The majority amount of the world around us is built for “the average person”. People within a certain height and weight range get catered to. Office chairs and office desks are no different. There’s a standard height for desks that is ideal for most people, but not everyone. The same goes for chairs; they have a height range they can adjust between, but the shortest setting is still too tall for the shortest people, and the tallest setting is still too short for the tallest people.
These kinds of hassles are relatively minor in many cases. A doorway being a little too short for a tall person is an irritation, but the worst that happens is you bang your head a few times. For an office chair, the consequences can be much worse. A poor ergonomic posture can lead to back pain, a wide range of musculoskeletal issues, and spinal problems that can even require surgery.
Luckily, there are a few options tall people can take to solve this problem. They aren’t all easy or ideal, but they’re better than a life of hunched posture and back pain.
1. Replace Your Casters
One thing you might have noticed about the vast majority of office chairs is that their wheels are quite small. Office chair casters are generally very small and meant for hard surfaces. They have a hard time with even low-pile carpet, and often require a chair mat to make full use of them.
Part of this is simple aesthetics. These small wheels are low-profile, and they’re light, small, simple in construction, and easy to fit in packages for shipping. All of these translate to one thing for chair manufacturers: they’re cheap. This is what prevents most office chairs from using much more robust, smoother, higher-quality wheels.
You have two options here when you want to replace the casters on your office chair. You can replace them with larger wheels, or you can replace them with tall chair glides.
Larger wheels look a little something like this and might also be called rollerblade wheels. Instead of an axle with plastic wheels on either side, these casters typically have a central hub with bearings and a larger rubber wheel. This simultaneously allows for smoother rolling, less damage to floors, and helps minimize hair sticking in the casters.
Chair glides are not wheels at all. Rather, they are flat plastic extensions that turn your office chair into a more stationary chair, and they look like this. These are most ideal for hard floors and low-pile carpets, but deeper carpets and very abrasive surfaces will make it hard to move the chair. Wheels are generally the recommended option here unless the chair is likely to spend most of its time stationary.
To replace the wheels of your office chair and raise the height of your chair, follow this process:
- Remove a single wheel using a pry bar, gentle pulling, or screwdriver.
- Measure the center post to know what diameter you need for replacement wheels.
- Measure the height of the existing wheels, to make sure you get taller wheels.
- Purchase replacement wheels.
- Remove the remaining wheels from your chair.
- Replace with new wheels.
- Lubricate if necessary.
This process will generally allow you to get taller wheels, though even the tallest office chair wheels don’t have that much of a height difference. You’ll generally only buy yourself 1-3” with this technique.
2. Add Extra Cushioning
The second option you have available to you is simply adding more padding to your chair so you’re sitting on a taller surface. If you’re having flashbacks to sitting on a pillow or a stack of books in grade school to sit taller, this is the same concept.
If you do this, you want to make sure you get a nice, thick cushion that is relatively firm. You may also want something like a solid box or block of wood to sit between the existing chair cushion and your new cushion, so you don’t sink too much or compress your cushion and need a new one sooner rather than later.
Adding an extra cushion can buy you a small amount of height, but sitting on an additional box with a cushion on top can add several inches beyond what you get from a cushion alone. There are, however, a few problems with this option.
First of all, when you sit higher, everything else needs to be higher as well. If you use armrests, your armrests need to adjust higher, which they might not be able to do. It’s much more difficult to add additional height to armrests, so you might need to adjust your overall posture and use a keyboard tray rather than a desktop surface. This varies from situation to situation.
You also want to make sure the cushion isn’t too padded or off-center. If you sink in too far or off-center, you can put a tilt into your pelvis. A pelvic twist can cascade up your spine and stress the muscles in your back, leading to more back pain and eventual spinal issues. This is also why you always want to avoid sitting cross-legged as much as possible.
As for what cushions to use, there are thousands of possible products. You can pick anything from a specially designed height-added cushion from Amazon all the way down to a throw pillow you’ve had sitting on your couch for years and never use.
3. Buy a Height Extension Kit
A third option is to manually modify your chair’s height by altering its very construction. There are two ways to do this; with a kit, and DIY.
A kit method uses something called a height extension kit. These are most often designed for drafting stools and other already-tall chairs but can be used on many office chairs as well. They typically consist of a tube that adds height to the central column of your chair, occasionally with a foot-rest ring that gives you someplace to rest your feet when you’re sitting up off the ground. If you’re tall, you won’t need the ring.
The biggest issue with this option is that it’s often difficult to find a version that fits your office chair. Since there are hundreds of thousands of office chair designs and very few universal standards, you’ll need to find exactly the right kind of chair extender.
There’s also the possibility that this kind of chair extender might make your chair unstable. It can also reduce your chair’s ability to adjust in height if the gas spring is encumbered by the extender. It all depends on the design of the extender and the design of the chair.
The DIY method is more complex. You will need to partially disassemble your chair, removing the seat pan from the base. You may notice that the seat pan for your office chair is upholstered wood or plastic. Your goal here is to add to the thickness of the seat pan. Here’s how:
- Measure how much higher you want your chair to sit.
- Purchase wood of comparable thickness to your needs.
- If multiple layers, glue the layers together.
- Drill holes through the wood, matching the existing holes in the base of the chair and the mechanism.
- Purchase long bolts to replace the existing chair bolts and secure the mechanism, wood, and chair together.
- Reassemble the chair.
The biggest problem with this option is that it may interfere with some complex chair mechanisms. If the back of the chair is not attached directly to the base of the chair, for example, your chair’s back (and consequently headrest) will be lower down compared to your sitting height, which can lead to other support problems. The same goes for lumbar support.
The other problem is simply that you will need to do all of this manually, and the risk of damaging your chair is relatively high. You will also definitely void your warranty for making modifications to your chair, and you may shorten its lifespan in doing so.
4. Get a Chair Designed for Taller People
Perhaps the best option you can pursue as a tall person is simply getting a new chair that has a higher range of motion or is otherwise designed for taller people. These chairs exist, and while they occasionally cost more than comparable “standard” office chairs, that doesn’t make them unaffordable.
There are a lot of different chairs available for tall people, coming in all styles and shapes. When shopping for them, you will want to keep a few considerations in mind.
First and foremost, make sure the chair is otherwise sized to fit you. Some tall people are also very large people – Andre the Giant comes to mind – and a chair that is just taller without being wider or more supportive won’t be any good. Other people are tall and lanky – the famous Yao Ming fits here – who can sit in a normally-proportioned but taller chair just fine.
You will also want to make sure other areas of support are equally well adjusted. Armrests, headrests, lumbar support; these all need to be taller to compensate for the height of the chair. You may also need to invest in a desk that can be adjusted as well, so you can maintain the proper 90-90-90 posture.
It may be tempting to get a simple tall stool, like a drafting stool, but this isn’t always an ideal option. A drafting stool doesn’t have the back and spine support you need out of an office chair. They are designed to be used in short bursts, and with specialized tools like a drafting table, not for a standard office desk.
Other kinds of stool scan work. An ergonomic stool that allows you to practice active sitting while you’re supporting yourself is easy to use and adjust for your height, though it may take some adjustment before you get used to sitting on a “chair” with no legs, on wheels, and no back. It’s very beneficial if you can get used to it, however.
5. Stand Instead
The final option you have is to simply stand instead of sitting. Sitting is slowly killing Americans every year, through a combination of metabolic issues, diseases, spinal problems, chronic pain, and lack of fitness. It’s generally a good idea to avoid sitting whenever possible, though you should keep active when you’re standing to avoid similar problems.
To do this, you’ll need to get a standing desk, and a variety of accessories to help. We recommend:
- An anti-fatigue mat to help keep your feet even and comfortable.
- An adjustable stool for a combination of active sitting and leaning to take a break.
- A negative tilt keyboard tray to give your wrists and forearms a more natural angle to rest when working.
- A desk that can adjust its height to suit your needs.
- A monitor arm to mount and adjust your monitor to meet your vision line.
All of this can be quite an investment, but it’s well worth it for an ergonomic position while working and to benefit your overall health.
Tall people don’t need to be left out in the cold when it comes to office environments. All too often, those outside the “normal” range of human body types are left to fend for themselves. Boosting accessibility and utility for your atypical humans is always going to benefit your office. Plus, if you’re a business owner looking to cater to a tall employee, you may even be able to take advantage of grants or other programs to help with accessibility.
Regardless of what you decide to do, there are plenty of options. If all you need is an inch or two of additional space, a simple cushion or some new wheels should be plenty. If you’re so tall that you need an extreme adjustment, well, a more extreme adjustment is certainly possible. Standing is simply one option, and it’s one that can benefit just about anyone, not just the tallest people in your office.
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