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Many people sit for long periods of time in the car, at the office, at home, at the computer, etc. We as human beings used to live a mobile lifestyle, heavily relying on our feet to get from one place to another. But now in our modern times, many of us lead a sedentary lifestyle that includes sitting for prolonged periods of time. Prolonged sitting is not natural for us, and contributes to many problems including back pain, bad posture, anterior pelvic tilt, spinal problems, slip disc, poor circulation, lower basal metabolic rate (you burn calories slower), lumbar disc bulge, scoliosis, etc.
Although one solution is to get more exercise and move about more, our work or lifestyle may prevent incorporating adequate movement into our daily lives. So another solution is to invest in an ergonomic chair.
But what kind of ergonomic chair offers the most benefits? What characteristics should you be looking for in an ergonomic chair? Which ergonomic chair is best for your specific problem?
I aim to answer some of these questions in the paragraphs below. And if you have a specific problem or experience that you want to talk about, feel free to leave a comment.
The Ergonomics of the Office Chair
What Should you Look For in a Chair?
Let’s start by analyzing the ergonomic problems of the standard office chair. I previously mentioned the many problems that chronic sitting can cause. But I want specifically elaborate on how chronic sitting affects posture, and the ergonomic characteristics that should be sought after in a good chair.
Chronic sitting in general messes up posture. People who sit for very long time end up slouching as I’ve mentioned, and being hunched over for a long time affects the the shape of the spine negatively. And another postural problem with chronic sitting is that it can exaggerate anterior pelvic tilt. Mind you, a little bit of anterior pelvic tilt is quite natural for the human being. But it is an excess of anterior pelvic tilt that can negatively affect your posture, and compresses the lumbar region of the spine to cause back pain, lordosis, and spinal injuries. So a good office chairs needs to support the shape of the Spine. with recline ability, wide sitting angle (135 degree at the hips), and lumbar support
RecliningBeing able to recline properly is an important feature in a chair. Sitting up straight for a long time really fatigues the lower back muscles. You’ll find yourself slouching and hunching over in due time. Your body is designed to move, so you undoubtedly change sitting positions often. This fact goes to show that a chair shouldn’t only be designed around sitting up straight. Sometimes, a person needs to sit back and relax his lower back muscles. A good office chair needs to be able to recline.
I also personally recommend that your workspace can accommodate different working positions; standing, sitting, and reclining.
The reclining position is one of the most sustainable positions for long hours of work. If you are standing, you strain your feet and calves. If you are sitting, you strain your lower back (if there is no lumbar support). But if you are reclining, your spinal columns, spinal discs, and in general your entire back is not being strained. Of course for proper reclining the chair should come with a headrest.
But what is the design that allows for the best reclining experience? Well, a chair should be designed with the body’s natural pivot points in mind. For the seated body, the main pivot points are the hips, knees, and ankles. When we sit back to recline on the chair, the knees and ankles should stay in the same place but the angle of the hips should expand.
That means that the seat of the chair stays in the same place, but only the back of the chair should tilt.
But I notice that cheap office chairs has both the seat and the back of the chair tilt when you try to recline, lifting your feet off the ground. This puts a lot of pressure on the hamstring and the general area on the underside of the thigh, causing poor circulation and muscle fatigue.
This brings me to the next ergonomic feature that should be sought after: adjustability.
Adjustability in a chair is extremely important. After all, one size does not fit all. We are human beings with different shapes & sizes. What one person needs may not be what the other person wants. Although human beings has the same general body type, our anatomy can significantly differ. Some of us have scoliosis, which is when the spine curves to one side. some of us have an anterior, posterior, or neutral pelvic tilt. Some of us have lordosis, which is excessive inward curvature of the spine.
So we need to adjust for these differences. A good ergonomic office chair should be highly adjustable for setting the height of the lumbar support, the amount of lumbar support, the height of the chair, the height and angle of the armrests, and the ability to recline the backrest of the chair without moving the seat.
Another important ergonomic feature is the angle of the backrest to the seat for back support.
Best Sitting Angle
What is the best angle, from the seat to the backrest, for sitting in a chair?
If you look at the table above, you’ll notice a general trend. First, it was considered that the best way to sit in a chair is as straight as possible (upright) at 90 degrees. And although this is a lot better than slouching or hunching forward, a lot of pressure transfers down the spine to the lower back.
To mitigate the amount of pressure and weight that goes into the lower back while sitting upright, it was proposed that sitting at a 110 to 130 degree angle was more comfortable for the spine. And the angle later changed to 135 degrees. The reason for this is simple. At this angle, you start reclining back into the chair significantly, transferring a portion of the force going down your spinal column to the back of the chair. This decreases the compression and pressure that the lumbar region of the spine (lower back) experienced, and therefore decreasing back pain and lower back spinal problems.
The only thing to look out for when reclining at larger angles is to avoid the “forward head posture”. There should be a headrest for chairs that recline.
But increasing the sitting angle isn’t the only way to support the spine. Lumbar support is also essential for relieving pressure in lower back.
While you are sitting down, it is very important that you have proper lumbar support. Cheap chairs just give you a 90 degree straight back, which is very uncomfortable to sit in. Alternatively, cheap chairs use a mesh backrest which doesn’t support the lumbar region of the spine; the mesh just stretches our when you try to rest your back.
But an ergonomic chair takes into consideration the fact that your spine is not a straight pole, but a curved chain of 33 vertebrae stacked on top of each other in the general shape of an “s”.So an ergonomic chair provides lumbar support by curving the chair’s back with your own back, particularly for the lower back. A good ergonomic chair allows you to move up or down the backrest to match and fit your own back.
You also have the solution of separately getting a lumbar support padding to attach to your chair.
What is the Best Ergonomic Office Chair?
So considering all the points mentions above, we can consider, “What is the best office chair for the workspace”? We have to look for a chair that is highly adjustable, has lumbar support, and that reclines properly. According to the ergonomic requirements that I have so far gathered, here are some chairs that definitely fits the bill:
But buying an ergonomic chair isn’t the only solution. For example, many people prefer a standing desk.
Standing as an Alternative
Many people choose to go with a standing desk desk for its cognitive and postural benefits.
First of all, standing increases arousal or attention. This means that concentrating on your work is a lot easier when you are standing. And you won’t be overcome with poor blood flow, sleepiness, and general tiredness that comes with sitting for too long. So standing desks are great for productivity.
Stand desks also is good for anterior pelvic tilt. Your hip flexor muscles start getting shorteneded when you sit for too long. So that in the long run, your hip flexor muscles pull the pelvis into an exaggerated anterior tilt.
But when you stand up, the hip flexor muscles are extended to the optimal length, and therefore not placing as much pull on the pelvis. So that means standing desks can improve posture in the long run.
But do note that standing in one place for prolonged periods of time isn’t a good idea either. People who stand stationary in one place for too long can experience pains in the feet, knees, and even the back.
So the best option is to vary up the positions that you are in while you work. From standing, sitting, reclining, maybe even laying down or squatting if you set up the work space correctly. The key thing is not to stay in the same position for too long.
Some people even place a treadmill where they stand to stay moving.