Recommendations for low sitting tolerance due to back surgery

One of our ergonomic consultants conducted an assessment for a support analyst for a cable company, who had very recently returned to work after a year and a half of recovery from a lower back injury. This individual had to undergo back surgery about 6 months prior to returning to work, which involved fusing the L4-L5-S1 vertebrae (which is in the tailbone area). Because of the surgery, the client can only tolerate walking for about 20 minutes and sitting for extended periods of time leads to discomfort. Additionally, the client has edema in her lower legs and feet, and feels numbness along the lateral side of her left leg that extends under her foot and last three toes.  Walking induces painful cramping in the left foot. To reduce some of her symptoms, she uses physiotherapy, acupuncture, and IMS treatment.

Before recommending a product, it’s important to understand the tasks that the client performs at work. The position entails daytime shift work where she is required to be at her desk for the majority of her workday as her tasks are computer and phone-based. Additionally, she cannot be away from her desk longer than one hour per day, however she is allowed a half hour lunch break and two fifteen minute breaks during her shift.  While the cable company’s technicians are on the road, they call in to the client when installing internet and cable television equipment to provide her with information regarding their location, equipment serial numbers, and other relevant information.  The client then enters this information into a database to activate the equipment and service.

Obviously, because the position involves a lot of sitting, the client needs some type of intervention that will allow her to stay working at her job with reduced discomfort. One of the products that she reports has been helping her a great deal is the use of a coccyx cut-out pillow at home. The pillow is designed to take the pressure off the tailbone area when sitting, which otherwise can be quite painful. As it has been found that individuals with similar injuries who use a chair with a coccyx cut-out benefit both short and long term, this was recommended for the client.  While it would be easy to think that any regular pillow might do the trick, the coccyx cut-out is preferred because regular pillows are thicker, slide around, and raise the person higher than the chair is designed for. This ends up resulting in improper placement of the back support features of a chair.

Further recommendations for the client regarding the chair with the coccyx cut-out were the ability to have an adjustable seat height, backrest angle, seat pan angle, seat slider, lumbar support height, and height adjustable armrests.

As always, we highly recommend that the client has an opportunity to trial the chair before it gets purchased. Many times a manufacturer will allow a product to be tested first so it’s worth asking.

If you have any employees who may be returning to work after an injury, you may want to make sure that their workstation will accommodate that injury instead of further aggravating it – leading to more time off needed. Give us a call to arrange an assessment or just ask advice at 780-436-0024 or email us at