Before you go chair shopping, make sure you know what “ergonomic” really means.
There are a lot of chairs on the market that claim to be ergonomic but aren’t. These days, it’s kind of a buzzword that marketing folks throw on a product description. To help you buy a quality ergonomic chair, let’s first take a look at what ergonomics means and what a good ergonomic chair should do.
Definition of Ergonomics
According to Wikipedia, ergonomics is “the scientific discipline concerned with designing according to the human needs, and the profession that applies theory, principles, data and methods to design in order to optimize human well-being and overall system performance.”
Good to know, but kind of vague, hunh?
To make things simpler, let’s just say that ergonomics (especially office ergonomics) is the science of comfort and design.
In short, an ergonomic chair should make you comfortable while you work.
Now let’s look more specifically at what the features of a good ergonomic chair are (i.e. what specifically you should be looking for when you buy one)…
What Is an Ergonomic Chair?
What specifically should you be looking for in an ergonomic chair?
An ergonomic chair will have quite a few features and adjustability options. The idea is to be able to fine tune your chair so it’s absolutely perfect for your height, body type, health history, and work habits.
Here are the minimum features a true ergonomic chair should offer:
- adjustable seat height — Your chair should allow you to sit with your feet flat on the floor, your thighs horizontal, and your arms even with the height of the desk.
- adjustable lumbar support — Good back support is critical, since the lumbar spine has an inward curve and sitting for long periods of time without proper support leads to slouching and strains the lower spine, so look for adjustable height and depth.
- suitable seat width and depth — Make sure the seat pan is wide enough to comfortably fit your form, and make sure the depth lets you sit with your back against the backrest while leaving 2 to 4 inches between the back of the knees and the seat of the chair.
- forward/backward tilt — As mentioned, a good ergonomic chair should have lots of options for adjustment, so look for a backrest with forward and backward tilt (you may even want a chair with a back support that flexes as you lean against it as my Herman Miller Aeron does).
- durable and comfortable seat material — While seat material is somewhat up to personal preference, cloth or mesh is generally preferable to harder materials. If your chair uses padding, it should be comfortable enough to sit on for extended periods (with a mesh chair, the give is in the mesh itself, so you won’t have padding).
- adjustable armrests — You’re probably getting the picture that “adjustable” features are key in a good ergonomic chair, and armrests are no exception. The armrests should allow your arms to rest comfortably with shoulders relaxed. Your elbows and lower arms should rest lightly, though the forearm should not be on the armrest while typing.
Do You Really Need an “Ergonomic” Chair?
Ergonomic chairs can be pricy–is it truly a must for you?
True ergonomic chairs cost quite a bit more than simple office or computer chairs, so you may be asking yourself if you really need to make that investment.
If you only use the computer occasionally and don’t have a job that has you sitting for prolonged periods, you may not need a special chair. But if you fall into any of the following categories, a quality ergonomic chair is something to consider:
- Computer gamer
- IT professional
- Email addict
- Web surfer extraordinaire
- Desk jockey
- RSI or neck/back pain sufferer
- All other frequent computer users!
Any of those sound familiar?
If you fall into any of those categories, an ergonomic chair is definitely going to be a wise investment. While they are more expensive, you will find that quality chairs last a long time and are worth the money. I’ve had my Herman Miller Aeron chair for nearly five years, and it still feels and looks like new (okay, there’s some dust on the ledge under the seat, but who looks there anyway?).
On the other hand, with cheaper chairs, you may find the seat split and the stuffing falling out after a couple of years. My parents have a cheap computer chair that is two years old and has splits and exposed padding–also the seat pan is too large for anyone in the family, or anyone of average height for that matter–so you definitely get what you pay for in many cases.
I’m not going to twist your arm and make you buy an ergonomic chair (pretty hard for me to do through your modem!), but I definitely recommend you make this investment. Even if you aren’t experiencing pain today, years of keyboard pounding without consideration for ergonomics can take their toll on your body.
1001 Ergonomic Chairs to Choose from
Your ergonomic chair options are plentiful–let’s take a look at a few
While I haven’t actually gone out and counted all the ergonomic chairs on the market, I wouldn’t be surprised if there really were 1001 (and maybe more).
Ultimately personal preference is going to play a large roll in what’s right for you, but I will show you the chair I have (as someone who has had trouble with back pain and RSI in my hands, picking a good chair was crucial) as well as a few others that are popular and have stuck around for at least a few years.
I will also list some sites where you can buy them. Though it’s best if you can try out a chair in person before you buy, it can be hard to find a good selection locally (don’t even waste your time going to stores such as Office Depot).
Generally if you purchase an ergonomic chair from a store online, they will have a return policy, but if you get a used or refurbished chair from eBay or another discount seller, it may be another story, so be sure to check before buying!
As I mentioned above, an ergonomic chair is an investment, and you can’t expect to find a good one for $100 (unless you luck out and find a used one on eBay or Craigslist).
Generally speaking, expect to pay $300 and up. It’s not unheard of to pay $1,000 for a quality chair. The Herman Millers especially are up there.
For $100 to $200, you can sometimes find unorthodox chairs (kneeling chairs, ball chairs, etc.) that don’t fit the specifications above, but which some people swear by. Personally, I can’t imagine sitting 12 hours in a kneeling chair, but some people really dig them, so I will include some links below.
One thing to keep in mind is that if you make a living computing and are buying this chair for your home office, you can probably write the whole thing off as an expense for your taxes. (Consult a tax professional to see what applies for you.)
Is an Alternative Ergonomic Chair Right for You?
Maybe you need a chair that doesn’t look like a chair at all!
If your back is your weakness, you may want to try out some of the more innovative ergonomic chairs out there. Some don’t look like chairs at all!
For example, a kneeling chair is designed to take some of the weight off your rump by tilting you forward and resting your shins on the padded knee rest. It’s supposed to promote proper spine alignment, and I’ve heard some folks say these chairs are wonderful, though if you’re spending all day at the computer, they may not be the best bet.
Another alternative ergonomic chair is the ball chair. If you’ve seen those big exercise balls at the gym, then just imagine putting it in a chair frame and sitting on it. You can even bounce a bit while you type.
Some people even suggest just sitting on one of those giant exercise balls and using that as your chair. (I actually have one of those balls and tried this… after 20 minutes it was bothering my back, so I would definitely say get the ball chair with the frame and back support if you’re going to try this.)
Check out some of the links below to explore these alternatives more closely.