How to Choose an Ergonomic Chair 2017
How to Choose Ergonomic Seating
Many of us spend the majority of our waking hours sitting — at our work desk, behind the wheel of a car, at the kitchen table, on the couch at the end of a long day. Not surprisingly, then, sitting-related pain and injuries (of the lower back and elsewhere) are a common and costly problem for office workers and the public at large. Ergonomic seating options offer hope that such pain and discomfort can be mitigated, but just because a chair is marketed as “ergonomic” doesn’t mean it is right for you. While there are general measurements and principles that can help you choose ergonomic seating, it is important to remember that seating comfort is as individualized as we are.
Choosing an Ergonomic Desk Chair
Find the right fit for you.While it’s hard to beat the convenience of ordering an office chair from a website or catalog, “try before you buy” is definitely the better way to go when it comes to ergonomic seating. Gather all the evidence and advice you can, but in the end make the choice based on your needs and your comfort.
- For instance, the ergonomic seating diagram available at is a good starting point, but don’t assume that your ideal chair will exactly match its measurements and details.
Take chair measurements.Due to the prevalence of sitting-related injuries, as well as their negative impacts on worker productivity and healthcare costs, there is ample research available regarding ergonomic seating. These studies have established certain chair measurements that tend to make them more ergonomic. Remember, however, that your body needs to be the final judge.
- The seat of the chair should be about 17 inches high if fixed in place, or 15”–24” if adjustable. The “seat pan” should be 16.5” (fixed) or 14”–18.5” (adjustable) in depth, and 20”–22” in width (or wide enough to allow at least one inch per side beyond your seated hips).
- The backrest should be 12”–19” wide, and high enough to support your entire back, at least to the shoulders if not beyond.
- If the chair has armrests, they should be adjustable and 7”–11” above the compressed seat height (that is, the top of the seat pan when you’re sitting on it).
- While not as precise of a measurement, when seated, you should be able to fit your fist between the back of your knee and the front of the seat pan (with your back against the backrest).
- To convert inches to centimeters, multiply by 0.39.
Establish your seating angles.While you might assume that sitting perfectly upright would be the ideal position, it turns out that a slight recline can substantially reduce the amount of pressure placed upon the discs in your back. A seat back that leans back about 15–20 degrees (105–110 degrees from parallel with the ground), and perhaps even up to 30 degrees, is likely to be more comfortable.
- Although a slight recline places less pressure on the discs, it’s important not to lean backtoo much. Leaning back too much may be better for the disc, but it also leads to a change in the position of the neck, putting the neck in slight extension. This can often lead to shortened muscles and eventually muscle pain and tension headaches.
- While on the topic of angles, your knees should be bent at right angles (90 degrees) when seated. The angle at your hip should be just slightly beyond a right angle, to accommodate the slight recline in you back positioning.
Don’t forget your feet.Use all the measurements and angles as a guide, but prioritize some simple observations when determining your ideal seat. For instance, when seated, your feet should be able to be (and actually be) planted firmly and flat on the floor. Your knees should be level with the seat pan, and your lower back against the seat back (or lumbar support).
- If you can’t find a comfortable and supportive chair that lets your feet rest flat on the floor, utilize a flat footrest attachment.
Prefer an adjustable chair with simple controls.Adjustable chairs are usually the better choice, as they permit personalization to meet your unique body type and comfort needs. That said, some ergonomic chairs have so many complicated adjustment controls (manual or electronic) that they are often not used properly.
- Take a little time to figure out how the levers, pedals, buttons, etc. on the chair work before you begin using it regularly. Know how to adjust it to your comfort specifications, instead of having to fiddle around with it while you’re juggling a half-dozen other tasks.
Take breaks from sitting.Experts say you should give an ergonomic chair a “test sit” of one to two hours before deciding if it is right for you. Ideally, that should also be the maximum amount of time that you ever sit in the chair thereafter without getting up to take an on-your-feet break.
- No matter how well-designed a chair may be, sitting increases pressure on the discs in your back and can hinder blood flow to your legs. Simply standing up reduces these problems and burns substantially more calories; actually moving around a bit is even better.
- Give yourself an excuse and/or a reminder to get up every hour or so and move around a bit. Your comfy chair will be there waiting for you when you get back. Consider setting a timer on your computer to remind you to get up from your desk for a few minutes every hour.
Making Other Ergonomic Seating Choices
Consider desk chair alternatives.You may have seen or heard of standing desks or treadmill desks, which get you off your backside and on your feet while doing desk work. If sitting is preferable or medically advisable for you, however, there are several desk chair alternatives that may offer ergonomic benefits.
- Kneeling seats literally put you on your knees, which padded rests for your knees and arms. Seating balls are akin the giant rubber balls you know from childhood or yoga class, and allow you to sit while remaining slightly in motion. Saddle seats are designed for you to straddle (like riding a horse) with your feet planted on the ground.
- There is less clear evidence regarding the comfort and health benefits of these chair alternatives, however. It may simply come down to personal preference.
Don’t forget about your furniture.There’s a decent chance that you spend as much time on your living room couch as in your office chair (maybe even more time), yet few people give much thought to ergonomics when selecting home furnishings. Home furnishings designers and shoppers tend to prioritize style above all else, so most pieces — like soft, plush couches that you sink into — are ergonomically-unfriendly.
- You might be able to find furniture designed with ergonomics in mind if you search widely (and are willing to pay more), but you can also keep some general principles in mind while shopping. Look for pieces that have firm cushioning, allow you to put your feet flat on the ground while your back is against the backrest, and put your body in an upright position (ears over shoulders over hips).
- Think of furniture shopping like shoe shopping — go for styleandcomfort. Try out a piece for 20 minutes or more before deciding.
Get comfortable in your car.Some car manufacturers now advertise their ergonomically-designed seats, but often your comfort and back health while sitting in a car boil down to some simple adjustments. Your individual physical characteristics also play a role — a jockey and an NBA center are never going to be perfectly comfortable driving the same car.
- When driving, adjust your seat so that: your hips and knees are level; you can push in the pedals fully without your back coming off the seat back; the center of the steering wheel is about 10–12 inches from your breastbone; your back is reclined about 10-20 degrees past upright; the headrest touches the middle of the back of your head; your tailbone is as far back in the seat as possible; the seat cushion does not hit the back of your knees.
- As with any other type of seating, get up regularly (after stopping the car, of course!) to move around and refresh your mind and body.
Video: Science in choosing an office chair - Ergonomics & Therapod Chair
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