If you experience back pain, then you know how uncomfortable it can be to sit down. Regular activities like driving or working at a desk can be particularly tough to handle. The best seat cushions for back pain may offer some relief so that you can sit with greater ease as you go about your day, but it's hard to know which ones are the real deal — which is why I reached out to three experts to learn more about how seat cushions can address back pain.
Dr. Eric Robertson, PT, DPT, told Bustle in an interview, "Generally back pain is very different from one person to the next," (aka what provides relief for one person may not for another), but a specialized seat cushion is certainly worth a try. Dr. Karena Wu, PT, DPT, explained to Bustle that one of the main benefits of a seat cushion is that it can reduce compression in the spine, which can help to provide back pain relief. Dr. Wu specifically mentioned that these cushions can be helpful if you have pain from arthritis, since the cushion "will reduce the compressive load which means there can potentially be more space in between the joints or bones." Pain caused from sciatica or herniated discs could possibly be helped by a seat cushion, too. That said, while a seat cushion could offer significant pain relief, it's always a good idea to consult a medical professional if you are experiencing severe or chronic pain.
Seat cushions for back pain are typically available in two shapes: a flat cushion and a contoured U-shaped cushion, sometimes called a coccyx seat cushion. For back pain, Dr. Wu recommends selecting a contoured cushion since a flat cushion provides only a softer sitting surface, while a contoured one also "helps maintain a good posture and relieves the pressure in the tailbone area."
Cushions come in a few different materials, and it’s worth considering which might best suit your needs. Memory foam and gel are the two most common options, and are sometimes combined.
Memory foam: Memory foam is a good material for a seat cushion because it contours to your body, Dr. Wu explained. Robert A. Hayden, DC, PhD, FICC, told Bustle that memory foam seat cushions are one of his favorites, but that the material also has some drawbacks. "The downside might be that when they have some age on them, memory foam seat cushions may sag like a mattress might," he explained. Memory foam cushions also tend to trap heat, so they can quickly get warm.
Gel: Seat cushions made from gel boast many positive features. "Gel seat cushions stay cooler, are durable, lightweight, and can be cleaned easily," explained Dr. Wu. Gel and memory foam have different textures, though both mold to the shape of your body while you sit, so it ultimately comes down to choosing the material that feels best to you.
Before selecting a seat cushion, you'll also want to consider how thick you'd like your cushion to be. Cushion thickness typically ranges between 1 and 4 inches. Thicker cushions might seem luxurious, but there’s something to be said for thinner cushions, too. Dr. Hayden pointed out that "if the cushion is too thick, it may push you to the edge of the seat or actually cause misalignment of spinal segments." That said, all bodies are different, and a thicker cushion might be right for some people.