On back pillows and back pain

I do not recommend the purple back cushion.  It is $39 and only has one strap and is impossible to keep in place.

The purple seat cushion is better for what it does (though I also had a lot of trouble keeping it on my chair and it’s also expensive), but I wonder if some of the back pain I’ve been having this past week is attributable to it.

For lumbar support, I instead recommend this Everlasting comfort lumbar support pillow.  It is bigger and has TWO straps, and is $30.

I have just purchased a standing desk and an adjustable dual monitor holder.  After I’ve moved over and used them for a while, I will let you know how they’re doing!

I would like to get a new desk chair also (I have a middle sized aeron, bought second-hand five years ago in paradise, but just traded chairs with DC2 and am using an old two position chair that DH reupholstered 15 years ago), but I don’t feel like I can do that without actually sitting on them.

What do you do to prevent back pain?  Do you have a favorite home desk setup?

18 Responses to “On back pillows and back pain”

  1. CG Says:

    I sit on a hard wooden chair with a random cushion and have a big monitor. Before we figured out my current WFH setup I sat in an easy chair with my laptop on my lap. I don’t think either of those setups are really ergonomically recommended. I think the things that keep me from having back pain are 1. Sitting less overall and 2. Having fixed my sciatica by doing lots of cobra pose and core strength training. I don’t think there’s any setup where it would be good for me to sit 8 hours a day or whatever. My core strength training went out the window this year because I stopped going to the gym and I’ve had some injuries (not back, but other stuff), which I suspect is because I’m not as strong now. I need to get back to that when I can.

  2. Steph Says:

    I think about ergonomics so much, and usually nobody wants to hear about it, so here is probably too much information on my desk setup.

    Right now I’m alternating between my cheap amazon desk chair + purple pillow and one of my kitchen chairs – they both cause hip/back pain but in different places, so I use one until it starts hurting then switch to the other. The purple pillow does help with the cheap chair, but it also seems to have accelerated the destruction of the cushion underneath it. And my kitchen chair is too tall to use with the purple pillow.

    If I end up having to work from home for an extended time again, I will suck it up and buy another desk chair. The one I wanted, which I used at my last job, was out of stock at the beginning of the pandemic. If I’d known it would eventually come back into stock, I might have waited to buy that one – it costs the same as my cheapo chair + purple pillow. (Being short sucks because there are a very limited number of chairs out there that fit me and are affordable for a home office. Part of why I’m going back to my campus office is that they bought me a fancy, very adjustable chair.)

    Aside from chairs, raising my laptop and using an external keyboard + mouse is a must for me. An external monitor is a plus, and basically a necessity for teaching. I had a gnarly knotted muscle in grad school that left me in screaming pain and needing to take muscle relaxants, and an ergonomic setup is the only way I’ve found to avoid a recurrence.

    My current desk is also built out of industrial kitchen shelving, because I needed it in my old apartment but not here. (And desks were all out of stock last year.) The benefit of that is that I can adjust the height of the shelves for my keyboard/mouse and my screens. My keyboards are at 25″ above the floor, which is next to impossible to buy unless I want a kids desk. When I manage to buy a house, one thing I am definitely adding is a custom-built desk.

    Oh! One other thing for folks who have shoulder pain – I use a posture brace and it helps a lot. It turns out a lot of shoulder pain can be caused by overstretched shoulder/back muscles, not just knots. This helps open up my chest and compress those back muscles. These both look similar to the one I have (which is no longer available)
    https://www.target.com/p/gaiam-restore-posture-corrector-back-stretcher-black/-/A-79756692?ref=tgt_adv_XS000000&AFID=google_pla_df_free_local&CPNG=Sports&adgroup=82-2

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      What is your preferred chair and are you close to 5’4″?

      • Steph Says:

        I’m 5’1″, with a relatively short torso for my height (apparently most petite women have long torsos/short legs?). When I put my arms in the “correct” typing position (upper arms straight, elbows loose), my arms are basically on top of my thighs, which is a nightmare for chair/keyboard alignment.

        I like this chair: https://www.officechairs.com/CH50829.aspx
        It’s also available on Amazon, which I think is where my last job actually purchased it. I never had any back or hip pain with it.

  3. FF Says:

    My first suggestion is that if you don’t already know what the underlying problem is for your back pain, you might want to have a doctor figure it out. My specific problem (spondylolisthesis = slipped vertebra) means that the exercises, etc. often suggested for people with back problems (eg, cobra pose, lumbar pillows) are not helpful for me or can even exacerbate the problem.

    The most important thing that I do is stretch every day. I stretch even more (eg, every 1-2 hours, with more/different stretches, mostly flexion) if I’m having a sciatica flare. Once diagnosed, I had a lot of benefit from PT (McKenzie), and those are the exercises that I’ve continued to do daily. I’ve also found Pilates and Gyrotonic exercises to be very helpful–a strong core will help support your spine–but this has definitely fallen by the wayside for me since the pandemic.

    Spondylolisthesis is exacerbated by prolonged standing or walking, so I don’t use a standing desk. I have an exercise bike desk (it can be used as a standing desk, I just don’t use it that way), but if the sciatica is bad, sitting/cycling will also be a problem. I also use a wedge cushion in my car (specifically, the Seat Solution Orthopedic Seat Cushion)–driving has very frequently set off the sciatica and this cushion helps a lot.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I have an aunt with that. My dad has sciatica.

      At some point once COVID rates die down I will try to find various doctors. I don’t know anyone who trusts their doctors around here (except for our pediatrician), and I’ve heard various horror stories, so not looking forward to it.

    • CG Says:

      Second the recommendation for the McKenzie method of PT for back issues. That’s what the second PT used after the first one I went to made my sciatica so much worse I couldn’t sit and could barely walk. I’m 99% pain free now and have been for several years. Our nanny has a different back issue and went to the same guy and he helped her too. I read a book a few years ago that investigated various back pain treatment methods and that was one of the few that has some reasonable results. https://www.cathrynjakobsonramin.com/books/crooked/overview

    • FF Says:

      I thought of a couple of other things that help me prevent back pain: 1) backpack-style purse, worn with both straps; 2) bras that fit properly.

  4. First Gen American Says:

    I second Pilates and stretching, but you should get diagnosed with the specific issue as the best exercises do vary depending on what’s going on.

    Side sleeping with a body pillow seems to work best. I used to be a stomach sleeper which is the worst for back pain.

  5. Miser Mom Says:

    What I use for back pain is . . . getting lucky enough to have good genes. I had a bit of back pain in college, and learned some exercises that helped me a lot — one of my faves is lying on the floor, face up, with my knees bent so my feet are flat on the floor, and then tilt my pelvis so that my spine is against the floor (no arch). It’s very relaxing, and supposedly helps teach you good posture so that you can eventually do it when you’re standing around. I also do the cobra exercise, which is actually exercise, unlike the lie-on-the-floor “exercise” that I like even more.

    But for reasons that FF notes, I don’t know if that is widely useful to others.

    • mnitabach Says:

      Using the deep abdominal pelvic floor muscles to do the pelvic tilt like you describe flattening your lower back against the floor is a key pilates exercise.

  6. Jenny F. Scientist Says:

    I got a standing desk at work and bought myself an anti-fatigue mat to go with it. Also, I lift weights and do core exercises to strengthen all my terrible joints, including my back (I have a genetic connective tissue disorder). I would prefer a reset to a body with different joints, frankly.

  7. mnitabach Says:

    In my experience, the best things that keep my back from acting up are weekly pilates & powerlifting (squats, deadlifts, bench presses, military presses). I have a suspicion that it doesn’t matter a lot huge amount the specific exercises, but just to do loaded & body weight exercises that strengthen the main & accessory postural muscles, including back extensors, abdominal, obliques, all the different glute muscles, hip abductors & adductors, hamstrings. I’ve also experienced (and there’s even some scientific evidence of efficacy) some acute analgesia from isometric contraction of the back & core muscles, such as by holding shoulder bridges & supermans.

    • Steph Says:

      Yeah, I seriously miss my old trainer & weight training routine (I lost it due to a move, and never found a new gym before covid hit). Doing all that work to strengthen the muscles that are extended while sitting makes a huge difference!

  8. Candi Says:

    What works for me is stretching every weekday, plus lots of walks. The only thing I miss about the office is my chair and desk set up, but I’d still rather work from home. I also had a bout of back pain while at the office and that’s when I discovered how much of a difference walking and stretching make for me.

    I have the purple seat cushion (the more expensive one, it’s was a gift) and it definitely helped me. But my chair at home is a wooden banker’s chair which was killing me after a few months. I’ve had no pain since adding the Purple seat cushion.

  9. I bought a standing desk | Grumpy Rumblings (of the formerly untenured) Says:

    […] the two position chair I got in graduate school (long story:  they only sell them in bulk) since I traded DC1 for my Aeron.  As noted before, I’ve swapped the purple pillow with an everlasting comfort […]


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