OFFICE CHAIRS: HOW TO CHOOSE THE RIGHT ERGONOMIC OFFICE CHAIR

By Jana Zuidema (Bsc Physio)

Sitting for hours on end in an office chair can be a real pain in the neck (and back) if the chair is uncomfortable. Even if you don’t suffer from pain when sitting you could be suffering from discomfort, and there is an endless amount of research that proves sitting for long periods of time in a poor posture due to an uncomfortable and unsupportive chair can lead to back pain.

Office chairs come in all shapes, sizes (mid back and high back) and colours and trying to choose the right office chair can be like trying to buy a macaroon in a French patisserie – how do you choose the best one? Often the best looking ones are the worst option.

Have you ever walked into an office chair retailer to buy an office chair and there are hundreds of options (with an equal number of price options) and the sales assistant offers to help, showing you 80 out of the 100? You walk out more confused than ever, and you still don’t have an office chair. Aarrgghhh!

So, 3 quick pointers to keep in mind are:

  • Adjustability
  • Good back support
  • Use a ‘try before you buy’ option

We recommend a good ergonomic office chair and here are our tips on buying the right ergonomic office chair:

  • Good lower back support – our lower backs are normally concave in shape, so a good lower back support should have a convex shape to mould into your lower back. When you sit in the chair your back should go – aaahhhh that’s lovely! You need to feel the support in your lower back and then sit back so that your upper back also leans into the backrest. This allows your shoulders and neck to relax as well.
  • Adjustability – this must include seat height, backrest and armrest adjustability. As we are all different shapes and sizes, it is imperative that the chair has adjustability options.

The chair should be height adjustable sufficiently to allow for different heights in people and also to adjust the height in accordance with the desk you work at with your hips slightly higher than your knees.

The backrest should be adjustable so that you can set it at a 100-degree angle (just slightly back of upright). We know from research that this is the optimal position for our spines to minimise compression through the spinal column and pressure on the discs of your lower back.

The armrests MUST also be adjustable. Fixed armrests get in the way of the desk and don’t allow you to sit in nice and close with your chair at the correct height. If the armrests are adjustable this allows you to either rest your elbows on them so that your shoulders are relaxed and elbows bent to 90 degrees, or lower them to go under your desk or raise them to go over the desk.

  • Seat depth and edge – a lot of office chairs are made for hulks, with a large seat depth – so if you are an average size person then that’s no good for you. Chances are the seat will dig into the back of your legs and squish your tibial artery (that’s the one behind the knee that keeps your lower leg and foot alive). You will then end up perching on the front of the seat and have no back support, so totally pointless, you may as well sit on a stool. Also, the seat should have a waterfall edge; this means the front of the seat should slope down slightly. This is much more comfortable and your hamstring muscles (the ones at the back of your thigh) will be your friends forever. The rule of thumb is this: when you sit back in the chair so that your back is against the backrest, you should be able to fit 3-4 fingers between the end of the seat and the back of your knee. 
  • Endorsements - Look for an office chair that is endorsed by the Chiropractic, Physiotherapy and Osteopathic Associations – as these guys are the gurus on back pain. So, if they recommend a chair, then you know it’s a good one.
  • Local is lekker – this goes without saying. We have a wide range of office chairs in South Africa to choose from and they come from all over the world. But, buying a chair from China does not bode your ‘green-ness’ well and the quality may be dodgy. Choose local – its greener, you keep some of our nation employed and you don’t pay for the Dollar or Euro exchange rate.
  • Guarantee - Make sure your office chair comes with a decent guarantee of at least 5 years. If it’s a South African ergonomic office chair your guarantee should be honoured. This also prevents you from having to deal with someone called Dave, who speaks with a heavy Indian accent, and does not understand a word you are saying replying in ‘the computer says no’ answers.

So, now you are armed with all the info you need to buy the right ergonomic office chair – happy shopping!

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