What to look for in an ergonomic office chair

What to look for in an ergonomic office chair. - Douglas Magazine June/July 2023
Herman Miller, Aeron Chair. Photo from: hermanmiller.com.

If you have a desk job, you know the strain that sitting for seven or more hours a day can put on a body. Cheap office chairs make you feel like you’ve been crammed into an economy seat on a cross-country flight, but quality office chairs upgrade you to first class — they’re designed to support your body for the long haul.

Ergonomics is the study of work design that aims to reduce physical strain on workers while they are completing their tasks. Ergonomists consider both mental health and environmental factors when designing ergonomic products to reduce injury risk and improve overall comfort levels for employees.

Ergonomic office chairs consider lumbar support, spinal alignment, body pressure points and weight distribution in order to help you feel comfortable. In addition, ergonomic chairs allow natural movement without your body becoming restricted by the seat or armrests.

An ergonomically designed chair can help to reduce the risk of common workplace injuries such as neck, shoulder and back pain, and boost your productivity for improved performance.

According to the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety, an ergonomic chair is defined thus: “A chair becomes ergonomic only when it suits a workerʼs size, their particular workstation, and the tasks that must be performed there.” 

Traditional task chairs are designed to help keep you comfortable at a desk for shorter periods, assuming you stand and move around the office. Ergonomic chairs go beyond simple comfort by promoting proper posture for those who sit for long periods of time. 

The most important advice, says Caitlin McKenzie of Monk Office, is to try several chairs in person for three things: fit and comfort; quality materials; and a solid warranty. 

What to look for in an ergonomic office chair?

Backrest. The backrest of an ergonomic office chair should be 12 to 19 inches wide. It should support the natural curve of the spine, with special attention paid to proper support of the lumbar region. If the chair has the seat and backrest as one piece, the backrest should be adjustable in both forward and back angles, with a locking mechanism to secure it from going too far backward.

Armrests. Office chair armrests should be adjustable, up, down and sideways. They should allow the user’s arms to rest comfortably and shoulders to be relaxed. The elbows and lower arms should rest lightly, and the forearms should not be on the armrests while typing.

Lumbar support. Lower back support in an ergonomic chair is key. The lumbar spine has an inward curve, and sitting for long periods without support for this curve leads to slouching and strains the lower spine. An ergonomic chair should have a lumbar adjustment (both height and depth) so each user can get the proper fit to support the inward curve of the lower back.

Material. The material on the seat and back should have enough padding or flex to be comfortable for extended periods of time. A mesh fabric that breathes is usually preferable to a harder surface.

Swivel. Both conventional and ergonomic chairs should easily rotate and roll so the user can reach different areas of his or her desk without strain.

Height. Easily reached controls should allow you to raise and lower the chair depending on your task. Better chairs have pistons that allow you to adjust the height while seated. A seat height between 15 to 22 inches will fit most people.