What to Look for in an Office Chair
Do you regularly find yourself sliding from your office chair onto your desk in a puddle of poor posture? Do you look for every possible excuse to escape from your bum-numbing seat, even if it means being cornered by your overenthusiastic boss at the water cooler? Have you desperately tried (more than once) to give yourself a back massage on the floor using your coffee mug? If you’re nodding as you rub your aching neck, then maybe it’s time to get yourself a new office chair (or convince your boss that replacing your old one is a matter of life and death, because you’re about to throw it out of the 4th floor window, and you can’t guarantee a clear landing).
With the amount of sitting so many of us do every day, a good office chair should be a top priority – as important as, say, wearing the correct prescription glasses or the right size shoes. Research has confirmed many times over that poor sitting posture causes acute and chronic back and neck pain, headaches, tiredness and impaired focus. You’ve got enough work issues and time pressures to deal with, without a poorly designed or ‘expired’ office chair stealing your precious mental space and adding to your stress.
So, when it’s time to do yourself a huge favour and choose a new and improved seat of honour, here’s what to look for in an office chair that will help keep your body and mind functioning at their best.
While sitting may be one of the worst positions for your posture according to the experts, in today’s world, it’s frankly unavoidable. The best thing you can do is break the monotony of sitting with regular breaks, and ensure that the chair you spend long periods in is built for good ergonomics. An ergonomically designed chair should not only be comfortable, but more importantly, support healthy posture and enable optimal interaction with your workspace to minimise physical discomfort and strain.
While a comfortable chair may look different for different people and situations, a healthy sitting posture involves some universal guidelines:
- If you work on a computer, the top of the screen should be at your eye level.
- Your shoulders should be relaxed, with your forearms resting at a right angle to your torso.
- Your hips should be in line with your shoulders, while your knees should be slightly below the level of your hips.
- Your feet should be flat on the floor in front of you.
- Your chair should support the natural S-curve of your spine, especially in the lumbar region.
To ensure you’ll be comfortable and ergonomically supported, keep the following aspects in mind when you’re searching for the ideal chair.
Before you go chair shopping, be sure you’ve measured the height of your desk. Your chair needs to be high enough for you to comfortably work at your desk without having to scrunch up your shoulders, but not so high that your feet come up short when you sit in a relaxed position with your back against the chair back. If you find yourself needing to move forward in your seat to get your feet flat on the floor, the chair’s back support becomes basically obsolete, and you’ll start experiencing strain. Most office chairs come with height adjustment, but you’ll still need to check that it reaches your ideal sitting height.
Seat Depth & Width
Choosing the right seat height will also be affected by the seat depth. A lot of impressive office chairs are designed for taller individuals, featuring deep seats to accommodate longer legs. If you are not a member of the long-legged community, you’ll want to look for a chair with a shallower seat that lets you comfortably get your knees over the edge. The seat should offer enough depth to support your upper thighs with your bum snugly against the back of the seat, but should allow at least a 5cm or 3-4 finger gap between the end of the seat and the back of your knees. While an adjustable backrest can give some extra margin, seat depth is pretty much set, so it’s important to get it right.
Chairs with a waterfall-edged seat design are ideal for supporting good posture by allowing your knees to rest a little lower than your hips, while also improving blood flow. As far as width goes, the seat should give you at least 3cm breathing room on either side, but shouldn’t be much wider than that if you’re looking for a chair with armrests.
Armrests definitely give an office chair that extra bit of attitude – you know, for when you want to sit back with elbows perched, drumming your fingertips in an evil villain pose to intimidate your Friday 4 o’clock into ending the meeting. While armrests aren’t essential to good posture, they can definitely help to take some strain off and remind you to keep your arms and shoulders relaxed – as long as the armrest are the right height.
A chair with static armrests that are too high or too wide apart for your build will have you suffering from some rapid onset muscle tension. When you sit to type, your elbows should be able to rest lightly on the armrests, with most of your forearm on the e desk, and your wrists at the level of the keyboard. If you buy a chair with fixed armrests, make sure they’ll be low enough (with your chair still at the right height) to slide under your desk when you need to type.
Backrest with Lumbar Support
A backrest that provides proper lumbar support for the S-curve in your lower back is arguably the most important ingredient in an ergonomic office chair. Without this support, your lower back will begin flattening out of its natural curve, putting strain on your back muscles and pressure on your spinal discs, which can lead to seriously painful conditions like pinched nerves and sciatica. If you’re struggling to find a chair with just the right support for you, it might be easier to get yourself a lumbar support cushion, particularly if you tend to struggle with back issues.
The backrest should also be high enough to support your upper back, ideally reaching just above shoulder height. It also needs to be sturdy and upright enough to keep you in a proper upright posture. Make sure that the backrest stays in a steady position as you lean back into it, and check that any supports or hinges are good quality and well secured – you don’t want to end up with a serious amount of wiggle room or unplanned reclining after a few months of use. It’s not a bad idea to have a reclining feature, though – every now and then it’s nice to lean back for a well-deserved mini break!
The human spine is well evolved to keep our heads well supported when we’re in an upright position. For this reason, office chairs featuring headrests are more of the exception than the rule. On the other hand, we know that most car seats come with headrests, as the neck will certainly start to tire after a couple of hours of sitting, unsupported.
The long and short of it is, a headrest is not a necessity for a comfortable or ergonomic office chair, but it can certainly give you the benefit of taking a load off if you sit for long stretches, helping reduce stress on the neck and shoulders. Keep in mind that most chairs with headrests tend to be designed for taller people, so be sure to give it a good test drive to see if it measures up.
Casters & Swivel
Most office chairs feature casters and the ability to swivel, and this is certainly a must if your work requires you to frequently switch between different tasks such as working on your computer, referencing filed documents and talking on the phone. Just be sure the chair you buy has the right type of caster wheels for your floor (carpeted vs. hard flooring), or alternately get yourself a large enough chair mat to keep things rolling smoothly.
Due to the fact that we are not all human clones, there is no one-size-fits-all office chair design to support healthy posture for every individual. That’s why most office chairs are designed with some adjustable features. Most basic office chairs will offer height adjustment, while more ergonomically conscious designs may include a backrest adjustment or tilt/recline feature, adjustable armrests, and even adjustable lumbar support.
These features not only offer custom support to help you stay comfortable and maintain good posture, but also allow you to change positions easily when your back needs a break – as any spine will tell you, change is as good as a holiday! That’s not to say you won’t be able to find a good chair that gives you the right support, even without adjustable features. You’ll just need to try before you buy to ensure it’s a good fit.
Material & Aesthetics
How much do looks matter? We’ll let you be the judge of that! Office chairs come in all sorts of styles and materials. When you’re deciding how to outfit your nautical-come-urban-modern themed home office, just remember that your choice needs to be as much about practicality as looks. If you’re going to be spending upwards of 40 hours a week in this chair, put comfort and support first. In terms of seat padding, you want just the right level of support to fend off numb-bum syndrome. Remember that cushy does not always equal comfortable – you don’t want a chair that’s as hard as wood, but an overdose of soft padding may encourage slouching, which comes with its own dose of aches and pains. Choosing between different materials obviously comes down to personal taste, budget, durability and practicality. You should also consider breathability if you’ll be sitting for extended periods.
- Fabric upholstered chairs come in the widest range of patterns and colours. They offer good comfort and breathability, but are the most vulnerable to stains.
- Real leather is luxurious, long-lasting and will adapt to your body temperature, but is more expensive than other materials. Faux and bonded leathers are more affordable, but less breathable, and will wear out more quickly.
- Mesh chairs offer the best ventilation, are more affordable and easy to clean, but may lack the comfort of padded chairs.
With all these different factors to consider, choosing the right office chair may take a little time, but it’s absolutely worth the investment for your physical wellbeing and a more productive work life. Before you go out to find your ‘perfect chair’, decide on the features that are most important for your personal and working needs, and be prepared to compromise on the smaller details.
At Cielo, we offer a stylish range of high quality, supportive and comfortable office chairs perfectly suited to the modern home office or workplace. View our office furniture range online or instore today.
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