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Ergonomic rationale: gaming chair lumbar support biomechanics

Every review on ChairsFX mentions lumbar support as a crucial chair feature. This article explains the physiological benefits that a gaming chair lumbar support provides. Then it looks at the different types of lumbar support systems used on popular gaming chairs.

How does a gaming chair lumbar support help?
A gaming chair’s lumbar support promotes a healthy curve in the lower back.

Sitting in a typical office chair rotates the pelvis and reduces the lumbar curve. Over time, the body adapts to sitting this way. Muscles in the back and shoulders that hold the spine straight get underworked. As a result, they atrophy.

Sitting without lumbar support
Sitting flattens the lumbar curve which causes imbalances throughout the body.

This leads to a downward spiral of debilitation. Sitting with a curved pelvis shortens the hip flexors. That curls the spine into a “c” shape, rounding the upper back and hunching the shoulders.

Over time, muscles adapt. Then, the user will only feel comfortable when sitting with an arched lumbar spine. That weakens stomach muscles, making it harder to sit up straight.

Office worker with bad sitting habits
Poor sitting habits make users lethargic and prone to chronic pain.

At that point, chronic back, neck, and shoulder pain sets in. With a curved spine and weak muscles, users have two options. First, they can endure the pain. Second, they can buy a chair that has sufficient lumbar support.

DIY lumbar support test

When pressure hits the curve in your lower back, the upper spine reflexively straightens. That is why all ergonomic chairs emphasize lumbar support as the highest priority. To see how this works, try to sit down straight without using back support.

Unsupported sitting demonstration
Sitting without support overworks back muscles, leading to slouching.

To achieve this, you need to plant your feet on the floor and push down. That sends the necessary force up your legs and thighs to your hips. As a result, your feet provide the power to keep your back straight. However, sitting this way overworks your back muscles. When muscles inevitably tire, the back loses support. Consequently, the lumbar curve flattens, curling the spine into a “c” shape.

Next, try sitting down in a wooden kitchen chair with DIY lumbar support. You can use a rolled-up towel (works ok), rolled-up yoga mat (works better), or weightlifter’s lumbar belt (works the best). With just a slight amount of pressure in the lower back, it becomes much easier to hold the the upper spine straight.

DIY lumbar support for a home office
Pushing up with the feet plus lumbar support is all that’s needed to sit up straight.

However, after around 15 minutes sitting this way, the upper back will still begin to tire. If that happens, take a short walking break to refresh. After that, you should be able to sit down straight for another short burst before fatigue sets in again.

Below, we explain how this support brings tangible health benefits as you sit.

The biomechanics of healthy sitting

Sitting causes the pelvis to rotate. That reduces lumbar lordosis, which curves the upper back and shortens the hip flexors. Over time, the body adapts to this position, resulting in a perpetual slouch when sitting or standing.

Gaming chair posture support
Traditional office chair vs ergonomic gaming chair.

This summary of healthy sitting studies found that lumbar support reduces disc pressure. Lumbar support with a backrest reclined to 100 degrees is the optimal configuration. The recline angle allows the user to set their computer monitor to eye level. That prevents the neck from bending while using a computer.

Neutral posture sitting examples
All ergonomic chairs provide features to support neutral sitting postures over long periods.

Below, we explain the health benefits that good lumbar support adds to the sitting experience.

Flattened lumbar area shortens hip flexors

The lumbar area consists of five vertebrae in the lower spine between the buttocks and ribs. A healthy lumbar area naturally curves inward towards the belly. Sitting with a slouch flattens that curve.

Good versus bad sitting posture
Poor sitting posture places excess strain on the lumbar discs.

As a result, the opposing gluteal muscle (buttock) gets longer and weaker. Gluteal muscles are the primary muscle that balances the hips above the legs. When the primary muscle becomes weak, helper muscles must take over. This causes further problems.

Health problems caused by slouching
Sitting with a slouch flattens the lumbar curve and curls the body into a “c” shape.

For instance, some studies estimate that 85% of men and 75% of women suffer from anterior pelvic tilt. Short hip flexors force the front of the pelvis to rotate forward. At the same time, short flexors push the back of the pelvis upwards.

Anterior pelvic tilt
Most American adults suffer from anterior pelvic tilt caused by poor sitting habits.

The result is a distorted body with weak stomach muscles, lower body tightness, and a sagging upper body. In this alignment, running, kicking, and bending at the hip becomes difficult.

Gaming chair lumbars support a healthy curve

Spinal curvatures and pelvic orientation differ when standing and sitting. When sitting, there is a postural pelvic tilt with a diminished sacral slope (S.S.). When slouching, the sacral slope decreases even more. At the same time, the lumbar curve gets almost completely flattened. The result is increased pressure on the five lumbar discs.

Sitting versus standing mechanics
Sitting reduces the sacral slope and flattens the lumbar curve.

In 2009, a team of researchers sought out the optimal seated lumbar position. In Seeking the Optimal Posture of the Seated Lumbar Spine, several facts were made clear:

  1. When standing, the optimal lordotic angle is between 20-45 degrees.
  2. Unsupported sitting reduces lumbar lordosis by 50%. It also increases intradiscal pressure at the third lumbar vertebra by 40%.
  3. When sitting with a back angle of 110° and a lumbar support 4 cm deep, lumbar lordosis averages a healthy 47° angle.
  4. The depth of the lumbar support depends on the individual. If a lumbar support causes discomfort, it means it is set too high, too low, or too deep.
  5. A sustained lordotic sitting position decreases disc pressure and thereby disc degeneration.

Gaming chair backrest support
Gaming chair neck and back pillows support the spine’s natural curves as you recline.

The chair has two essential roles in this configuration. Those are to maintain lumbar lordosis and allow alternating postures.

Gaming chair versus office chair recline
Gaming chair recline functionality allows you to move your body while sitting.

Using simple, logical technology, gaming chairs fill both of those roles. You can adjust the height of the lumbar or neck pillows to fit into your spine’s natural curves. You can also engage the reclining function to move your body as you sit.

Healthy lumbar curve supports a straight spine

With a flattened lumbar, the upper body tends to sag forward. In contrast, a healthy curvature in the lumbar prevents that. In a gaming chair, adjust the lumbar pillow to fit your lower back curve. Then lean your body weight into the backrest. The mild lumbar pressure combined with a tall backrest makes it impossible to slouch.

Neutral sitting position
Sitting in a neutral posture with a healthy curve in the lower back is the ideal.

The lumbar pillow maintains your lower back curve, while the backrest supports the entire spine. The result is an upright sitting posture ideal for long periods of healthy computing. That is called a Neutral Sitting Posture. That means:

  1. Feet planted on the floor.
  2. Knees bent at around 90° with thighs parallel to the floor.
  3. Back straight.
  4. Elbows bent at 90° with forearms parallel to the floor.

This is similar to the concept of a weightlifter’s belt. Research shows that when lifting, wearing a lifting belt reduces upper back flexion. At the same time, it increases flexion in the hips and knees. That forces the user to lift with their legs, instead of with their back.

Gaming chair and lifting belt lumbar support
A lifting belt and gaming chair lumbar pillow both support a healthy lordotic curve.

Wearing a belt also causes the lifter to be more aware of their back position. The physical sensation of a belt against skin keeps them alert and in tune with their body. A gaming chair lumbar support works the same way. As the user feels it against their lower back, it makes them more aware of their sitting position. That makes it easier to maintain a neutral sitting posture.

Feet flat on the floor with a mild lumbar curve is the ideal. To learn more about optimal positioning, check out this feature:

Gaming chair ergonomic user guide

Types of gaming chair lumbar support

The previous section clarified the importance of seated lumbar support. This section look at the two types of gaming chair lumbar supports. After that, we look at lumbar supports used by other ergonomic chairs.

Traditional lumbar pillow

The most common type of gaming chair lumbar support is a traditional pillow. These usually attach onto straps that hold it against the backrest. Slide the pillow up or down until it fits into the small of your back.

PC gaming chair ergonomics
Traditional pillows provide height-adjustable neck and lumbar support.

Traditional lumbar cushions work. But they don’t come with instructions, and many new users (myself included) struggle to get it right.

The problem is that a misconfigured lumbar is the key to healthy sitting in a gaming chair. Without proper lumbar support, the rest of the support features won’t work as intended.

Then, you might end up with worse back problems than you suffered in your old cheap office chair.

Gaming chair lumbar pillow position problems

When I bought my first DXRacer gaming chair in 2017, I struggled with the lumbar cushion position for a while. No matter what position I tried, I found the DXRacer lumbar pillow uncomfortable. In hindsight, I had problems with both its depth and height.

Lumbar pillow depth

Like all padded gaming chair parts, lumbar pillows are quite dense when new. With proper use, it only applies mild pressure to your lower back. As a result, it doesn’t compress. That can leave a huge gap between your spine and the backrest.

DXRacer lumbar pillow position
If your lumbar pillow is too fat, squish it down to remove the gap between your spine and the backrest. (click to expand)

Sitting with a gap works. It feels funny, but you can get used to it. However, you’ll get more consistent support with your back flat against the backrest. The simple solution is to squish your lumbar pillow down. I used this method:

  1. Remove the lumbar cushion from your gaming chair.
  2. Place the pillow under your bed’s mattress for a few hours.
  3. Re-attach the lumbar pillow to your gaming chair. It should feel more malleable and compress enough to eliminate the gap.
Lumbar pillow height

Where should the lumbar support be? In most cases, it should fit a few inches above the seat pan. Play around with the height until it fills your lumbar curve.

How to adjust a gaming chair lumbar pillow
Most people should raise the lumbar cushion a few inches above the seat pan. (click to expand)

At the same time, the base and top of your spine should make contact with the chair. Only the lumbar area should curve inward. During a visit to DXRacer’s Malaysia office, one of their staff gave us a quick demo:

Simple steps:

  1. To sit in a gaming chair, position your hips as far back into the seat as possible.
  2. Adjust the lumbar support so it fills your lower back curve — without scooting your hips forward.
  3. Lean into the backrest so that your entire spine (except for the lumbar curve) is in contact with the backrest.

To learn more healthy sitting tips, check out our comprehensive Gaming Chair User Guide. FOr a more basic explanation, check How to Sit in a Gaming Chair (includes a 5-minute video tutorial).

Depth-adjustable internal lumbar

Gaming chairs with internal lumbar support systems advantages and disadvantages. On the positive side, they provide precise depth control. Turn a knob on the side of the chair to increase or lower support depth.

Internal lumbar support diagram
Internal lumbar support on inside the Autofull T1 Hero chair.

This ensures perfect contact between your spine and the backrest, without gaps. One of the first gaming chairs with an internal lumbar support was the Secretlab Titan. Today, several other brands also offer integrated lumbar support systems (Noblechairs, Maxnomic, etc).

Secretlab TItan internal lumbar support system
Internal lumbar systems allow the spine to rest firmly against the backrest at all times.

The downside of these systems is that all (except for the DXRacer Master) are not height-adjustable.

Titan lumbar support size limits
Shorter users may not be able to use fixed-height internal lumbar systems. In such cases, use a lumbar pillow instead.

For example, the Secretlab Titan has a minimum size rating of 5’9″(177 cm). Testing it with a 5’4″ user (162 cm), we can see clearly the lumbar sits higher than his lower back curve.

Assuming the right fit, these systems provide better support than pillows. An internal lumbar provides slightly firmer support that feels like part of the chair. It’s more precise and consistent. Once you set in your desired position, you can set, forget, and enjoy a fit tailored to your spine.

Best gaming chairs with internal lumbar support

Other ergonomic lumbar support systems

Gaming chairs either come with a lumbar pillow or an internal lumbar device. Other types of ergonomic chairs support a lumbar curve using different techniques.

Herman Miller Posturefit

Herman Miller is the ergonomic chair pioneer and leading industry brand. The company’s flagship product is the iconic Herman Miller Aeron. In a 2017 update, that product introduced a support system called PostureFit. This device supports both the lumbar and sacral-pelvic areas. The former maintains a healthy lumbar curve. The latter gives your pelvis a forward tilt to prevent slouching.

Herman Miller Aeron Posturefit
The Aeron’s Posturefit system supports both the lumbar and sacral-pelvic areas.

You can adjust the height of the support and also the depth. Each pad flexes independently. Working together, the pads encourage the spine to maintain a healthy S-shaped position.

This system works so well that it’s basically impossible to slouch. It’s also comfortable, providing gentle support that makes you feel like you’re floating.

Herman Miller Sayle Posturefit
Posturefit system deployed on a $755 Herman Miller Sayl chair.

Because of its effectiveness, other Herman Miller chairs also use a Posturefit. For instance, if you can’t afford a $1395 Aeron chair, the Sayle offers Posturefit (and lots more) for $755.

Check out the ergonomics of Herman Miller’s top three chairs for more info:

Review of the Herman Miller gaming collection

Height and depth-adjustable external lumbar

Buying a chair with effective lumbar support doesn’t have to be expensive. Several models offer height and depth-adjustable lumbar support across various price ranges.

Cheap ergonomic chairs under $250

There are several ergonomic office chairs on the market that cost under $250. Most models in this range meet basic ergonomic guidelines. Those demand adjustable lumbar support, adjustable armrests, and a reclining backrest.

Sihoo ergonomic office chair
The Sihoo chair offers a height and depth-adjustable lumbar and more for under $300.

For example, the Sihoo Ergonomic Chair costs $219.99 on Amazon. It meets ergonomic guidelines with 1D armrests, a reclining backrest, and adjustable lumbar. You can manually adjust the support up and down while adjusting the depth using a dial on the back of the chair.

Cougar Argo

Cougar Argo ergonomic chair review
Cougar released the Argo chair in June 2020.

In June 2020, Cougar released the Argo chair ($499 from Cougar). That model combined gaming and task chair features into a unique hybrid.

Cougar Argo depth adjustable lumbar support
The Argo’s lumbar support is both height and depth-adjustable.

The standout feature is the height and depth-adjustable lumbar support. You can slide the support up and down. You can also rotate the angle to increase or decrease depth.

Cheap chair lumbar addons

If it’s not feasible to buy a new chair, there are ways to make healthy use out of an existing one. The cheapest option is to roll up a towel and stuff it between your lumbar curve and the chair’s backrest. By supporting the lumbar curve, you’ll find it easier to sit up straight in a cheap chair.

Using a towel for lower back support
You can use a rolled-up towel for immediate lower back support.

Another option is to buy a lumbar support addon. For example, the McKenzie Lumbar Roll costs $21.95 on Amazon.

McKenzie Lumbar Roll
The McKenzie Lumbar Roll is a cheap and effective lumbar support solution.

It’s a foam roll stuffed inside a machine-washable cover. Loop the straps over the backrest of a chair or car seat and tighten. Then adjust the height to fit into your lumbar curve. Sit as far back in the seat as possible, until the pillow fills your lumbar curve. That will keep your upper back straight, with your entire spine in a healthy alignment.


When standing, the normal lumbar lordotic angle (LLA) in men and women is between 20-45 degrees. Unsupported sitting reduces lumbar lordosis by 50%. At the same time, it increases intradiscal pressure at the third lumbar vertebra by 40%.

Lordotic sitting in an ergonomic chair
Mild lordosis helps to support a healthy upright sitting posture.

By combining a mild recline with lumbar support, users can achieve a healthy lumbar curve. Research suggests the ideal as a 110° backrest recline plus lumbar support 4 cm deep. That results in an optimal seated lumbar curve of 47°. That is slightly more than the optimal standing lumbar curve. Since humans aren’t designed for long periods of sitting, the extra lumbar support helps to compensate.

Gaming chairs improve work performance
Effective back support helps users to feel energetic and alert while sitting.

The bottom line is that lumbar support is essential for anyone who spends long periods sitting. A healthy curve in the lower back keeps the spine straight and in a healthy alignment. Whichever type of chair you use, use the same methods. First, adjust the lumbar support to fit into your lower back curve. Then sit as far back as possible in the chair so that the lumbar support fills your lower back curve. That puts you in the perfect position to deploy a neutral sitting position:

Neutral sitting position for health
Adult, child, and standard neutral sitting posture examples.

  1. Feet planted on the floor.
  2. Knees bent at around 90° with thighs parallel to the floor.
  3. Back straight.
  4. Elbows bent at 90° with forearms parallel to the floor.

To ensure the best ergonomic support, make sure to choose a chair appropriate for your size. Check out our Gaming Chair Sizing Guide for details. After buying, make sure to use your chair correctly. The human body adapts to the positions it spends most time in. If you sit full-time for a living, it’s a great opportunity to achieve perfect posture while you sit. Check out our User Guide to learn more. Get yourself started on an incredible journey of health, wellness, and productivity:

Gaming chair ergonomic user guide

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