When it comes to ergonomics, office chair armrests are actually controversial. Opponents say they may exert pressure on the soft tissues of the elbow and forearm, causing tendinitis, and they prevent the user from getting close to the desk.
However, all the arguments against armrests can be addressed by choosing the right ones for your workplace and body type. Now, the question is, what are the ideal armrests in an office chair?
In this article, I’ll go through all the factors you should consider when choosing armrests in an ergonomic chair, to avoid shoulder and forearm strain.
Why are office chair armrests important?
A good office chair should support a variety of postures to allow the user to work effectively and comfortably. Many factors affect armrests usage, including the design of the chair and the task. Also, armrests must accommodate a diverse range of users and task requirements. For instance, females sit more upright compared to males.
However, whether used continuously or intermittently, armrests are a crucial form of postural support. A 2017 study found that forearm support, which is provided by properly configured armrests, can reduce discomfort or pain in your neck or shoulders. According to the researchers, without forearm support and good shoulder positioning, the upper trapezius and the deltoid muscles, which affect this area, are continuously active at the low-intensity level. This continuous activation may lead to the onset of neck pain in the office.
The arms and hands together comprise about 12% of your overall body’s mass. That’s a lot of weight to be holding without help for many hours. Fortunately, studies show that using properly configured armrests can reduce the weight on your spine by about 10% of your body weight.
Also, using the armrests as support when standing up reduces the force in your hips by 50%. This is crucial for older people or those with hip problems.
Office chair armrests also significantly reduce the onset of fatigue. Without armrests support, extending the hand forward by eight inches leads in fatigue in less than 10 minutes. With office chair armrest support, the time is extended significantly.
After noting all the benefits of armrests, let’s now dive into the conditions that armrests must meet to be ergonomic.
5 factors to consider when looking for office chair armrests
From the height, width, length to pivot, the more adjustable the armrests are the more precisely they will support an ergonomic sitting posture and body type.
Most armrests are height adjustable. However, one of the major arguments against armrests is that they can prevent you from getting too close to the desk, making you strain your neck and back as you try to reach your workspace.
Thus, the ideal height range of armrests should be such that it's high enough to level with your desk and low enough to go under your desk when necessary. Measure the clearance space under your desk to get the proper measurements.
For instance, a typical non-adjustable desk is 29 inches high. So, based on that, look for armrests that can extend up to 29” or more, and go down to 27” or less. Also, consider the height range of the seat pan when calculating your numbers.
2. Pivoting armrests
Normally, pivoting armrests are angled inwards or outwards to form a “V” shape.
If you often assume arm positions, such that your wrists are close to each other without desk support, pivoting armrests will be highly beneficial in offering full support to your forearms in those positions.
Pivoting armrests can help you identify the most comfortable position for your neck and shoulders. This is true, especially if you’re prone to kyphosis, a postural condition where your upper back rounds forward. The pivot feature helps you stretch the pectoral muscles in the front and contract the rhomboids in the back; these are the exercises often given to office workers, anyway. So, why not let your office chair armrests help you?
Armrests that pivot inwards are more beneficial than those that pivot outwards. To get the maximum benefit off of pivoting armrests, look for a minimum of 15 degrees tilt.
3. Armrests width
Apart from height adjustability, width is the most important feature to consider when picking out armrests.
For a proper sitting posture, your elbows should be directly under your shoulders. However, we all have different shoulder widths, so having armrests that can move close or away from your torso is crucial in supporting your elbows and forearms, especially if you’re sharing your office chair with other people.
Choose armrests whose width you can adjust up to 4 inches, which according to most studies accommodate 90% of the human population.
4. Armrests length
Some office chair armrests are length-adjustable, too. This means they slide forward and backward, maximizing support of your forearms in various postures. This comes in handy in body positions where you are leaning forward or back.
Since length adjustable armrests have varying arm sizes, they can adjust to fit the small arms as well as the large ones promoting an ergonomic sitting posture.
5. Flip-up armrests
Finally, you can dismiss some armrests altogether when they are not in use, by flipping them up. Flip-up armrests are an ideal choice in shared office environments where some prefer a chair with armrests and others don’t. They are also a superb choice if you often perform tasks where armrests get in the way, such as playing the guitar. Plus, if you have a desk with a small clearance space underneath, flipping armrests is an ideal choice.
In the world of ergonomics, flip-up armrests offer a compromise. The way their hinges are designed, they offer minimal adjustability other than flipping upwards.
So, when looking for office chair armrests, you’ll need to weigh the pros and cons carefully and make sure the default height and width of the armrests match your desk and body type before choosing flip-up armrests.
Armrests play a crucial role in promoting comfort and wellbeing, allowing you to work effectively and productively.
They encourage an ergonomic sitting posture and promote freedom of movement while stabilizing one’s position; reduce pressure on the neck, shoulders, and arms. Also, they reduce pressure on the spine by distributing pressure evenly on the seat.
Emerging research suggests that computer users’ arms are properly supported when an adjustable armrest follows task-related postures and arm positions. However, the more adjustable the armrest is, the more realistically you can position it to support your arms.
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WRITTEN BYKaren Kimonye
I'm a freelance writer who specializes in creating blog posts, and articles that build trust and compel readers to take the desired action.
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