An office chair is a functional object: it gives a person a reliable place to sit down. Despite that important role, you could reasonably say that sitting now has a bad reputation. Our sedentary lifestyle is increasingly posited as one of the biggest obstacles to good health, and there is certainly evidence for that perspective: sitting increases the pressure on the spinal discs 40-90%, and more than 3 hours per day has been shown to take as much as 2 years off a person's life.
Those facts suggest that we should take regular breaks from sitting, but we still need office chairs. For that reason, these concerns with the impact of sitting should not just problematize the amount we sit but impact how we set up an office chair – doing so in such a manner that our furniture can help support our backs.
6 steps to an office chair that supports your back
In ergonomic setup, it is key that your workstation is in the correct position related to where you are seated. In that sense, you want to concern yourself not just with the office chair but with its relationship to your workstation. Here are six steps for setup, as suggested by John J. Triano, DC, PhD, in Spine-health:
Sit with your keyboard close enough to your body that your hands can reach it with your elbow at a right angle and your upper arms parallel to your spine. If you cannot get into this position, raise or lower your office chair as needed.
Slide a finger beneath your thigh at the front of the chair. If you cannot do that, use a footrest (adjustable if possible) to raise your feet. People who are very tall may need to increase the height of the desk and chair to get the thigh in the right position.
Bring your buttocks all the way against the back of the chair and make a fist. Attempt to pass the fist between the chair and your calf. If that proves difficult, the chair is excessively deep. Spine-health suggests that this issue can be fixed by moving the backrest forward, getting a lumbar support, or investing in a new chair (see conclusion).
Verify that your buttocks are against the back of the chair, and that either its back or a cushion allows your spine to form a natural arch. The arch helps prevent slouching that can contribute to chronic back pain.
Confirm that when you are seated in the position described above, you can look straight forward at the top of the monitor. Move the screen up or down as needed; often it will need to be raised.
Finally, raise or lower the armrests of your chair so that your shoulders are very slightly elevated. This adjustment helps remove some of the strain from the shoulders and upper spine.
Bonus step: You can perform one final check on your viewing angle to ensure that particularly key aspect meets international ergonomic standards. Per the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety, viewing distance should be 40 to 74 centimeters (16 to 29 inches); your eyes should face the top of the monitor, allowing your 30-degree line of sight to cover the entire screen without moving your head.
Do you want your office chair to help rather than hurt your wellness? At Beaux-Arts Group, we do more than sell furniture, providing answers to ergonomics and other complex workplace challenges. View our task chairs.