Are lumbar pillows effective and useful? What about non memory foam options? Best additional lumbar supports explained
If you’ve seen a gaming chair or a long distance driver, you might have noticed something that seems like a little pillow that sits at the end of the chair, called a lumbar pillow. These additional back supports provide comfort if your chair does not have any inbuilt lumbar support, such as non-ergonomic office chairs, dining chairs, wheelchairs, car seats, etc.
While it’s generally true that a lumbar pillow will help straighten the spine to fit your natural spine curvature, there are many factors that go into the effectiveness and the quality of these additional supports. If you own an ergonomic chair, you shouldn’t require these generally speaking.
Without any sort of lumbar support, you could be susceptible to...
- Back muscles will fatigue from pressure and time, starting to slouch
- Slouching will increase the pressure on your spinal discs
- Prolonged pressure on your disc could lead to hernia or slipped discs, possibly even rupturing
There are a lot of lumbar pillows out on the market, ranging anywhere from RM10 to RM600. They are made from a wide range of material, such as memory foams, polyester mesh, high resilience foam etc. So how do you pick them?
What to look for when choosing external lumbar supports
Try and pick something that is airy, due to our Malaysian weather. Memory foam without a solid frame behind it will just lead it being squashed and unable to support the curvature of the spine. Mesh supports that seem spread out will deform and lose its shape very quickly. It’s best to pick something that feels rather solid, but will contour to your body shape.
Avoid anything that has Polyurethane Foam (PU Foam), as it’s the lowest quality of foam and will deform easily. Also avoid cheap mesh or thin plastic frames, as they are unable to support the body in a prolonged period, it tends to wear out quickly after a few weeks.
Filling and breathability
If your lumbar support has a filling Most lumbar support pillows on the market today are filled with memory foam, which conforms to the curve of the spine to provide customized support where you need it most.
Another popular filling type for lumbar support pillows is natural buckwheat hull, which offers excellent support for the spine while soothing the tense muscles of the lower back.
Other filling types, such as polyester and polyfill, may not provide the firmness and structure needed to maintain proper alignment of the spine and relieve lower back pain. If you spend a lot of time sitting at your desk or live in a warmer climate, you’ll want to ensure your lumbar support cushion is covered with a breathable material.
You’ll also want to look for lumbar cushions made with a fabric that has moisture-wicking properties.
Seeing as there are many shapes and sizes for the lumbar supports, it's best to ask yourself where you most likely see these supports being used.
If you’re traveling often, a carry on lumbar pillow will do wonders on those 8 hour flights.
For something cheap and light, a mesh option (though note you would have to replace as the mesh can get loose).
For something more permanent, an almost full back lumbar support would be preferred, such as for your office chair, or even wheelchair.
Lumbar cushions/pillows are generally cylindrical shaped, while mesh and mixed materials tend to be more contoured in shape, designed like a small hill to support the mid and lower back.
The most popular shapes for modern support pillows are:
- Wedge designs, which are characterized by their narrow top and wider bottom
- Half-moon shapes, which feature a D-shaped contour that relieves pressure in the lower spine, neck, and legs
- Contoured designs, which are intended to support both the mid and lower back.
While it's pretty generic to say that the higher the price, the better the comfort or durability, the truth is it comes down mostly to the material used. It's why lumbar pillows can range from RM5-RM500, it’s all in the material.
Avoid buying anything that is under RM100, and try to see if they list the material specification anywhere. Quality lumbar supports will always list its material and specifications, while cheaper goods will try to obscure that information.
Ergoland’s Top Recommendation for each category:
Foam lumbar support:
The Everlasting Comfort Memory Foam Back Cushion has a reasonable ergonomic shape, with lots of reviews for its sturdy memory foam. It’s replaceable cover also makes it convenient for cleaning.
Mesh lumbar support:
The Big Hippo Mesh Series lumbar support has the qualities we do like, such as reinforced material for the mesh, as well as enough frames to support the backrest without losing its shape. The unique wooden bead massage design is rather similar to the wooden beads foot massager, and can be a bit too stiff for people with sensitive backs.
Mixed Material Lumbar support (Recommended):
The Ultraback 125 from Comfpro has the benefits of the mesh, while offering the comfort of foam, and providing adjustability that either options generally don’t have. While you can generally adjust the height of the lumbar support, the Ultraback allows you to adjust the strength of the support, something only mixed elastic materials can do.
In conclusion, we recommend a lumbar support that is not made from memory foam, firm, and made to contour towards the shape of the spine such as the Ultraback 125 for the Malaysian consumer.