Many office workers often spend the majority of their day either seated at a desk in front of a computer or in a conference room attending meetings or making phone calls. While these may not seem like dangerous activities (despite all the talk of sharks around the office) they may actually be causing serious and irreparable damage to your body and even shortening your lifespan. This is due in no small part to the fact that many office workers and employers don’t understand the fundamentals of ergonomics or the damage that can be caused by poor posture and extended periods of inactivity. Research has shown that people who spend 6 or more hours a day sitting have a greater risk of developing cancer, heart disease, obesity, type 2 diabetes, muscular issues and depression among other serious conditions which means choosing a chair that provides proper support and reduces strain can quite literally be a life and death decision. However, you don’t have to spend thousands of dollars on a “top of the line” office chair that looks like it was stolen from the starship Enterprise to improve your posture and reduce your health risks.
When shopping for office chairs one must realize that not all are created equal, just because a chair has the word “ergonomic” in the name doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to provide you with the necessary adjustments and support of a true ergonomic solution. Here are some considerations to make before deciding on your next seating purchase.
“Do you even want a chair?”
This may seem like a silly question at first but if you consider all of the seating and non-seating options available today it would be even sillier to not explore the alternatives. There is a growing trend of standing and variable height desks that can almost completely eliminate the need for a chair (except for breaks of course) and even be paired with soft mats or balance boards that, well, improve balance. Many seating alternatives to the traditional office chair are also widely available, the Zenergy Ball Chair and the Pogo Stool are excellent examples of non-traditional ergonomic seating that can improve posture and core strength without the larger price tag of a new standing height desk.
Points of adjustment
As we stated above, not all chairs are created equal, that is to say some chairs may only provide 1 or 2 points of adjustability while others provide 4+ to more adequately accommodate people of different shapes, sizes, heights and weights. If you are purchasing an ergonomic chair the basic adjustments that you should be able to make are…
- Seat height/tilt– This is very crucial for good posture, you should be able to raise and lower your seat so that you can comfortably place your feet flat on the ground with your arms level to your desk and your thighs parallel to the floor. The average chair has a seat height that is adjustable between 16 and 22 inches but for especially tall or large people, Big & Tall options are much more comfortable and accommodating. The tilt of the seat should also be adjustable to offer multiple sitting positions throughout the day.
- Lumbar support– Perhaps the most important point of adjustability, the lumbar is an inward-curving section of the lower spine consisting of 5 unfused vertebrae (vertebrae L1 through L5). This section of the spine receives the most stress and supports the weight of the entire upper body. That being said it is also the most susceptible to damage and injury caused by poor posture and stress. A proper lumbar support should be adjustable to support this inward curve and prevent the straightening of the lower vertebrae which can cause extreme strain and discomfort, not to mention long-term damage.
- Armrests– Optimally an armrest should adjust to allow you to relax your shoulders and lightly rest your elbows without your forearms touching the armrest while typing.
- Back rest– The height and angle of your backrest should be independently adjustable with a width of approximately 18” to evenly distribute weight across the back and provide maximum lumbar support.
- Swivel– All office chairs should be able to swivel or rotate to allow for easy access to different areas of the workspace.
No chair is an all-in-one solution.
While adjusting your chair is a major factor in the ergonomics of your work space it is equally important that you adjust your own body as well. The human body is designed for motion and staying seated without changing position can be hazardous even in the most well designed chair. Changing your position regularly throughout the day will ensure that none of your muscle groups suffer from inactivity and your joints won’t stiffen. For best results adopt a daily routine that includes regular exercise and keep your posture in mind. For more information, check out our previous article “Sitting At Work” or check out our inventory at Skutchi.com for ergonomic seating and desk solutions.