An article published in a leading online magazine indicates that one of the most prevalent injuries in an office environment is related to unsafe furniture.
Office workers are prone to strains and other injuries, because they spend a bulk of their day seated at a desk or in front of a computer.
What’s worse is that most hazardous office conditions from an ergonomics perspective tend to appear quite innocuous to common office Joes!
Switching to ergonomic office furniture is a smart way to reduce the number of furniture related injuries, increase comfort and efficiency in the workplace, and most importantly nurture your employee’s physical health, as opposed to compromising on safety.
What is an Ergonomic Chair?
The word “ergonomic” may sound like some type of mysterious space-age technology, but basically refers to office equipment that’s adaptable, comfortable and safe.
The first ergonomic chair was conceived by William Stumpf in 1976 — the Ergon, which was designed with the sole purpose of providing both comfort, and support. It came with key features including height adjustment, and spine support.
Wondering what makes a chair organic, and different from a conventional office chair? Well, there’s a few distinct features that set the two apart, starting with adjustable headrests, armrests and seat height with ergonomic chairs compared to a static sitting posture with conventional office chairs.
Different Types of Ergonomic Chairs
There are myriad excellent alternatives to traditional office chairs such as:
Kneeling Ergonomic Chair
Kneeling ergonomic chairs are especially designed to maintain a natural curve in your lower back to reduce pressure, and ease your back. This type of ergonomic chair has no back, and puts your hips forward, and aligns your neck, shoulders and back.
The front of kneeling ergonomic chairs features a forward slanting seat, which distributes the weight between your pelvis and knees, and encourages a natural position for your spine.
Saddle Ergonomic Chair
Saddle ergonomic chairs promote an active sitting position, and puts you in a position somewhere between sitting and standing, similar to the position when riding a horse. Saddle ergonomic chairs are often a recommended choice for those suffering from lower back problems, and can strengthen the back muscles when used for a long period of time.
Exercise Ball Ergonomic Chair
Just as the name would suggest, exercise ball ergonomic office chairs are designed in the shape of a ball, and can be used as desk chairs or computer chairs. One of the biggest benefits of exercise ball office chairs is that they encourage movement, and active seating.
Sitting on a ball ergonomic chair makes it difficult to slouch, keeps muscles engaged, and reduces stress and fatigue. Exercise ball chairs can be ordered in an array of different sizes, and some can even be modified with a base frame with wheels, and backrest.
How much Weight can an Ergonomic Chair Hold?
Not all ergonomic office chairs are built equal, where some can handle more weight than others. And given that there’s no “one size fits all” design, you will have to pay close attention to the weigh capacity of the respective office chair model. Buying an ergonomic chair that can’t accommodate your weight could result in injury.
Most of the best ergonomic office chairs are built tough, and can handle up to 250 lbs. There are also bigger office chairs that can hold between 300 lbs and 800 lbs weight.
What Material is an Ergonomic Chair Made From?
The base and frame of ergonomic chairs can be made from several different materials, most notably plastic, steel, aluminum or wood. Plastic bases are made from polypropylene, and aren’t the most reliable bases, as they can cave in depending on the user’s weight.
This can also cause the castors to snap off, leading to injury. However, there are a select few ergonomic chairs that come with strong plastic bases, and designed for average sized people. This range solid plastic base chairs can be a bit pricey, but high quality doesn’t come cheap!
Moving on, ergonomic office chairs with aluminum bases are a hit in the market, due to two reasons — versatility and durability. In terms of versatility, ergonomic chairs with aluminum bases can handle moderate to slightly larger weight individuals, and are also anodized for long service life.
If an ergonomic chair with an aluminum base isn’t strong enough for you, buy a model that comes with a steel base. Steel bases are much heavier than their plastic and aluminum counterparts, hence great reduce chances of an accident, or breaking of the casters.
When it comes to wood bases, things work a bit differently, because wood itself is not entirely used to make the base, but rather serves as a coating over a steel core for a stylish finish.
The seat and backrest of ergonomic chairs can be crafted from a plethora of different materials including fabric, vinyl, mesh, leather, and faux leather. Fabric made ergonomic chairs can be made from several different types ranging from woven to knitted fabric.
The fabric used in these ergonomic chairs is available in many colors, making it easy to get the right fit for your home or office. But fabric isn’t perfect, and just like clothing is susceptible to spills and stains, so you’ll have to be a little careful, and avoid eating or drinking at your workstation.
Vinyl ergonomic chairs are available in a choice of several different textures and softness levels, and are easy to clean. On the flipside, vinyl ergonomic chairs don’t offer great breathability compared to other materials, but will continue to look good even after regular use.
If you desire unmatched breathability, mesh ergonomic chairs are your best bet, as they allow a surge of airflow to reach your body when you’re seated. However, they can become uncomfortable over time, because they don’t distribute a person’s body weight as well as fabric ergonomic chairs.
Leather ergonomic chairs are expensive compared to all other types of material, but offer timeless elegance, and a prestigious feel. Leather chairs do need special attention and care, because they require regular upkeep, cleaning, and most importantly kept away from sunlight.
How Important is Lumbar Support in Ergonomic Chairs?
Lumbar support is one of the key elements that makes a chair ergonomic. But what is lumbar support, and how important is it for ergonomic chairs? When sitting in a conventional office chair, shifting your weight forward increases stress on the joints and discs, and soft tissues.
A lumbar support backrest reduces stress on the aforementioned areas of your body, and promotes good posture by supporting the naturally inward curve of your lower back.
Without lumbar support, maintaining the correct posture is more difficult, so much so that your body, specifically the large muscles in the lower back have to work overtime to support its proper curvature and alignment.
Types of Lumbar Support
There are several different types of lumbar support available with ergonomic chairs such as fixed, adjustable, dynamic, and external. There are a few things to keep in mind when choosing the lumbar support in your ergonomic chair.
Most of the general population benefits from a lumbar depth between 0.6” to 2”. The right lumbar support is different for men and women, given that women typically have an excessive inward curve of the spine aka lordosis, therefore may be better off with a more pronounced lumbar support.
If you have a higher BMI (Body Mass Index), you may benefit from a taller lumbar support to target the higher up areas of your back. That said, here are three of the most common types of lumbar support to choose from.
Fixed lumbar support – this type of lumbar support cannot be repositioned or modified in any way, and is fixed into the backrest.
Even though it is more ergonomic than having no back support at all, it may be counterproductive if it protrudes too much or too little for the individual or was positioned incorrectly.
Adjustable lumbar support – given that the curvature of your spine is as unique as your fingerprints, adjustable lumbar support is probably a better option for you, because you can make manual adjustments to the lumbar area to suit your needs.
Adjustable lumbar support in ergonomic office chairs come in various different levels such as height adjustable — allows you to adjust the height of the lumbar support to target a specific area of your back.
Depth adjustable lumbar support allows you to adjust how much the lumbar support moves forward, whereas firm adjustable lumbar support generally allows you to control the firmness and softness via a knob.
Dynamic lumbar support – perhaps the best type of lumbar support you can get, and is seen in some of the high-end ergonomic chairs. Dynamic lumbar support automatically contours to your body, adjusts to different parts of your back separately, and reacts to postural changes.
Adjustable Headrest, Armrests, and Seat Height
Apart from lumbar support, the headrests, armrests and seat height can make a world of a different in the level of comfort and support of an ergonomic chair. If you’re suffering from neck sprains or other similar neck issues, buy an ergonomic chair that comes with a headrest to support the weight of your head and neck.
Most if not all ergonomic chairs are fitted with armrests, which should be height adjustable between 7.1″ to 10.6″ above compressed seat height. Some ergonomic chairs come with a pivoting arm, which provides your arms with a better position for support when typing.
The seat height of ergonomic chairs should be adjustable preferably via an adjustment layer between 16” to 21” off the floor for most people. This is an ideal seat height, as it will allow you to keep your feet flat on the floor, with your arms at the right height as your desk.
Seat width and depth is another aspect to consider when looking for the best ergonomic chair, and is the distance from the back of the chair to the front. The seat width and depth may vary across users, but is usually between 17” and 20” wide.
The seat pan is the area of the ergonomic chair you sit on, and is attached to the base of the chair. Ergonomically designed seat pans will usually feature a sloped aka waterfall edge, and will be slightly hollow in the center to help distribute your weight more evenly.
Furthermore, the seat pan should also be able to tilt forward and backwards, so that you can change your posture throughout the day, and move the sitting load to different areas of your body.
Wheels of Ergonomic Chairs
The wheel base houses the wheels of the ergonomic chair, and should have a minimum of five spokes. There are ergonomic chairs that come with four spoke bases, but these are likely to tip over when you recline back in your chair.
Wheels also referred to as casters allow the ergonomic chair to glide freely across various different types of floor surfaces. Hard floor casters can be used on tile, wood and laminate flooring, whereas carpet casters allow you to easily use the chair in carpeted areas.
Casters are available in several different sizes, but generally measure between 2” to 2.5”. You can also get larger size wheels such as 3”, which create less resistance when rolling, and are much more durable and versatile, so you won’t have to replace them often.
Caster wheels are available in twin or dual-wheel versions, where the latter creates a wider surface to distribute weight evenly, and prevents damage to your floors.
Some caster wheels feature a reverse locking mechanism, which lock into place when weight is applied to the ergonomic chair, and can be easily rolled, and moved across the room once the weight is removed.
Floor guides work contrarily to casters, where they stabilize the ergonomic chair in position rather than easily moving it around. Certain floor guides can even be height adjusted to deal with uneven surfaces.
Buying an ergonomic chair offers several different benefits including unsurpassed posture support, as long as you buy the right one. We’ve provided you with comprehensive information on how to choose an ergonomic chair to ease your buying decision when on the shopping trail.