Gaming chairs come with adjustable lumbar support systems. Some chairs have integrated support while others use pillows. In both cases, proper usage is essential for healthy, pain-free healthy sitting. Conversely, improper usage promotes slouching. That leads to lower back pain. Luckily, lumbar support best practices exist to boost energy and avoid pain. These harness biomechanical realities to make good sitting posture feel natural and effortless.
Every desk worker and hard-core gamer faces the same problem. Sitting for long periods without lumbar support is bad for your health. Doing so will tilt the pelvis and flatten the lower back curve. Over time, the body will adapt to this mutated position.
Then, muscles in the back and shoulders that hold the spine straight get underworked. As a result, they atrophy. That shortens hip flexors, curls the spine into a ‘c’ shape, and hunches the shoulders.
In contrast, sitting with pressure applied to the lower back triggers a reflex. For example, a doctor can tap your patellar tendon to elicit a knee-jerk reflex reaction. In a similar fashion, lower back pressure in a seated position reflexively straightens the upper back!
However, many new gaming chair users struggle to use their lumbar support properly. When set too high, a pillow will bend your upper back into a slouch. If set too low, it will curl your hips forward until your spine looks like a banana peel!
In contrast, proper usage will straighten the back, strengthen the core, and supercharge performance. Here’s the gist:
Gaming Chair Lumbar Usability Tips
Like all types of ergonomic chairs, gaming chairs are designed to support neutral sitting positions. To achieve a neutral posture, you first need to plant your feet firmly on the floor. Then, use the armrests to support your arm and shoulder muscles.
Most importantly, position the lumbar pillow to support your lower back. Setting too high or low will encourage slouching. Setting it properly will reflexively straighten your spine, making it easy to sit in a neutral position.
Among all sitting positions, neutral ones exert the least stress on the lower back, shoulders, and neck(1). That reduces muscle strain.
As a result, users can sit comfortably for long periods without issue! Then, health, happiness, and productivity can skyrocket!
Traditional Lumbar Pillow
The most common type of gaming chair lumbar support is the traditional pillow. These usually attach to straps that hold it against the backrest. To use, slide the pillow up or down until it fits into the small of your back.
Once in place, sitting up straight in a crisp neutral position should feel effortless. If back pain arises, check for problems with the height or depth of the pillow.
Lumbar Pillow Height
The average human spinal column is around 28 inches for men and around 24 inches for women(2). For men, a chair’s lumbar support should be around 7.5 inches above the seat. For women, it should fit around 5.5 inches higher than the seat.
New users may need a few days to find their sweet spot. Use these pointers:
- Lumbar pillow too low: forces the hips forward instead of filling the back curve. Ultimately causes lower back pain.
- Lumbar pillow too high: generates tightness in the lower back and slouching in the upper back.
- Pillow at perfect height: fills the lower back curve and reflexively straightens the spine.
Lumbar Pillow depth
Like all padded gaming chair parts, lumbar pillows are quite dense when new. As a result, they often don’t compress. That can leave a huge gap between your spine and the backrest.
This works ok at supporting neutral postures, but only at a 6/10 level. You’ll get more comfortable and consistent support with your back flat against the backrest. To achieve this with a cheap lumbar pillow, I used this method:
- Remove the lumbar cushion from your gaming chair.
- Step repeatedly on the pillow as if you were making wine. Then, stuff it under your mattress for a few hours. That will make it squishier.
- Re-attach the lumbar pillow to your gaming chair. It should have become malleable enough to compress. If so, your spine will lay directly against the backrest.
This method works well at reducing the gap between your spine and the backrest. It’s fast, easy, and free.
Depth-adjustable Integrated Lumbar
These days, gaming chairs with integrated lumbar support systems are very popular. Instead of a pillow, most have internal systems with depth control. Turn a knob on the side of the chair to increase or lower support depth.
These systems have advantages and disadvantages. On the plus side, having depth control ensures perfect contact between your spine and the backrest — without gaps.
On the downside, most integrated systems only let you adjust the depth of support, but not the height. That is problematic if the chair isn’t suited for your size.
For example, the Secretlab Titan 2020 Series 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.
Height-adjustable integrated lumbar systems
As of Q1 2022, only two gaming chairs offer depth and height-adjustable integrated lumbar systems.
DXRacer Master Series
The DXRacer Master Series offers manual height adjustment. To toggle, open up the backrest and loosen four screws.
The process takes around 5 minutes using a 13″ wrench and an Allen key.
Secretlab Titan 2022 Series
The Secretlab Titan EVO 2022 Series comes in small, medium, and XL sizes. All come packed with high-end features including the best integrated lumbar support on the market.
On the right side of each chair is a typical depth adjustment dial. For the 2022 Series, Secretlab has also added a height adjustment knob. Turn the dial on the left side of the chair to set the perfect height for your spine. Learn more in this detailed review:
Memory Foam Lumbar Pillow Hack
Proper lumbar support is the most important gaming chair component for healthy sitting. If your chair’s lumbar support isn’t up to par, don’t give up. Instead, upgrade to a memory foam lumbar pillow.
NASA invented this material in the 1960s as ‘slow spring back foam’. Its low resistance makes it soft and squishy. At the same time, it’s remarkably resilient.
When you apply pressure, it compresses to provide soft, luxurious support. When you remove the pressure, it springs back into its original shape. However, not all memory foam pillows work this way.
For example, on Amazon, the Everlasting Comfort Pillow ($39.99) is a popular memory foam pillow for office chairs. Like most Amazon memory foam products, it’s a solid, dense block.
Instead of compressing, it leaves a giant gap between your spine and the chair. It works but leaves your spine floating naked, supported only by the pillow. That defeats the purpose of having a chair with full-back support.
Secretlab Memory Foam Pillows
Secretlab makes memory foam lumbar pillows sized 11.4″ x 11.4″. These are by far the best lumbar support pillows I’ve ever tried. They work great with all types of gaming chairs and come in a wild array of styles.
The pillow is a big rectangular shape with a thick bottom and tapered top. It comes with a removable, machine-washable velour cover. Inside, Secretlab has fine-tuned the foam density to perfection.
Tuck your hips deep into your chair’s seat and then cuck the pillow behind you. Raise it a few inches higher than the seat to meet your lower back curve. Then lean back.
The pillow will compress enough to let your spine touch the backrest. At the same time, it will fill your lower back curve with squishy springiness.
After a year of use, mine still looks and works like new. I use it with DXRacer, Anda Seat, Secretlab, and many other chairs. In all of them, my Omega Edition pillow performs best.
As the popularity of these pillows caught on, Secretlab has built up an impressive collection of styles. Pillows exist depicting League of Legends, Harry Potter, Overwatch, and more. Check out our Secretlab Lumbar Pillow Review to explore the usability and style variations.
Available from Secretlab in North America, the EU and UK, Oceania, Singapore, and Malaysia.
Other Common Gaming Chair Pain Sources
If you’re suffering from pain in a gaming chair, try to fix the problem at its source. For example, many suffer lower back pain by setting their lumbar pillow too high or low. Other common problems involve sizing and usage:
Sizing problems that cause pain
If you use a gaming chair that doesn’t fit your body type, problems can emerge. Here are three common ones to look out for:
- Small user in an overly large chair: the lumbar and headrest won’t support your spinal curves.
- Short legs in an overly deep seat: if your seat edge touches the back of your knees, pain will emerge. An overly-deep seat usually leads to serious leg and back pain.
- Legs too short to plant your feet: many short people struggle to plant their feet when working at a standard-sized desk. This is easy to solve by adding a footrest.
Usability problems that cause pain
Improper usage of your chair’s features can also lead to pain issues. Here’s a summary of the most common problems:
- Sitting like a banana peel: the point of a gaming chair is to support neutral postures. If you ignore the point and sit in a deep slouch, you’ll lose the health benefits.
- Misconfigured lumbar support: setting the lumbar too low or high will encourage you to sit like a banana peel. Setting it properly will reflexively straighten your spine.
- Poor syncing of desk and chair heights: armrests too high or low will strain your neck and shoulders.
- Failure to move while sitting: strive for a fluid sitting style with frequent position changes. This boosts blood flow while keeping muscles (mildly) active.
To run through a full troubleshooting checklist, check this tutorial:
Failsafe: Physical Esports Therapy Online
When everything goes right, a gaming chair should make you forget that you’re sitting. With your spine aligned and muscles relaxed, you should feel comfortable in neutral positions for long periods.
If you suffer from any type of pain, it’s a sign that something is wrong. Our usability tips cover DIY lumbar fix options. If those fail, seeking help from a traditional doctor may prove futile.
For example, for research, ChairsFX has reached out to several chiropractors over the years. None showed any expertise on gaming chairs or gamer-related injuries. Luckily, a new form of physical telehealth has emerged to genuinely address gamer health.
Solve Back Pain With A Physical Therapist
Any type of pain while sitting is a symptom of misalignment. Something might be wrong in your workstation setup, or in the way you use it. If DIY efforts don’t help, consider online esports physical therapy as a last resort.
Early into 2022, prominent doctors specializing in esports injuries transitioned to offering telehealth services. That means you can book time with a real doctor specializing in esports-related injuries. Even if you’re not a gamer, their desk worker therapy methods are on the cutting-edge.
For example, Dr. Elliot Smithson is a physical therapist with 1-HP.org. They work with many of the world’s top esports teams. Most pro gamers make rapid, repetitive hand motions for long periods at high speeds.
As a result, Dr. Smithson cites wrist pain as the most common poor esports gaming injury. Neck and back pain is the second most common malady. Dr. Smithson says these pains are “caused by hours of maintaining poor forward head and rounded shoulder posture.
This pain can also radiate down into the arms and hands due to compression of nerves in the neck and shoulder. It’s important to see a health professional who can help you to differentiate the source of the pain.”
Bottom line: if DIY lumbar support fixes don’t help, online physical esports therapy can help:
The Biomechanics Of Healthy Sitting
The human body is not designed to sit for long periods. Doing so without support will tilt the pelvis forward and shorten the hip flexors. Over time, the body adapts to this position. As a result, users develop a perpetual slouch while sitting or standing.
Lumbar pressure applied to the small of a user’s spine counteracts pelvic rotation. This is why all types of ergonomic chairs come standard with adjustable lumbar support.
That’s why a healthy neutral posture looks the same in all types of ergonomic chairs. It doesn’t matter if you choose a gaming or office-style model.
In all types of chairs, properly-placed lumbar support triggers the same reflexive actions. Below we explain reflexive lumbar support aspects from practical and physiological perspectives.
Test Out Lumbar Biomechanics At Home
The easiest way to learn how lumbar support works is to try out some tests at home. First, sit down in a non-adjustable chair and try to sit straight. To achieve this, plant your feet firmly on the floor and push down with your legs.
Notice how pushing down with your legs provides the power to hold your upper back straight. Keep sitting this way until your back muscles tire. That should take between 5-15 minutes.
Once your back muscles give out, notice what your body does to compensate. First, your hips will curl forward. Then, the upper spine will wilt. That will curl your spine into an ugly “c” shape.
Homemade Lumbar Support
Next, try sitting down in a non-adjustable chair using whatever homemade lumbar support is available. You can use a rolled-up towel (works ok), a rolled-up yoga mat (works better), or a weightlifter’s lumbar belt (works the best).
With just a slight amount of pressure in the lower back, reflexes kick in. As a result, sitting up straight becomes a lot easier.
Lifting Belt Lumbar Similarity
A gaming chair lumbar support concept is similar to a weightlifting belt. When lifting, wearing a belt reduces upper back flexion(3). 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.
Wearing a belt also causes the lifter to be more aware of their back position. The physical sensation of a belt against the skin keeps the lifter in tune with their body.
A Flattened Lumbar Misaligns The Body
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.
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.
For instance, around 80% of American adults suffer from anterior pelvic tilt(4). 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.
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.
Optimal Lumbar Spine Biomechanics
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.)(5). 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.
In 2009, a team of researchers sought out the optimal seated lumbar position. In Seeking the Optimal Posture of the Seated Lumbar Spine(1), several facts were made clear:
- When standing, the optimal lordotic angle is between 20-45 degrees.
- Unsupported sitting reduces lumbar lordosis by 50%. It also increases intradiscal pressure at the third lumbar vertebra by 40%.
- When sitting with a back angle of 110° and a lumbar support 4 cm deep, lumbar lordosis averages a healthy 47° angle.
- 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.
- A sustained lordotic sitting position decreases disc pressure and thereby disc degeneration.
The chair has two essential roles in this configuration. Those are to maintain lumbar lordosis and allow alternating postures.
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.
Lumbar Support Promotes Neutral Postures
The ergonomic industry is in consensus that a neutral posture is the healthiest way to sit for long periods. Neutral postures look the same in all types of ergonomic chairs:
With a flattened lumbar, the upper body tends to sag forward. A healthy lower back curve prevents that. Therefore, adjust the lumbar pillow to fit your lower back curve.
Then lean your body weight into the backrest. Mild lumbar pressure combined with a tall backrest will make slouching feel awkward and uncomfortable. That yields an upright sitting posture ideal for long periods of healthy computing.
Once your lumbar support is optimized, follow these steps to sit in a clean neutral posture:
- Feet planted on the floor.
- Knees bent at around 90° with thighs parallel to the floor.
- Back straight.
- Elbows bent at 90° with forearms parallel to the floor.
Master the art of neutral sitting in 2-3 days using this tutorial:
Office Chair Lumbar Support Types
If you don’t like racing-style gaming chairs, an ergonomic office chair is the best alternative. Within the entire genre, two types of lumbar support systems stand out.
Herman Miller Posturefit
The Herman Miller Aeron chair has reigned as the ergonomic gold standard since 1994. One of its many highlights is the world’s most advanced lumbar support system.
The Aeron’s PostureFit has two pressure pads that support the lumbar and sacral-pelvic areas. The former maintains a healthy lumbar curve. The latter nudges your pelvis into the right position to prevent slouching.
You can adjust the depth of each pad, but not the height. Thus you need to choose a small, medium, or XL chair size to ensure a proper fit. Once configured, this support makes it almost impossible to slouch! On the downside, the Aeron costs $1445 from Herman Miller. Even so, it comes with a rock-solid 12-year warranty. Spreading the cost of the Aeron over 12 years makes it a lot more palatable.
If you’re looking for the absolute best desk chair lumbar support, this is it! See below how the Aeron stacks up against other Herman Miller classics:
Height + Depth-Adjustable Lumbar
Surprisingly, a lot of cheap ergonomic office chairs come with robust lumbar support systems. Most come with a sliding height-adjustable unit and depth-adjustable pad.
For example, the Sihoo Ergonomic Chair costs $309.99 on Amazon. It meets ergonomic guidelines with 1D armrests, a reclining backrest, and an adjustable lumbar. You can manually adjust the support up and down while adjusting the depth using a dial on the back of the chair.
Its lumbar works like the Sihoo chair’s, although with a bit more polish. As you slide higher up the pricing scale, the technology remains the same, but with more luxury and attention to detail.
When standing, the normal lumbar lordotic angle (LLA) in men and women is between 20-45 degrees(6). Unsupported sitting reduces lumbar lordosis by 50%. At the same time, it increases intradiscal pressure at the third lumbar vertebra by 40%.
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.
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:
- Feet planted on the floor.
- Knees bent at around 90° with thighs parallel to the floor.
- Back straight.
- Elbows bent at 90° with forearms parallel to the floor.
- Jennifer Pynt, Martin G Mackey, ‘Seeking the Optimal Posture of the Seated Lumbar Spine’. Physiotherapy Theory and Practice 17:5, 2001, https://www.researchgate.net/publication/224029048_Seeking_the_Optimal_Posture_of_the_Seated_Lumbar_Spine, (accessed 9 Jan. 2022).
- Frederick M. Azar MD. ‘Infections and Tumors of the Spine’, Campbell’s Operative Orthopedics, 2021. https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/neuroscience/vertebral-column (accessed 9 Jan. 2022).
- Jim Stoppani, Ph.D. ‘3 Key Benefits Of Wearing A Weightlifting Belt’. bodybuilding.com, 19 September, 2018. https://www.bodybuilding.com/content/3-key-benefits-of-wearing-a-weightlfting-belt.html (accessed 9 Jan. 2022).
- Lee Herrington. ‘Assessment of the degree of pelvic tilt within a normal asymptomatic population’. Manual Therapy, Volume 16, Issue 6, December 2011, Pages 646-648. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1356689X11000816 (accessed 9 Jan. 2022).
- Kaja Kastelic, et al., ‘Sitting and low back disorders : an overview of the most commonly suggested harmful mechanisms’, Collegium Antropologicum 42(1):73-79, March 2018. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/336210444_Sitting_and_low_back_disorders_an_overview_of_the_most_commonly_suggested_harmful_mechanisms, (accessed 3 Jan. 2022).
- R M Lin, et al. ‘Lumbar lordosis: normal adults’. J Formos Med Assoc. 1992 Mar. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/1354697/ (accessed 9 Jan. 2022).