You may have heard a lot about ergonomic chairs and how important they are. But is this just hype? Can an ergonomic chair actually make a difference?
According to the Occupational Health and Safety Administration, ergonomic office chairs, if set up properly, can definitely help you avoid daily aches and pains; prevent long-term and chronic injuries to your back, knees, hips, elbows, wrists, neck, and shoulders; ward off headaches; and possibly prevent dangerous blood clots! In addition, an ergonomic chair can make you more productive in the office.
With all these benefits, a quality ergonomic chair should be at the top of everyone’s “must have” list. That said, it is important you learn how to set up an ergonomic chair for correct posture to take advantage of these health benefits.
What Is An Ergonomic Chair?
An ergonomic chair is simply any chair that can be adjusted to suit the individual user. Chairs labelled as “ergonomic” usually have multiple adjustment settings – the more, the better. There are many types of ergonomic chairs on the market, and contrary to popular belief, they don’t have to be ugly. You can get ergonomic chairs in everything from wire mesh to leather, and in every imaginable style.
When shopping, either at a retail store or an online marketplace, it’s important to look closely at the number and type of adjustability features for each chair. Everyone has a different body shape and varying work requirements, so what actually matters is how many adjustments you can make to the chair.
What Is The Proper Sitting Position?
In the past, it was believed that a 90 degree sitting position, with your back perfectly straight, was the ideal sitting position. Experts now agree, however, that it’s best to alternate sitting straight and reclining slightly.
Here’s how you can set up your workstation to maintain the proper sitting positions:
- The top of your computer monitor should be even with, or just below, eye level when you’re sitting straight.
- Your computer monitor should be arm’s length away when you’re sitting straight.
- Your keyboard should rest a couple inches from your lap. A pull-out keyboard tray helps, but if you don’t have one you may need to raise the height of your chair and monitor, and then use a foot rest.
- Keep legs at a 90 degree angle to the floor. Again, you many need to use a foot rest depending on your chair height settings.
- Your arms should remain parallel to the keyboard/desktop.
- Your back should be snug against the curve of the lumbar support.
- Feet should rest flat, and the underneath of the desk should be clear of obstructions so you can stretch your legs.
How Do I Adjust The Chair?
Ergonomic chairs adjust in five major locations: height, armrests, seat pan, lumbar support/back height, and tilt tension. Some high-end ergonomic chairs may have more adjustment options, but these are the ones you will need most.
While standing in front of the chair, the top edge of the seat should be right below your kneecap. Make sure the seat pan is completely horizontal before taking this measurement and making any adjustments. You can adjust the height using the lever under the seat, usually located on the right side of the chair.
Armrest Height Adjustments
Sit in the chair and make sure your shoulders are relaxed. Then, without moving your shoulders, bend your arms at a 90 degree angle. Adjust the armrest height (look for a button or lever on the outside of the arm rest support) so it’s just under your elbow. Armrests that are too high or too low, even by a little, can cause a lot of chronic back, neck, and shoulder pain, so take some extra time to get this setting just right.
Armrest Lateral Adjustments
To adjust the armrest width (the distance between the armrest and your body) look for knobs underneath the armrest support. Twist to loosen, adjust, and then tighten again once they’re in the proper position. You want the armrests close enough to your body so your arms are right next to your side, but not so close they make it difficult for you to get out of the chair.
Seat Pan Adjustments
Experts recommend that the seat pan be tilted slightly forward to encourage proper back alignment. The seat pan can sometimes also be adjusted in relation to the distance from the back support. To make this adjustment, look for a lever or paddle on the left bottom of the seat that reads, “slide” or has an arrow. Ideally you want about two inches of space between the back of your knees and the edge of the seat. For chairs without a separate seat pan adjustment, sometimes the back can be moved forward or backward using a knob found under the back support beam.
Lumbar/back Support Adjustments
Some chairs have a lumbar support that can be adjusted separately from the back rest (as shown in image on the left), but most have built-in lumbar support. This curved area should rest in the small of your back without pushing on your hip area. Adjust the height of the back rest to get the lumbar support in the right position.
Tilt Tension Adjustments
Look for a knob towards the front and underneath the seat. Tighten to increase the resistance when you lean back, loosen it to reduce resistance. You should be able to lean back easily using your natural body weight without feeling like you’re going to fall backward.
Remember, the more adjustments you can make, the more personalized, and therefore more ergonomic, the chair will be. If your chair has more adjustments available than the ones mentioned here, refer to your owner’s manual for instructions.