s” that curves inward, down to your hips. That curvature is there to enable upright walking. The curves balance each other so that you can walk without tipping over.
Why Do We Need Lumbar Support?
It turns out that curvature that helps people walk upright does not lend itself to sitting for long periods of time. Imagine you are in a standard straight-backed chair. If you sit with your bottom all the way back in the chair and put your shoulders against the back as well, there is now a gap at the base of the spine.
To maintain this curve requires conscious thought and muscle control to hold everything in place. This is fine for the time it takes to eat a meal at your dining room table, but it will quickly get exhausting if you are sitting at your desk or driving your car for hours at a time.
What happens next is a prime cause of that overall back pain you probably feel: your abdominals relax, your lower back collapses back to the chair, and your shoulders slouch. This pushes your neck forward, leading to neck stiffness and pain as well. You may also end up dealing with weakness in the back.
How Does Lumbar Support Help?
Seating with proper lumbar support is created with the understanding that the human spine is not a straight line. Lumbar support uses a cushion or other structural elements to fill in the gap at the lower back created by sitting upright. This keeps the lower back pushed forward, causing the upper back to stay where it is supposed to, and helping you to sit up straighter (and to hurt less afterward).
Without proper support, you're at a much higher risk of damaging your spinal disks, as well as conditions like sciatica and other back injuries.
Properly supporting your lower back with a lumbar pillow can lead to a reduced incidence of injuries like fractures and strains as it also keeps muscles toned to hold proper positioning. On top of that, it can lead to some effective pain relief.
What Is the Best Type of Lumbar Support?
There are a few options for good lumbar support if you want to improve your overall seated posture, and each of them has some pros and cons associated with them.
1. High-End Desk Chair
A quality desk chair should fit you like a glove. It should have several adjustment options so that you can position your entire body properly in it. The armrests will hold your arms at the right angle to avoid fatigue, and the upper portion should provide a comfortable enough cushion that you can lean back without discomfort. You should be able to keep your knees at a right angle with your feet flat on the floor.
Most importantly, it should provide adjustable lumbar support. This support should be firm enough to hold you upright and should be able to be positioned just right for you. The right chair will help you support good posture, and therefore protect your back muscles and bones.
The downsides to this type of chair are pretty straightforward. A really great office chair can be pretty expensive- potentially more than two zeros expensive. In addition, you aren’t likely to move that chair around your home or workplace for different seating areas.
On top of all that, once you get everything right where you want it, anyone else that might also use your desk is going to need everything different. Still, if you have the budget and spend a lot of time sitting at the same spot, this is a great way to go.
2. Wearable Support
Wearable lumbar supports like back braces can be a lifesaver if you spend a lot of time on your feet, and they also have some benefit for those who sit most of the day.
The benefits of back braces can be felt immediately. They take a lot of the burden off of your lower back, especially for those who have to change tasks and lift often. This support is noticeable right when you put the brace on, even if you are already tired.
There are some drawbacks to wearables as well. They are most helpful if you are moving regularly. Their benefit is relatively limited for those who sit in one place for long periods of time.
In addition, most doctors will tell you to limit the amount of time spent wearing a brace, as it can cause your muscles to get a little bit lazy and not want to do what they are supposed to when you take it off if it is worn too long.
Lumbar Support Cushions
A lumbar support cushion can be extremely helpful in alleviating lower back issues. These cushions are removable, so they can be taken with you when moving from place to place. They even can offer some comfort in the car for long drives. They are able to be positioned at different heights, making them versatile for a wide variety of people, and they are much less expensive than a specialty office chair. You can easily place one in the back of your chair.
The important thing to remember when selecting a lumbar cushion is that there is some variety in the level of support and specific shape of the cushion you use. You might need to try out a few options before you find the one that is just right for you.
Lumbar Support Can Improve Your Quality of Life
Regardless of what you do for a living, lower back pain can make every task miserable. Finding the right kind of lumbar support can get make all the difference in how you feel each day. If you are dealing with back pain, lumbar support might be exactly what you need.
The effect of a lumbar support pillow on lumbar posture and comfort during a prolonged seated task | NIH
Can Lumbar Support Devices Relieve Lower Back Pain? | US News
Proper Sitting for a Healthy Back | U of M Health