An OT’s guide to choosing an office chair
When considering a new office chair, you need to look for a range of different factors, including:
- Height adjustability lever
- Seat tilt lever
- Seat and back combo tilt
- Back height adjustability
- Depth of seat
- Height of seat back
- Lumbar support
These are all important factors in choosing the right chair for you. As humans, our dimensions are all different, some of us have long legs and long torsos; some long legs and short torsos; some, short and short. That means we need chairs that are highly adjustable to get them just right.
A lever for height adjustability, is THE most important form of adjustment needed. Getting yourself into an appropriate position in relation to the desk or surface is important. The height lever lets that happen.
Changing the height obviously means potential for your feet not to touch the floor anymore. That’s when a footrest comes into play. If the height adjustment needed for your table top means that your feet touch the floor and your knees are above your hips, we have another issue to deal with. The table top will need to be raised, so that you can get your knees and hips to 90 degrees.
The height you are aiming for is a position where your elbows (when in a writing position) are bent to 90 degrees. Your hips are bent to 90 and your knees, with feet flat on the floor (or footrest) are bent to 90 degrees.
This allows you to change the angle of your hips. While 90 is ideal, it’s not always comfortable, so being able to change this angle can be important. There is nothing worse than feeling like you’re sliding off a chair, so thankfully these tilt forward and backwards.
Seat + back tilt
This allows you to tilt the chair in space, to a certain extent. For most people with hypermobility, it’s not advisable to tilt this back while working because your head will seek to be over the top of your hips, and you will end up in what we call a goose neck posture, which isn’t good.
Back height adjustability
I hadn’t realised how important this was until I used a chair that didn’t have an adjustment for the back height. Why is that important? Because it changes the positioning of the lumbar support, which is extremely important. There is nothing like having a lumbar support that actually sits in your sacral area or half way between your lumbar and thoracic regions so that your butt falls out the back of the chair!
Depth of seat
As I mentioned before we are all different shapes and sizes, that includes the length between our hips and our knees. That’s why seats are made in a few different depths to try and accommodate people. If you get a chair that has a seat that’s too deep, your lumbar spine won’t touch the set back, rendering your lumbar support null & void. You should be able to sit on the chair with your lower back up against the back support, and have a couple of finger widths between the crease behind your knee and the edge of the seat.
Height of Seat Back
This is important with regards to support in thoracic region. A lower back support provides less support to the upper back. There are two types of high back chair – one that reaches above the head to provide head support/a place to rest the head, and the other is a height that comes to around mid-scapula level. The low height usually only comes midway up the back (and aren’t as supportive). I personally find a mid-scapula level back the most practical and comfortable for my body.
Some chairs will have more inbuilt lumbar support than others. You usually find more support in the higher priced chairs. Having said that, not every needs that much lumbar support, so it really does come down to trial and error. Out of all these factors, this is the one that makes trying before you buy REALLY important. You can to sit in the chair, make some adjustments and know that the lumbar support is comfortable before you purchase.
My recommendation is to err of the side of less lumbar cushioning. You can always add a pillow behind your back or a lumbar support roll to your chair, but you can’t take away what’s already there (without massacring your new chair!)
Arm Rests vs. No Arm Rests
This one is personal choice. Often arm rests get in the way of you getting your chair close enough to the desk – their greatest downfall. Another issue is getting an arm rest that is the correct heigh for you so that your elbows rest on them at 90 degrees. An additional issue with armrests and hypermobility is the tendency to lean on them, either leaning on one elbow, or unconsciously, while searching for support for your fatiguing body, drag your shoulders down so that you elbows rest heavily on the arm rests. This causes all kinds of dragging forces on your neck and is one of the surest ways to give yourself a headache.
Sure, having something to rest your arms on is nice sometimes, but the risks outweigh the benefits in my experience. Lots of chairs come with “removable armrests” or ones you can add on later.
There are lots of things to factor into buying your new chair. Just remember, the very best way to buy your chair is to go to the shop and sit in it!