A Guide to Choosing Ergonomic Office Chairs Fit for Your Height
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A Guide to Choosing Ergonomic Office Chairs Fit for Your Height

|Oct 27, 2020

Whether you're setting up a home office, or spending hours every day in a corporate office, you're spending hours sitting in a chair. It's more important than ever to keep track of your health, and a large part of your health is the way you spend your time.

Sitting is inherently unhealthy for a variety of reasons. Unless you plan to get a standing desk and transition between sitting and standing throughout the day or even move to a full-time standing position, you're going to want to examine your chair.

That's right; your chair. Your chair's ergonomics are a huge part of both comfort and health. A chair with poor ergonomic design will leave you antsy, your legs numb, and contributes to overall fatigue. More importantly, it can lead to poor posture, which itself leads to long-term health issues. Spinal compression, back and neck pain, and carpal tunnel syndrome can all stem from your choice in a chair.

So, how do you pick a chair that's fit for your situation? Here are our tips.

Consider Investing in Quality

Person shopping for a chair online

It's a simple fact of life that a chair with well-designed ergonomics is going to be more expensive than one without those features. You should mentally prepare yourself to spend at least $300 for a good ergonomic chair. Extremely high-end chairs made by major brand names, like Herman Miller, can run you thousands of dollars. That said, you don't necessarily need one of those ultra-high-end chairs to get most of the ergonomic features you need.

In the mid-range chair market, you will generally find yourself sacrificing some minor ergonomic features in exchange for a lower price tag. For example, a $300 chair might only have the ability to raise or lower armrests, while an $800 chair may have full 3D movement for the armrests. 

The truth is, the difference between a $100 task chair and a $300 ergonomic chair is much greater than the difference between a $500 ergonomic chair and an $800 ergonomic chair. Going from zero ergonomic design to basic ergonomic design is the most significant improvement many people will see. 

Go into chair shopping knowing the budget range you have available, and be prepared to sacrifice advanced ergonomics for a cheaper price tag. That said, ergonomics have come a long way over the last decade, and you're no longer limited to $1,000+ chairs if you want a sensible design. Price isn't everything, but the quality and features of your chair is.

Consider Your Requirements

Injury due to non ergonomic chair

You can learn a lot about a chair when shopping online, but nothing compares to having the chance to sit in a variety of different chairs, whether they are coworkers or friends. You may not know whether or not you prefer a mesh or a leather chair, or whether a headrest is right for you, or whether an adjustable lumbar pillow can be moved to where you need it. 

Most ergonomic office chairs are designed for people between 5' and 6'5” in height. You can assume that most office chairs are adjustable within those ranges and suit people with most normal body types. However, if you're exceptionally short, tall, or overweight, you may need a chair that has more accommodating features. 

You could consider measuring your existing chair to have a solid understanding of what chair height is considered too short or too tall for you, and then compare those measurements to a new model online. Remember that many chairs are height adjustable, and some ergonomic chairs also have adjustable arms, headrests, lumbar support, and other features that can change your seat position and total chair height. 

Look for Ergonomic Adjustments

Example of an ergonomic chair

When shopping for an ergonomic chair, you want to look for ergonomic features. Basic chairs might have three or four different kinds of adjustments you can make, while high-end chairs can have as many as a dozen. You want to identify the most important features for you and look for those features in a chair. Here are some features to look for, in order from most important to least.

Adjustable seat height. The height of your seat should be roughly the height of your knees. This is so that when you're sitting down, your feet can be flat on the floor. If you're too low, you crunch up and are more likely to sit in a cross-legged posture that puts stress on your spine. If you're too high, your legs swing free, which opens up a whole range of poor posture positions. 

Office chairs typically have an adjustable height, with a low point somewhere between 15” and 17” off the floor, and a high point around 20-21”. This is suitable for most people between 5' and 6'5” in height but may not fit someone outside of that height range. 

Seat pan size and adjustment. The seat of your chair needs to be the right size for your body. 

Front to back, it should be long enough to support most of your thighs but not so deep that it touches the back of your knees. Some chairs have adjustable seat pans, but this isn't entirely necessary if the depth of the seat pan works as-is. 

Side to side, your seat should be wide enough to fit you comfortably, with about an inch of space to either side. You want it to be wide enough that you aren't squeezing into it, but not so wide that you have to reach out to rest your arms on the armrests. 

You may also want to investigate the material of the seat pan. Some chairs, particularly on the low end, use a kind of foam that compresses quickly and will need to be replaced every year or two. Other chairs use more resilient foam that is resistant to compression. Likewise, the surface material should be resistant to tearing and damage.

Adjustable armrests.  Some chairs do not have armrests. This is not ergonomic, and these chairs should be avoided for long-term use. You want armrests that adjust such that your elbows can rest on them, and your arms are comfortably supported. Ideally, your elbows should be open to a 90-100 degree angle to alleviate strain on your wrists and shoulders while you type and use the computer.

At a minimum, you want a chair with armrests you can adjust up and down to suit your needs. You may also want to look for adjustments in and out, or angles, to give you more space to sit. Higher-end chairs typically have more adjustment here, while low-end chairs do not.

Lumbar support.  One of the most important aspects of modern chair ergonomics is lumbar or lower back support. This comes in different forms for different chairs. Some of them have a mesh back with a support brace behind the mesh. Others have a lumbar pillow either fixed in place or adjustable. 

At the very least, you want a chair that has some form of contour to it. Lumbar support with an adjustable brace is best. A pillow can compress or move, and the straps holding it in place can stretch or tear over time. A brace is generally more resilient. The lumbar support should be able to move in and out, as well as up and down, to position it for your spine's natural curvature. 

Neck and head support. Chairs with headrests tend to be more expensive than chairs without. Headrests may not seem necessary, but once you've adjusted the rest of your posture, you'll realize how much stress your neck is under. A headrest helps protect your neck from that stress by giving you something to rest against. 

Many chairs that have headrests have minimal adjustment options for them. At a minimum, you want a headrest that can adjust up and down to support your head and neck. Adjustable tilt is also beneficial. You can also consider a chair with a removable headrest, so you can decide when you want it and when it gets in the way.

Some chairs that do not have removable or adjustable headrests will instead have a neck pillow. This can serve the same purpose but isn't as effective. 

Caster style and quality. The wheels that support your chair might not seem like part of ergonomics, but they are still quite important for choosing a seat. Low-quality casters have a hard time rolling over the carpet, and they can clog up with hair and dust easily. Larger casters are easier to roll, which is better for carpeted environments. It's also better for the seat's longevity, and the added mobility helps keep blood flowing to your legs throughout the day.

Weight capacity.  Weight capacity is at the bottom of this list because it's not as important as you might think it is. Weight capacity is an upper threshold for the safety of the chair and its materials. It is not a measurement of how comfortable the chair is for people of a certain weight. If you are overweight, you will want to find a chair specifically designed for larger people. Weight capacity should not be exceeded, as it becomes a safety hazard. The wheelbase can break, the seat pan can break, and the mechanism can break if leaned back too far with too much weight.

Additional considerations. There are a few other aspects of a chair you might consider.

  • Tilt mechanism. Many chairs have a simple single point of tilt. Others have multiple points that tilt in conjunction or tilt at different rates, like the synchro-tilt mechanism on some chairs. This is mostly a matter of personal preference and isn't necessary if you never lean back in your office chair.
  • Tilt tension. That terrifying moment of feeling like you're about to fall when you lean back is a symptom of too-light tension on your tilt. Alleviate it by getting a high-tension chair.
  • Material. Choosing between a mesh, leather, or fabric is mainly up to personal preference, but keep in mind that leather chairs tend to be larger and take up more space.
  • Warranty. A good chair should come with at least a two-year warranty. You should look into whatever warranty your chosen chair comes with, what it covers, and how to file a claim if you need to replace or repair your chair.

Once you pick the perfect chair, you'll want to look at the rest of your office as well.

Consider Additional Accessories

Wrist pain from non ergonomic workstation

Chair ergonomics are important, but they're just one part of your overall office ergonomic situation. You need to consider more than just your chair to make sure your office is fit for you.

Consider your desk height. Your keyboard should be roughly level with the armrests of your chair, so your arms are held in a relaxed posture at your sides while you type. Too high, and you'll scrunch up your neck and shoulders, leading to muscle strain. Too low, and you'll stress your arm and shoulder muscles holding them up.

Likewise, your chair should be able to get close enough to your desk that you don't need to reach too far forward to access your keyboard. 

If ergonomics are important to you and struggle with wrist pain, you might also consider buying a vertical mouse or a trackball. 

Your monitor also needs to be positioned appropriately for your chair and desk. The top of your monitor should be roughly level with your eyes, so you're looking slightly down toward your screen. If you need to, a monitor mounting arm or a riser to lift it higher off the surface of your desk may be appropriate.

One of the modern developments in ergonomics is the advent of standing desks. Standing while working, even if you transition between sitting and standing regularly throughout your day, helps reduce stress on your spine. 

A chair isn't important when you're standing, but a desk that can adjust between an appropriate height for sitting and standing is crucial. You may also want to consider an anti-fatigue mat to keep your feet from aching while you stand at your desk.

You may even consider lighting for your desk. Overhead fluorescent lights or open windows can lead to screen glare, which leads to eye strain, which leads to headaches and fatigue. Adjusting your workstation and using different lighting can help alleviate this issue.

Remember: ergonomics is about more than just sitting up straight. It's about adjusting your entire workspace to fit your body in a way that is most comfortable without putting a strain on your muscles or skeletal system.

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