How to Choose a Comfortable Work Chair

Does your back hurt after sitting at work? Use these guidelines for choosing a chair that will be both comfortable and healthy.

When it comes to office equipment ergonomics, nothing is more important than a comfortable and physically-supportive work chair. A chair that fits you well will make a big difference in the way your body feels throughout and at the end of your workday.

Don’t be one of the many workers who suffer from back pain and other ailments as a direct result of sitting in a substandard or poorly adjusted chair. Be good to the almost 100 muscles you use while sitting in your work chair by selecting a chair that is designed for both comfort and health.

Overall goal
Take a look at the illustration below from the website of the U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Safety & Health Administration. This illustration depicts a good upright working position. Your goal for your work chair should basically be one that will enable you to: sit comfortably and supported in an erect posture; feet flat on the ground; head tilted in a slightly downward position to perform work or view computer screen; and forearms and thighs at a 90-degree angle.

Upright sitting posture. The user’s torso and neck are approximately vertical and in-line, the thighs are approximately horizontal, and the lower legs are vertical.

Basic features
When it comes to basic features for your work chair, you generally want to look for those that provide support, comfort and adjustability. At the very least, try to get a chair that has height and back adjustment features. And those features should be within easy reach while seated. Keep in mind that the more adjustment capabilities a chair has, the more people will be able to sit on it comfortably.

RELATED: How to Choose the Best Work Desk

Height Adjustment
Be sure to check out the range of height adjustment. You want to be able to sit with your feet resting comfortably on the floor, thighs supported and parallel to the floor. Either sitting too high up or down can cause discomfort, swelling or pain.

Look for a height-adjustable backrest that is sufficiently cushioned and provides lower back (lumbar) support. Studies have shown that the best position for the back while seated is slightly reclined at 100 to 110 degrees (not the pin-straight 90 degrees). Tilting back should be easy to do, but not too easy. Chairs are available with adjustable tension settings that allow you to increase or decrease the resistance of chair tilt.

A cushioned and adjustable armrest is optimal. It should allow for the forearm to be in a 90 degree angle and should just support the elbow. Armrests can interfere with certain jobs or tasks, so you may want to consider purchasing a chair with removable armrests. Be sure armrests do not prevent the chair occupant from being close enough to their keyboard or work table.

Chair Seat
At least an inch of space around your hips and thighs on each side of the chair would be best. You’ll also need a sufficiently thick chair cushion for long-term comfort.

The seat should also curve down slightly on the front edge. The back of your knees while sitting should not come in contact with the front edge; there should be at least a few inches between the edge of the seat and the back of your knees.

Leather chairs may look impressive, but they are not the most comfortable chairs to sit in. If you want hours-long comfort, go for a chair with a breathable fabric.

Chair Legs and Casters
For stability, work chairs should have five legs. You can also improve stability – and prevent tipping – by staying away from any chair that has a front seat edge extending farther than the radius of the legs. Be sure the casters on the chair you select are designed for your particular floor surface; you don’t want to go sliding across your hardwood floor at breakneck speeds. If you have a carpet, use a chair mat for easy chair movement and to prevent carpet wear.

Special considerations
The average time you typically spend in your work chair each day will have a significant impact on the chair you will need. If you normally sit for only short periods at a time – and spend most of your time actively moving around your work area – your chair needs will not be nearly as great as for those workers who are essentially glued to their chair all day.

Heavy chair users – like data entry workers, phone operators and writers – should look to have the most ergonomic and ultra-comfortable chair possible, with a full-range of adjustable features. This would include a synchro tilt mechanism that provides full back support with zero back separation; whether you lean forward or back, the chair moves with you to provide support.

For infrequent chair use, just about any comfortable and durable chair would be fine. Moderate chair users will want at the least a basic ergonomically designed chair with height and back adjustment features.

Try it out
Perhaps the best test for the right work chair is a dry run. You’ll absolutely want to try out that chair before buying. Sit in the chair for at least five minutes – optimally a half hour – to see if you remain comfortable. If you don’t feel anything at all, that’s good – it’s probably a perfect fit.

Be leery of “ergonomic” claims
The term “ergonomics” has been overused, abused and misconstrued. Something that is truly ergonomically designed results in reduced fatigue and physical discomfort, and encourages productivity. An ergonomic design can also reduce or eliminate pain, and prevent potential injuries. Claims of “ergonomic” design on product packages are often used simply as a marketing ploy; without any research performed on the human body usage of a particular product. There are currently no regulations or offices governing the use of the “ergonomic” label. Be aware that certain products with false claims of “ergonomic” design can actually have an adverse rather than beneficial effect on the body.

Know how to adjust your chair
Many office workers never adjust their work chair. What good is a chair that can be custom-fit to your individual needs if its features are never utilized? Be sure to learn about the operational controls and features of your chair, and do use them so that you can derive the optimal benefit from this very important work tool.

Do keep in mind that – no matter how perfect the chair fit – the human body was not meant to be inactive for hours. Sitting all day is not good for the body and will cause it undue stress and strain. Literally step away from your chair every so often and move your legs and body. Optimally, you want a bit of variety in job tasks so that you are not limited to work duties that require sitting only.

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