Do you know why lumbar support is important for your back and how to pick one?
We searched through dozens of lumbar supports on Amazon as well as other dark corners of the internet…and the vast majority of them are not optimal for your back.
Our primary concern? Memory foam.
Memory foam was originally created by NASA for astronauts. For the purpose of shock absorption, NASA created an ultra soft and plush foam that has the ability to change greatly in response to pressure. Memory foam also “springs back” to its original shape more slowly due to its microscopic structure (hence, the term “memory” foam: it briefly remembers the shape it takes when pressure is applied).
This made it a very effective shock absorption material and helped NASA increase the likelihood of astronauts surviving singular impact crashes or hard landings.
Now, memory foam is used in many consumer products: seat cushions, mattresses (most notably, the Tempurpedic), and lumbar supports. But, it wasn’t originally created for these uses and it certainly wasn’t developed with lifestyle ergonomic products in mind.
Memory foam certainly has benefits: it is very soft and can evenly distribute weight well. Thus, it can feel like more of a custom-fit.
But, the primary benefits of memory foam can become a critical problem: it’s just doesn’t provide support when constant pressure is applied.
Of course, a little memory foam may provide some pressure point relief and can be offer some measure of relief your back. But, back supports made entirely or primarily of memory foam are likely to not work as well as you’d want.
Unless your supports needs are minimal, memory foam is not beneficial because it just shrinks when your back puts pressure on it.
Side note: memory foam also tends to retain heat. This can make it rather uncomfortable in a mattress, chair, or lumbar support.
Therefore, we recommend a lumbar support that is firm and has minimal or no memory foam.
Here are four other very important factors to consider when selecting a lumbar support:
#1: What’s your unique spinal curvature?
It’s like this: when you are standing, you have pressure on the posterior wall of your lumbar discs equal to 100% of your bodyweight.
When you sit with poor posture, that pressure on your lumbar discs can increase to 150% or more of your bodyweight.
You have these discs your whole life. So, it’s critical that you don’t put too much pressure on them resulting in bulging or herniated discs over time.
So, the goal of a good lumbar support is to simply reduce the pressure on your lumbar discs.
Of course, every spine is different and spinal curvatures vary.
So, you need to stand with good posture to get a feel for your optimal curvature and then find a lumbar support that will keep your spine in a similar curvature while sitting.
NOTE: there is such a thing as TOO MUCH lumbar support. It’s possibly too put in too much support and force your back into more curvature than your lumbar facets can accomodate. That’s not what you want.
#2: The seat of the chair
If a chair is soft or tilted backwards, you probably shouldn’t use it. But, if you must use it, then you will likely need a firmer and/or thicker lumbar support. You might also want to buy a wedge.
#3: Chair height
If your knees are at the same level or higher than your hips when you sit, then you are going to need a firmer and/or thicker lumbar support. This is because the pressure that your back will put against the backrest will be very high.
#4: Backrest of the chair
You need to consider the configuration of the backrest of the chair when selecting a lumbar support. Is there already some support built-in? How much support? You will want to choose a lumbar support that properly compliments the backrest of your chair. Another way of thinking about it is like this: if the backrest provides little or no support, then you are probably going to need a really thick lumbar support to supplement the chair’s lackluster lumbar support. On the flip side, you might not even need an add-on lumbar support if the chair’s built-in support is already very good.
What happens if you don’t have a solid add-on or built-in lumbar support?
In short, you are likely setting yourself up for back issues.
Here’s how it happens.
Without proper support…
- Your back muscles will fatigue as they try to hold you up against gravity, so
- Your back muscles get achy, sore, and tight
- Your back muscles will fail,
- You’ll compensate with the inappropriate muscles as you start to slouch,
- Slouching will increase the pressure on your spinal discs (which you might not feel immediately),
- Your spinal discs will begin to bulge, and
- Ultimately, you cause irreparable damage to your discs, you over-recruit the wrong muscles to shift your spine away from the bulging discs, your SI joints can then get irritated due to this compensation ….and worst of all, your bulging discs could progress to full-blown ruptures.
Yes, ensuring you have good support for your lumbar spine really is that important.
Are you looking for a desk chair with a solid, built-in lumbar support? We’ve selected four winners for you here.
Are you looking for an add-on lumbar support to use with your chair or in your car? We’ve picked the best ones for you here.