Wellness

Still haven't found the right home office chair? This expert advice might help

Your chair should provide comfort and support in all the right places for you,

Your chair should provide comfort and support in all the right places for you

A woman sitting in adjustable desk chair, working on a computer next to a window, in home office.
(Credit: iStock/Getty Images)

For many Canadians, doing a job from home is more than a temporary reality brought on by the pandemic — instead, it's the way forward for the workplace. If you're among those eager to maintain a functional and comfortable home office set-up, it's important to take a better look at your chair. 

According to Linda Miller, professor in the faculty of rehabilitation medicine at University of Alberta and Roxanne Azoory, chair of the Canadian Physiotherapy Association's orthopedic division, long-term use of a chair that doesn't provide you with proper support can cause health issues. Here are tips to ensure you have a chair that's doing its job, so you can effectively do yours.

Important features for a work chair

There are different ways to know if a chair needs to be replaced. Some examples Azoory listed include if the chair is broken and can't be adjusted, or if you're no longer comfortable in it during an eight-hour workday. Perhaps you've been thinking about getting a more ergonomic one for months. Whatever the situation, there are key features to look for in a new one. 

"I would always go towards a more traditional office chair [so] that you can actually adjust angle and height, and you have the ability to then also lock it in place so that you can get good support," said Miller. Trendy options such as ball chairs, she explained, might create a lot of instability in the seat pan, which causes problems over time. 

The most important feature is an adjustable height, Miller said, followed by adequate back support. "Some people are working at a dining room table. Other people are working at an actual desk," she said. "Having the ability to actually adjust a chair to the proper height becomes really important." It's also crucial, she added, for the lower back, called the lumbar area, to have support because most people can't sit straight for extended periods without some form of it. 

If the chair you're eyeing has an armrest, Miller said to make sure that feature is adjustable too. "If they're the fixed type, they often will prevent somebody from getting in close enough to their work surface," she said.

While it may be easy to peruse the features of a chair online, Miller recommends going into a store and sitting in one. "When we sit down in a chair, it sometimes can feel really good or it can feel kind of uncomfortable until it's actually adjusted again to meet the requirements of that person's body," she said. Going into a store will help you to discover if the back of the chair is touching the whole of your back and supporting it. Azoory says this is an important feature. "A myth out there is that we should be holding our posture without the help of the chair because that will somehow strengthen our muscles over time. Our muscles aren't really, or our joints aren't really meant for the hours and hours of time we're spending in front of computers nowadays," she said.

Once you've examined the height, back support, and armrest, look at the seat cushion. It should have five centimetres of cushioning and be wide enough for your whole seat. This is vital, said Azoory, because if your seat cushion doesn't meet this requirement it puts strain on the back of your legs, where important arteries are located. "The friction on the seat is actually pretty important, too," said Azoory. If the seat cushion is a slippery material and you need to constantly adjust yourself, that will be fatiguing for your muscles, she explained. 

Finally, if you're debating between cloth, leather, or some other material, Miller suggests cloth-based chairs because they're more breathable. However, she mentions, they may not be ideal if you're sharing a chair with someone else who wants to have the ability to wipe it down.

Headrests and footrests

Other considerations for your comfort include headrests and footrests. While shorter people might find headrests uncomfortable, they can be beneficial for taller people, Azoory says. "Don't necessarily look for a headrest just because, you know, it looks like it completes the chair," she said. "It's more the back that needs to be covered by your chair." 

When it comes to choosing the right footrest, Miller said you're looking for one that is large enough to support your feet. "You don't want to have them dangling from the chair, or having them resting on the casters," she said. 

Azoory recommends a setup that puts you in a neutral posture, which is ideal. It means that various parts of your body are at 90-degree angles. "So, feet flat on the floor, and a 90-degree angle between your foot and your lower leg, 90 degrees at the knees, 90 degrees at the hips — which means between your thigh bone and your trunk — 90 degrees at the elbows," she said. "Then we go from there to adjust, based on the individual."

Remember to keep moving

According to Miller, it's important to remember that just because you have a great chair, doesn't mean you shouldn't be getting up throughout the day. You should be protecting your neck, back, and other body parts that may be prone to strain or fatigue, by adding frequent movement into your routine. 

It's a good idea to move every 30 minutes, said Azoory, and this can include switching to different seat options for short periods. "So, get up, change your position, ball, stool, stand, move around — just something different than the posture you've been assuming for a while. If you're one of those people that's uniquely very comfortable on a ball, then you could probably sustain it for longer," she said. "Now, is a stool or a ball meant to be comfortable the whole day? If you don't have back support, I would say no. Same with standing. I would say no."

As we all know, said Azoory, human beings are meant to move. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jacqueline Martinz is a Toronto-based writer. Her writing is often focused on issues impacting education, politics, philanthropy and animal welfare. When she isn’t writing, Jacqueline loves exploring the city and staying active with her dog, Oliver. Connect with Jacqueline through her website, jacquelinemartinz.com.

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