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How to Choose an Office Chair, According to Science – 10 Factors to Consider

Don’t wait to feel tired and stiff after each day of work only to realize that it’s the fault of the office chair. Most times people overlook the poor construction of their office chair as the cause for back pain, stiffness, and an aching body. You need an ergonomic office chair, now more than ever, to get rid of tiredness and soreness.

If you spend whole work days sitting on your office desk, factors such as adjustability, seat size, swivel, and reclining adjustments is very important. So understanding the basics of an office chair before making final decision helps cut down costs. It also doesn’t impact physical and mental health in a negative way.

Choosing an office chair based on certain factors will help you eliminate the good from the bad. Plus, it’s harder for first-time buyers to stomach the price of ergonomic chairs unless they understand how important it is to invest in one.

With that said, here’s what you need to know about choosing an office chair before you make a final purchase.

1. Deciding On A Specific Type Of Chair

While modern chairs have become more comfortable and lighter, there are many types of chairs to choose from. To buy the best office chair for you, you need to know the kind of back support, lumbar support, positional support it has to offer. And these features can be based on the type of chair you’re willing to invest in.

No matter how captivating an office chair looks, knowing the pros and cons of each type is very important. Especially when you’re going to sit for longer hours on that particular office chair.

Ergonomic chairs: Ergonomic chairs are generally back supportive with plenty of adjustable features. They usually come with armrest, height, and headrest adjustability. This helps you maintain a healthy sitting posture as you work for longer hours in the office. On a side note, ergonomic chairs are recommended by many physicians for people struggling with spinal or lower back problems.

They promote proper blood circulation, pain relief, and an upright sitting position. And studies say that sitting correctly has a significant impact on overall health and well-being. It improves concentration, boosts creativity, and reduces daytime sleepiness and fatigue in healthy individuals. (1,2)

Ideal for: People who are constantly seated in one place for longer hours.

Task chairs: These are the most basic types of chairs available on the market. They don’t come with lumbar support or head support. Plus, sitting on a task chair for more than a few hours might lead to back pain and posture control issues. (3)

The advantages of sitting on task chairs is that they offer better mobility and are much lighter than other types of office chairs.

Ideal for: People who never stay put in one place for a long time. Task chairs are better suited for people who navigate around their workplace.

Mid-back chairs: Compared to task chairs, mid-back chairs offer better lumbar and back support. They’re close to ergonomic chairs, so sitting for 4-5 hours in a day would feel comfortable on a mid-back chair. A mid-back chair promotes your body’s natural spinal curve, forcing your shoulders and back to remain straight and upright.

Ideal for: People who sit for not more than 5 hours on an office chair. Mid-back chairs are also ideal for people with spinal strain problems as it allows to relieve pressure off of your shoulders, low back, and spine.

Full-back chairs: These are identical to ergonomic chairs. They offer complete back, spine, shoulder, and head support. The clear distinction between task, mid-back, and full-back chairs is that these offer neck support to sit comfortable all day long. Full-back chairs target your upper back to improve postural control and boost attentiveness.

This holds true for its firm footing, comfortable base, and accurate seat depth.

Ideal for: People who sit for at least 7-8 hours in a day. Full-back chairs are also ideal for increasing productivity and fighting tiredness during the day.

2. Is Your Office Chair Adjustable?

Knowing how adjustable and flexible an office chair is can help you choose the right one without flinching. If you’re spending more than 5 hours sitting on your office chair, you need to be able to adjust the seat height, lumbar support, and the armrests.

These adjustable features are what make an office chair accurate and durable. But most task chairs lack such height and arm adjustment features. So looking for a mid-back chair and full-back chair is critical.

With back support adjustments, according to one study, you can reduce muscle, spine, and back troubles. Among all the ways to address chronic back pain, buying an adjustable office chair is also one of them. (4)

This study also concluded that armrests play an important role in offering good body support. It helps the body sit upright without awkwardly leaning forward. While there’s plenty of research to support the importance of sitting upright, there are others ways to sit comfortably for longer. And this will only be possible with an adjustable office chair.

Here’s what you need to know about adjustability.

Seat height: According to one study, an adjustable seat height can put an end to neuromuscular strain and discomfort. Especially for those who practice prolonged sitting at the workplace. You should be able to lift and lower the seat base with the help of a knob that’s located directly under the seat. (5)

Most chairs offer a height adjustment of somewhere between 4 to 8 inches.

Seat pan depth: This is similar to adjusting the seat height, but a proper seat pan depth can minimize knee strain. Ergonomic chairs that allow the perfect lumbar curve when leaning back offer flexible seat pan depth. This is when you can adjust your seat pan depth to reduce stress and take the pressure off of your knees and ankles. (6)

Secure footing is important for proper circulation. Otherwise it causes muscle soreness and discomfort. (7)

3. Looking For Properly Padded Office Chairs

The material of the office chair’s seat should have enough foam padding to allow your muscles to relax for longer hours. A material that offers better breathability over firmness is good for your sitting posture. Most ergonomic chairs come with high-quality foam material for better comfort and lower body support.

Anything that allows the seat padding become too hot after hours of sitting can lead to major health concerns such as sweating and muscle stiffness. So the seat pan should be able to conform to your hips and thighs on both sides. This prevents muscle spasms and allows better weight distribution for prolonged sitting. (8)

Padded office chairs come in a variety of upholstery materials. The foam padding is usually made up of more breathable fabrics to alleviate thigh and hip strain. Customized office chairs consist of polyurethane foams, latex foams, and even some eco-friendly options for durability.

These materials withstand the common wear and tear and feel more snug and smooth when in contact with the skin.

Ultimately, you want padded chairs that are easy to clean in case of an accidental food or drink spill. Something that doesn’t attract moisture so it doesn’t have a powerful odor, especially in low humidity. And you should want an office chair that isn’t a dust mite powerhouse for a longer shelf life.

With that out of the way, you might want to stay away from cloth upholstery as they’re more likely to sink in, become warm, and attract dust mites. Selecting something close to vinyl has its incredible advantages.

4. Choosing The One With Lumbar Support

Some of you may not require lumbar support, but they help a great deal for the prevention and treatment of lower back pain. According to one study, prolonged sitting can cause lower back pain. But using lumbar support devices or a chair that offers lumbar support can reduce and treat the negative effects of sitting. (9)

Lumbar support devices long since been used for the treatment of chronic lower back pain and spinal problems. They have been proved to offer quantitative comfort and pain relief. Generally, people use lumbar support pillows on standard chairs to promote a more neutral spinal posture.

Due to advancement in technology and health awareness, manufacturers are building ergonomic chairs that come with excellent lumbar support. This is even better than having to separately purchase lumbar support pillows for standard chairs.

That said, you will find many types of lumbar support on office chairs. Some offer fixed support to prevent back strain and promote an upright sitting posture. While some offer adjustable lumbar support to fit different body types. The latter kind of lumbar support offers better back inclination than the former one.

A study on 4 different lumbar support adjustments concluded that the more versatile the support, the better influence it has on lower back pain and discomfort. (10)

From a performance perspective, lumbar supports also offer plenty of comfort to promote better blood circulation for the lower back, hips, thighs, and lower legs. An adjustable lumbar support system can correct posture control, increase energy, and increase blood flow to the brain.

5. Finding The Optimal Seat Height

Very few people find their right seat height based on how tall they are. The best office chairs are the ones that match your height preferences and allow you promote proper blood circulation. As mentioned above, secure footing is significant for overall health and well-being.

With the proper seat height, you should be able to press your feet firmly on the ground. But if you prefer buying a higher seat, buying a suitable footrest is necessary. This is because some office desks are taller than standard measures.

According to one study, the chair-seat can help increase or decrease lower-limb burden based on its height. The most comfortable chair-seat height is between 16 inches to 21 inches off the floor. This works for most office desks and should be able to keep your feet flat on the ground without straining. (11)

If you are still unsure your ideal seat height, here’s a quick tip for you. It will help you find the right desk-chair height without narrowing blood circulation to the brain.

That said, the traditional seat height should support a 90-degrees knee angle with the thighs parallel to the ground. This reduces leg swelling by 75%, according to a recent report. It also concluded that a higher seat height without adequate footrest can increase pressure on the knees and nerves that might lead to other health concerns. (12)

In simple words, your forearms and thighs must be parallel to the seat pan and the ground. That’s the ideal sitting position for people working in offices.

If the seat positioning is high: Without a footrest, your feet are positioned above the ground which puts pressure on the knees. You might extend your ankles to touch the ground or use your toes to touch the wheels of the chair. This increases pressure on the sensitive areas of your lower legs. And it cuts proper blood circulation to your legs which might lead to muscle swelling or discomfort.

If the seat positioning is low: It contributes to leg muscle inactivity by limiting proper spinal alignment and blood flow. A chair that’s too low can result in awkward knee bending. Plus, you may have to raise your knees higher than the hips, which puts pressure on the bones and joints.

The best solution to fighting chair height-related difficulties is opting for an office chair with adjustable seat height positions. This allows you to have full control on your lower back, hips, and knee movement. And it works for most people who want enough room to support all sitting positions.

6. How Wide Is The Backrest?

The ideal backrest of any office chair must be between 12 – 19 inches wide. This is because the backrest is designed to support the spinal curve and the lumbar region. What’s more important is that a backrest offers both upper and middle back support.

If you’re going to be sitting on the office chair for a long time, a backrest can help prevent injuries and muscle strain. According to one study, the health concerns of prolonged sitting might be controlled with proper backrest features. A wider backrest to support the full back and shoulder regions is ideal for most office workers. (13)

That said, the geometry of an office chair plays an important role at eliminating musculoskeletal disorders. This includes the material properties and the making of the chair. Hence, a study determined to important parameters that highly influence the amount of time spent seated on the office chair. One of them is proper backrest pressure distribution. (14)

The backrest width of any ergonomic chair can also be adjustable, moving in forward and back angles. These angles can be secured using a well-defined locking mechanism to will allow you sit at a comfortable backrest angle without discomfort.

According to one report, the optimal backrest angle for most office workers should be 100 to 110 degrees.

Having said that, there are other 3 levels of backrests that are measured in terms of height, and not width. They are:

Low-level: Low-level backrest only offer comfort to the lumbar region. They usually fall somewhere between 5 to 9 inches in height.

Medium-level: For complete shoulder support, office chairs with 26-inch high backrests seems most effective.

High-level: Ergonomic office chairs generally offer high-level backrests, supporting the head, neck, and spinal region. But these office chairs are more expensive and heavyweight than standard mid-level chairs. High-level backrests are 36 inches in height.

7. Picking The Right Armrests

The general idea behind armrests is that they support your forearms, elbows, and wrists while you work. A good office chair is one that comes with adjustable armrests that you can individually move to level with your sitting posture.

The effectiveness of armrests in the workplace can help reduce both minor and major musculoskeletal symptoms, a study suggests. Prolonged sitting, without proper office chair modifications, can do more harm than what one might expect.

It is said that armrests can help reduce muscle inactivity and pain. While also targeting to ease shoulder and back strain. Hence, some level of armrest adjustability in office chairs is important. (15)

Armrests are designed to support the shoulder, but they should not inhibit movement. If your armrest is getting in the way of your desk, adjusting it to a lower level can increase closeness to the desk for proper wrist action.

The ideal way to determine whether the armrest is right for is to ensure your forearm isn’t resting on the armrest while typing or writing on the work surface. This increases productivity and reduces shoulder and neck strain. (16)

Any ergonomic style office chair should have these armrest features:

  • An armrest should be able to pivot to avoid hunching the shoulders for better mobility.

  • If an armrest should come close to the work surface, restricting movement, it should have height adjustment features. A proper arm height can go a long way to reduce muscle soreness and lethargy.

  • An armrest must allow your forearms to remain parallel to the ground, especially when typing or writing on the work surface. This promotes a healthy seated position for prolonged sitting.

That’s all you need to know about the importance of armrests when choosing an office chair. The simple understanding behind office chair armrests is that they supposed to keep your forearms close to the horizontal work surface.

8. Do You Need A Stationary Or Mobile Office Chair?

Buying an office chair with wheels has different advantages than buying one without wheels. You must decide which type of chair, that is stationary or mobile chair, is most important for your line of work.

For example, if your work consists of handling two separate workstations that are a few feet away from each other, buying an office chair with wheels is apt. That said, if your work is more established in one position (if it’s a smaller workplace), then buying a stationary office chair can help you increase elbowroom.

Considering the floor surface of your workstation before choosing a type is also very important. If the floor is carpeted, buying an office chair with harder wheels can help with both navigation and stability on the mat.

On the other hand, if your office chair rests on a hard surface, buying lighter, rubber wheel office chair is beneficial. That said, let’s discuss each type and its features.

Stationary chairs: Stationary chairs are more heavyweight than mobile chairs. And since they come with no wheels or casters, moving them from one place to another can be a bit of a hassle. Prolonged sitting calls for certain chair adjustments such as backrest, reclining, armrest height, and seat height. All these factors do not exist in stationary chairs.

Hence opting for these is not such a good idea when you want better lumbar support and postural control.

Mobile chairs: Office chairs with proper wheels allow better comfort and mobility than stationary chairs. But not all mobile office chairs are created equal. You will find different castor wheels on different mobile chairs. Some office chairs come with 5 spokes that allow the chair to move more comfortable from point A to point B.

You’ll also want to think about buying an office chair with lockable wheels so the chair stays in one place until you physically move it.

9. Can Your Chair Tilt?

Buying an office that tilts can alleviate postural problems. It also helps your muscles relax while sitting for longer hours. Not many ergonomic chairs come with adjustable tilt options, but having this feature can improve posture.

When you’re sitting on an office chair, make sure your chair tilts to a slightly reclined, yet comfortable position. A chair tilt is when the backrest reclines backwards a certain degree. Some ergonomic chairs come with a tilt tensioner to increase or decrease the tilt pressure off of the backrest.

You might need a tilt tensioner to suit your body size and type and allow a comfortable reclining position, unlike many task office chairs. It’s important to reach the right reclining position and make sure there’s adequate backrest weight distribution while you are seated.

So what is a tilt tensioner?

A tilt tensioner helps you adjust your backward tilt resistance. The knob is located right under the chair seat on either side. It looks like a round knob that can easily be adjusted without too much effort. (17)

By turning the knob either clockwise or anti-clockwise can you adjust the pressure of the chair’s tilt. This promotes muscle relaxation and reduces stiffness.

There are two types of chair tilt adjustments. They are chair recline tilt and seat angle tilt adjustment. Here’s what you should know about both of them.

Chair recline tilt: The chair recline tilt adjusts the full chair either away or towards the floor. The tilt originates from a central point under the seat pan. So you can adjust the tilt in such a way that your feet will come off the floor. Or using the knees as the central pivot, you can allow your head and back to move toward the work surface, without losing balance and stability.

Seat angle tilt adjustment: This is where the chair-seat tils slightly forward toward the floor without putting too much pressure on the muscles. According to one report, this tilt adjustment improves spine alignment and blood circulation. It even opens up the chest muscles to encourage proper breathing and heartbeat. (18)

10. Do You Need A Special Ergonomic Chair?

Due to increased awareness and technological advancements, more and more people are opting for certain kinds of ergonomic chairs for increased comfort and body support. These are a great alternative to conventional chairs. And anyone can use them to improve posture and blood circulation.

On the other hand, there are many reasons why you might use an ergonomic chair over conventional chairs. Back pain, injury, muscle strain, and other work-related discomfort can be treated with the following types of ergonomic chairs.

Saddle ergonomic chair: A saddle ergonomic chair’s most common use is as a desk or a computer chair. It represents the perfect shape of a horse’s saddle. People sitting on a saddle chair gain the benefits of both standing and sitting. The legs feel more relaxed and stable when sitting on a saddle ergonomic chair.

These chairs come with versatile height adjustments to create a healthy posture.

Ideal for: People with severe lower back problems. It is also ideal for treating slouching problems found in most conventional office chairs. (19)

Kneeling ergonomic chair: Like the name suggests, there isn’t any back support and you are in a more comfortable kneeling position when seated on a kneeling chair. It promotes better hip, back, shoulders, and neck alignment. This encourages better body posture and keeps you away from spinal compression and leg strain. The forward slanting seat position of kneeling ergonomic chairs offer a more comfortable and healthy spinal position.

Ideal for: People experiencing lower back and leg muscle strain. It’s also good for aligning the hips and shoulders for a healthy postural feel. (20)

Exercise ball chair: This is the most common type of ergonomic chair on the market. It’s the most unique one of all too. It looks and functions like a fitness exercise ball to support prolonged sitting. The bounce of the exercise ball allows better blood circulation and leg movement. This reduces the various health concerns associated with physical inactivity.

You can use an exercise ball chair as a desk or a computer chair. But recent studies suggest that sitting for longer hours on an exercise ball chair at work can increase discomfort. (21)

Ideal for: People struggling with severe physical inactivity.

Recliner ergonomic chair: Like the name suggests, a recliner chair offer back and lumbar comfort. On a recliner chair, your feet are reclined while your foot rests of a propped up footrest. It helps ease pain and discomfort while working comfortably for a longer time.

Ideal for: People struggling with age-related back problems, arthritis, and other degenerative disc or spinal diseases.

Conclusion

If each person or desk worker were to take these factors into consideration when choosing the best office chair, imagine how many problems would be solved! People who work at least 40 hours a week must spend a significant amount of a good office chair that’s both comfortable and supportive. (22)

Since recent times, brands are looking for new ways to increase productivity and stamina by designing better chairs. Factors such as armrest, backrest, swivel, and reclining position are given importance to improve overall health and well-being of professionals. And for people who work for more hours in the day than sleep, it only makes sense to consider only a specific type of office chair.

Apart from the design of the office chair, it’s important to consider lumbar support, adjustability, and fabric of the chair. Because if you don’t, you’re unable to reap the many benefits of sitting on a good office chair.

For better productivity, consulting office managers for such comfortable and supportive chairs is never a bad thing. It’s important to let them know what you just learned about choosing the right kind of office chair that fits each worker best.

For example, ensuring that your feet are placed flat on the ground for better blood circulation is very important. If the seat is too high, add a footrest for comfort. For prolonged sitting, a memory foam seat cushion is more breathable and moisture-resistant than other materials. Anything less breathable can make the chair seat feel hot and uncomfortable.

These are just some examples of what I’ve discussed at length above. The point is to find the right office chair that puts in the center of your computer screen or workspace. Not every office is built to function as a computer chair, but getting the features right is what’s most important.

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