Controversial truth about your ergonomic office chair

The Controversial Simple Truth About Your Ergonomic Office Chair

by | Work from Home Ergonomics

I was doing research on ergonomic office chairs on a search engine. And the keyword searches that kept coming up were;

Best Ergonomic chair for Back Pain or

“Best Office chair for Neck Pain”. 

It made me aware that people are looking for a chair that can resolve their desk-related injuries. The ultimate chair that would make all the sitting injuries go away.

I agree! An ergonomic Office Chair is the best investment you can buy for your home office. However, the simple truth is that owning one wouldn’t make you pain-free. It wouldn’t resolve your back pain or neck pain.

To begin with, an ergonomic office chair is way better than using any other kind of chair for home working. Its ability to adjust to your size and shape puts it above the rest.

The ergonomic office chair is designed to move with you even when you make small movements. It’s designed to fit you like a glove. It’s designed to be comfortable with prolonged sitting. Well, sort of!

The Simple Truth of Your Ergonomic Office Chair 

Yet, the simple truth is that your ergonomic office chair is not meant to relieve your pain.

 It’s not medication or some form of therapy. So, purchasing an office chair with a tagline that it resolves your back or neck pain, is pure fallacy.

But the beauty of an ergonomic office chair is that it’s designed to accommodate and adapt. It is adjustable to allow you to move, spin, lean back and forward, and reach out without over-exerting your body. 

Know this, just having an ergonomic office chair wouldn’t prevent injury unless you maximise its properties. These properties are important because they help you use the chair the way it’s designed to. And that is how you relieve or prevent pain and injuries. 

So to help you work pain-free and allow your ergonomic office chair to support you, you need to;

1. Know How to Adjust the Levers

know how to adjust your office chair
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With my many years of experience in assessing workstations, I’m amazed at the high percentage of people that don’t adjust their chairs.  They inherit a chair and use that chair the way it was given to them. And it’s the same for home workers, you pick up or build your chair but forget to adjust it to fit you properly. 

Some people aren’t even aware that their chairs come with knobs and levers. Some see the lever but never use them. A few would usually use the seat height lever (the one that raises or lowers your chair) but nothing else.

If you want your ergonomic office chair to work for you, to help work without pain, then you must know how to adjust it to suit you. You must know what every lever or knob does. Learn how to adjust the seat pan so it doesn’t dig into the back of the knee, for example. Or how to tilt the backrest to support you when you want to sit forward or recline.

And that brings me to the second point.

2. You Need To Know The Function of the Adjusters

Have you heard of lumbar support? Seat pad depth? Independent tilt or lock? All these are the function of your ergonomic chair adjusters. Do you know what they do or why you need them? Do you know how they would benefit you and help you work from home pain-free?

It’s one thing to know that you have the adjusters but it’s another, to know how and when to use them.

And that brings me to the third point.

3. You Need to Know Why You Need to Use Them

So really, why do you need an ergonomic office chair? Why can’t you just sit and work from any chair? What are you aiming to achieve with an ergonomic office chair?

Two Words: NEUTRAL POSTURE

sitting in a neutral position
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For you to be able to sit and work pain-free, you must sit in a neutral sitting posture. The neutral sitting posture is one that puts the least strain on your body. A posture that keeps you centred and supports the natural curves of your spine. A posture that eliminates awkward positions that cause discomfort, pain, and injury.

An ergonomic office chair is designed to help you achieve a neutral sitting posture. 

’So, are you saying my swanky armchair wouldn’t?

The problem with the armchair being used as a desk chair is that it is fixed. Rigid. Unforgiving. Whatever shape or size you are, you must try to fit into a rigid armchair. If you’re too short for the chair, then your legs dangle. You can’t even lower your seat to place your feet firmly on the ground (one of the rules of the neutral posture).

If the armrests are too high for your elbows and shoulders, you can’t lower them down to relax the shoulders. What if you get tired sitting upright and you want to take the pressure off your lower back and change position?

Well, you can’t. 

Your rigid swanky armchair won’t allow you lean way back. It’s just unforgiving. 

And that brings me to the final point.

4. You Need To Know When To Take A Break

Know when to take breaks from sitting on ergonomic office chairs
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Yep, I said it.

Your ergonomic office chair although designed to give you the best comfort, can’t be used for hours on end. 

Sorry! But you can’t work around this one. 

It doesn’t matter if you bought the ‘creme de le creme’. The most expensive ergonomic office chair money can buy. You still need breaks. Your back needs to take the cumulative pressure off its discs or you would develop disc prolapse. Your legs need to get up and move, so you don’t weaken or shorten your hips, pelvic and leg muscles.

We all do it. After a while of sitting you begin to slouch. Purely, because you’re tired. Your spine muscles are tired, so they take on awkward postures like slouching.

Solution: 

Take a break. Any kind of break. Tea break, toilet break, standing break, a walk outside, school run, lying down break (perks of working from home), even a nap.

How to Begin to Adjust Your Ergonomic Office Chair

So, you see, your ergonomic office chair is awesome to help you achieve those goals. But these achievements don’t happen simply because you have an ergonomic office chair.

Nope!

It needs your input. You both need to work together. You need to master it. Show it how to fit you, suit you and work with you. Know how it works and adjust it regularly to suit your different sitting positions. 

A good way to begin is to play with the levers and adjusters. Try out those knobs, there is no one way of doing it. Try out a position and see if it fits you for that situation. For example, I know you are also told to in an upright position. But that’s not the only way to sit. You can also tilt your backrest forward to recline. Those levers are meant to be used. If you were in a meeting or reading, you could recline a little. Leaning forward would allow you to get closer to the screen to see the fine prints or lines. 

In summary 

Your body is designed to move. Let your ergonomic office chair work with you. Allow it to move with you. Take breaks, change positions, adjust your lumbar support, and learn to listen to the needs of your body. 

Ugo is a Workplace Musculoskeletal Health Expert. She is a Chartered Physiotherapist with a master's degree in Ergonomics. 20 years of experience. Treated thousands of patients and workers. Conducted numerous work assessments across many industries. Worked with companies including BP, and UKPN. On a mission to help you work from home pain-free and reduce your risk of developing work-related musculoskeletal disorders (WMSD).

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