Finding the best office chairs that fit within your business’ budget is an investment in the health and productivity of your employees. We spoke with doctors, universities, state agencies, and ergonomic furniture professionals to find out what makes an ideal, ergonomic office chair. Want to see our top picks? Click here to read our buyer’s guide.
Here are the top ten tips for choosing an office chair from the pros:
1. Good Office Chairs Have a Full Back
“Office chairs are essential for productivity and reduction of lost hours due to injury,” said Dr. Scott Schreiber. “Office chairs should be comfortable and have a full back. They should provide a multitude of adjustable positions, including lumbar support, height, and recline settings.”
2. The Best Office Chairs Have Waterfall Seats
The University of Pittsburgh says the best office chairs will “have a seat pan with a waterfall front (one that curves down) that prevents the seat from catching you behind the knees. The seat pan should also be contoured to allow even weight distribution and it should be comfortable to sit on. The edge of the seat pan should be soft and contoured so that it cannot cause compression of the thighs and buttocks. The rear of the seat pan should provide comfortable support.”
3. Your Joints Should be Comfortable at 90 Degree Angles
According to Dr. Matt Tanneberg, “Common signs that an office chair isn’t the right fit for you is if the angles of your hips, knees, and ankles aren’t comfortably at 90 degrees. If your hips are not at a 90 degree angle then the chair is either too tall or too short for you. Same goes for your knees and your ankles. All of your joints should ideally stay at 90 degrees.”
4. Breathable Upholstery is Better
An office chair’s upholstery must be comfortable to the touch if you’re going to sit on it all day. You don’t want it to be abrasive, itchy, or something that may cause your body to overheat. Even the Computer/Electronic Accommodations Program (CAP), which advises the Department of Defence and Federal Government, recommends a “breathable, medium texture upholstery.”
5. Your Office Chair Should be Adjustable
“The key to a good office chair is that it must be adjustable in all directions,” says Dr. Matt Tanneberg. “The seat must adjust up and down, as well as tilt side to side. This is necessary to achieve proper posture when you’re sitting all day.”
6. Adjusting Your Office Chair Should Not Require Tools
Recognizing the importance of adjustable office chairs for employee health, we recommend that chairs should be easily adjustable without a tool. Don’t be afraid to ask for a demonstration or try adjusting a chair for yourself before purchasing.
7. A Good Office Chair Supports You, Even When You’re Being Bad
“Your chair should support your back as you sit,” according to the University of New Hampshire. “It’s okay to recline the chair back slightly, but too much can strain the neck as you try to right your head to view the monitor if you are using a computer.”
8. The Seat Must Fit You for the Backrest to Work
“If the seat pan is too big or the seat is too high,” says Iowa State University, “even where the chair has a backrest with lumbar support workers may continue to be exposed to static loading because they cannot take advantage of the backrest. Many employees respond by sitting forward, instead of against the backrest, so that their feet can be on the ground, thus pressing the spine out of the natural curve and placing pressure on the discs.”
9. Top Office Chairs Should Encourage You to Move
The pioneers in ergonomic office furniture at HermanMiller say “Moving, and an ergonomic office chair that encourages it, helps keep blood and oxygen flowing.” The best office chairs not only let you move but “let you move while giving you the support your body needs.” So when you try out a chair, really give it a test drive.
10. Don’t Forget About Your Arms & Shoulders
Both of the chiropractors that we interviewed said it is easy to overlook how a chair feels to your arms and shoulders. Dr. Tanneberg said, “Another common sign a chair isn’t right is if you have to shrug your shoulders to get your elbows on the armrests.” Similarly, Dr. Schreiber said that a chair’s “arm and hand positions” should offer the same flexibility to avoid “developing pain in the shoulder, elbow, and wrist.”
5 Signs You Need a New Ergonomic Office Chair
Here are five signs you need a new office chair:
1. Listen to Your Body – If You’re In Pain, You Need a Change
“Our bodies were not designed for sustained positions for extended periods. Pain is the easiest way of telling that your chair is not for you,” said Dr. Scott Schreiber. “An ergonomically correct office chair can provide comfort, but if it is not replaced every few years, it can also be your undoing.”
2. Replace Your Office Chair Every Five Years
“Office chairs should typically be replaced within a five year period,” says Dr. Matt Tanneberg. “This helps to keep the cushion and support strong enough so that you aren’t sinking into the seat too much or able to slouch back in your chair.”
3. If a Chair Looks Worn Out, It Is Worn Out
If your office chair is looking ragged, beware. Your chair’s posture will directly impact your own. Even avoiding tears in fabric or bumps in padding can throw off your posture. As Sara McKinniss of Continental Office said, “The indicators someone may need a new or different chair include: physical damage to the chair, worn materials, ongoing issues with appropriate posture, and complaints of physical pain.”
4. Your Office Chair Offers Little to No Lumbar Support
If your office chair’s backrest doesn’t provide good lumbar support or lacks a back at all, then it’s time to find a replacement. Iowa State University notes that “when there is no lumbar support and the back is bent forward, the muscles of the back are trying to force the lumbar region out of it natural curve which places pressure on the discs and reduces blood supply to the spinal tissue. The constant exertion of the contraction forces leads to muscle fatigue” soreness, stressed discs, and pinched nerves.
5. If Your Office Chair Doesn’t Facilitate Good Posture
According to the American Chiropractic Association, good sitting posture includes:
- Keeping your feet on the floor or on a footrest, if they don’t reach the floor
- Keeping a small gap between the back of your knees and the front of your seat
- Your knees are at or below the level of your hips
- Adjusting the backrest of your chair to support your low- and mid-back
- Avoiding sitting in the same position for long periods of time
If your office chair is helping, it’s hurting, and it’s probably time for a new chair.
Bottom Line on Choosing an Ergonomic Office Chair
A recent Gallup poll found that adults working full-time in the US work an average of 47 hours per week and 39% of those polled reported working more than 50 hours per week. That suggests that almost 40% of US full-time workers are putting in close to 2,500 hours at work per year. But being stuck in an office chair that long isn’t healthy!
The US Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OHSA) says that these working conditions can lead to musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs), repetitive strain injuries (RSIs), and cumulative trauma disorders (CTDs). In fact, these workplace injuries are so common that the OSHA says that “work-related MSDs are among the most frequently reported causes of lost or restricted work time.” Poorly designed or worn out office chairs can contribute to MSDs, RSIs, and CTDs. Combined, these injuries “account for an estimated 130 million total health care encounters including outpatient, hospital, and emergency room visits.” That means your employees missing work or your business losing productivity.
Furnishing your office with the best ergonomic office chairs you can afford is one of the most effective ways to counter this problem. Making your office feel more like home is one of the top 5 workplace trends. If you feel like you’re spending all day in your office chair, it’s likely because you are. Don’t risk your health and well being in a poorly designed or worn out chair. Follow the tips above and find the best office chair for you and your employees.