What to Look for in an Office Chair
Nine tips on how to make the best selection.
I recently helped a friend setup her home office. She had all the things a modern “healthy” office should have. Variable lighting, non-glare computer screens, a desk that can be raised and lowered so she can stand while working and even a selection of plants to make it more relaxing. But when it came to picking out an office chair, I didn't have a clue of what to look for. So I did what I often do in situations like that, I started digging through the clinical research.
For as much time as people spend sitting in chairs, there's been surprisingly little research done to figure out what's best. In fact, in one study published in a 2003 issue of Ergonomics magazine, the author came to a startling conclusion.
He said, “Many ergonomics features that are supposed to relieve discomfort in sitting are indistinguishable because they cannot be perceived. This is due to poor proprioceptive feedback from ligaments, joints and the spine. The joints are relatively insensitive to small changes in angle, and the spine cannot sense differences in pressure due to different body postures. Aesthetics features on the other hand, and features related to comfort and relaxation, are easier to perceive and differentiate.”
In simple language what that means is, don't worry about ergonomic features that don't directly make a chair more comfortable. Pay attention to chairs that feel comfortable and look good. Earlier research revealed that the primary areas where people feel discomfort is in the low back and lower arms. So whatever chair you choose, should be designed to provide support and comfort to your low back and lower arms. With that in mind, here's a list of features that actually mattered.
Adjustable Height. To accommodate people from 5'0" to 6'4", the chair must be able to adjust from 15 to 22 inches off the floor. The chair is properly adjusted for you when your feet are flat on the floor, your knees are bent at a ninety degree angle and your arms are even with the height of the desk.
Proper Width. A typical seat is 17 to 20 inches wide and that will fit most users. However if you're on the heavier side, you might need an extra wide chair or one that has arm rests that move to accommodate you.
Proper Depth. The depth should be enough that when your back is against the backrest, you still have about 2 to 4 inches between the back of your knees and the seat of the chair. If it's too deep, your legs will prevent you from using the backrest and your back will quickly tire. Too shallow and it won't provide enough support for your legs.
Back/Lumbar Support. The lower back has an inward curve to it. If you're sitting for long periods without that being supported, your posture tends to suffer. When you slouch, lower back pain or even sciatica can be the result. Look for chairs with a lumbar adjustment so you can properly fit it to the curve of your lower back. The suggested size is 12 to 19 inches wide and it should be adjustable in both height and depth.
Tilt or Recline. A chair that reclines can relieve pressure on your lower back. If you plan on sitting for long periods, look for chairs that can recline between 110 and 130 degrees. You may want to change how far the chair tilts over the course of a day, so look for chairs where this adjustment is easy to make.
Armrests. If you have them, they should be adjustable in both height and width. You want to be able to swing them in to support your arms when typing, or swing them out if you need more room. They should also provide cushioned support if you plan on typing for long periods. Avoid armrests that are too narrow or they may cut into your arms, too firm or your hands may fall asleep.
Padding. Sit in the chair and move around. The padding should be thick enough so that you don't feel any hard surfaces beneath. If you have a choice of padding, look for materials with a longer life so they don't break down too quickly.
Seat Material. Vinyl and leather coverings tend to be easier to clean and can resist spills. However they don't breathe well and can get hot and moisture laden. Cloth may breathe well, but can be difficult to clean. Cloth over foam can become a trap for dust mites if not treated regularly. Mesh seats can eliminate a dust mite problem, but tend to be stiff. Sit on the chair for at least 10-20 minutes to make sure it doesn't make your butt sore before committing to it.
Chair base. Almost all office chairs have wheels on them so they can move. Look for models that have at least five spokes so they're less prone to tip over. Sit in the chair and make sure it swivels and the casters glide freely. If your office has carpeting, you may need to put the chair on a mat or select wheels made specifically for carpet.
By carefully considering these suggestions, you'll get a chair that provides all the comfort and support you need.
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