Ergonomics: Top 5 Tips for Choosing a Chair

Ergonomics: Top 5 Tips for Choosing a Chair

By Eliot Denver, Senior Physiotherapist, Your Health Domain

and Emma Gillingham APA Musculoskeletal Physiotherapist, Your Health Domain


ergonomic chair picture

No one chair is suitable for everyone. We all come in different shapes and sizes, and so do chairs. There are thousands of different designs for office chairs. So how do you know the right one to choose? The main factor to keep in mind is adjustability. The chair must be adjustable. The more aspects of your chair you can adjust, the more likely it is to fit you comfortably. Ergonomics is all about fitting and adjusting the environment around you, in this case your chair, to make you comfortable, reduce the chance of injury and improve your productivity.
Here are our top 5 tips on what to consider when working out how to select a chair that is correct for you.


1.Seat Height and tilt

a)    Your chair height will be determined by your arm position. The height of your chair should be set so you can comfortably place your hands on your keyboard with your elbows bent to 90° whilst sitting in the correct upright sitting posture. Once this is achieved your feet should be supported either on the floor or on a footrest.

b)    The seat is usually positioned flat for the majority of people. However, if you are pregnant, experience hip pain or neck/upper back pain, these symptoms are often reduced if you are able to sit on a seat tilted forward. The tilt forward position is also beneficial to use if you read paperwork for extensive periods off the desk as it moves you towards your work rather than you having to lean forward for prolonged periods.

The Physiotherapy team at Your Health Domain will ensure that your seat position is correctly adjusted during your ergonomic workstation assessment.


2. Seat Depth

All good office chairs come in a range of seat depths. This chair factor is related to the length of your thigh so it is essential you have a seat matched to you so there is not increased pressure placed on your thighs and knees. A good rule-of-thumb is that when sitting on the chair you should be able to place four fingers between the back of your knees and the front edge of the seat. When measuring this, make sure your hips are all the way to the back of the chair when sitting.


3.Seat Width

Together with seat depth, the width of the seat is important to provide the right size base of support while sitting. People with wider hips should make sure that the seat width is not too small and compressing your pelvis. Alternatively you don’t want to be “swimming and swamped” by a chair that is too large as this frequently results in slumped postures. You should be comfortable and feel stable while sitting.


4.Back Support

The back of the chair should be supportive while matching the normal curves of your back. There are usually 3 components of the back rest which are adjustable:
a)    Lumbar support height. The lumbar support in the back rest of your chair should be positioned to support your lumbar curve (that is the curve in your lower back). You should be able to adjust the position of the lumbar support in the back rest of the chair higher or lower, to fit the natural lumbar curve of your back. The peak of the curve should be about waist height when sitting in a neutral upright position.
b)    Lumbar support depth. The lumbar support should match the depth of your lumbar curve when sitting in a neutral position.
c)    Back rest angle to seat. This is usually positioned at 90° to the seat. This ensures that you are able to maintain a supported upright posture when sitting. On occasion you may have the need to adjust this angle so you can recline while reading or when you tilt your seat forward to read off the desk.

The other factor to consider in regards to back supports is the back rest height. Office chairs will often come in a range of back rest heights and consequently a taller person will usually require a longer backed chair back rest. Most back rest heights will finish in the area of your mid to upper back. If you have a current or past history of neck pain, a higher backed chair which can support your neck is usually recommended.


5.Arm Rests

In short... YOU DON’T NEED THEM. Unfortunately, arm rests invariably mean that posture is compromised and you end up leaning to the side on one arm rest or slouching forward on both of them. These can usually be easily removed with a screw driver or better yet, chose a chair that doesn’t have them at all. Arm rests can also block your ability to sit in close to your desk which can increase the pressure on your neck and upper back through poor posture.

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