Does A Truly Ergonomic Chair Actually Exist?

Does a truly ergonomic chair actually exist? In short, I would have to say no! It’s technically possible to get a chair that would have the degree of adjustability or interchangeable parts that would be able to fit a high percentage of the population. That’s one thing. Getting people to use their chair in a truly ergonomic manner is an entirely different beast. You could have the best possible ergonomic chair on the market available, but if it’s not adjusted to fit each user, it’s kind of a waste of money! On top of this is the personal preferences that affect the level of comfort that someone experiences and determines whether or not they like the chair – some people may like a particular chair based on its colour, texture, or overall look while others think that it’s the worst for the exact same reasons! In this post we go into the details of what makes a chair ergonomic and then what to do when looking for an ergonomic chair.

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What Sets An Ergonomic Chair Apart In The First Place?

If you ever visit ergonomics message boards on the internet, you’ll see a lot of questions asking if a particular chair is considered to be ergonomic or what the most ergonomic chair is for a particular type of job (like a developer or programmer). There are obviously a lot of chair options out there, at numerous price points that all claim that they are ergonomic. How can every chair who claims to be ergonomic actually be ergonomic and what makes a chair ‘ergonomic’ in the first place? Ergonomics is all about the fit between the equipment and the user. In most cases, this means that it must have the ability to adjust. This rules out many meeting, coffee shop, airport, waiting room chairs, etc as not being ergonomic especially for the long-term. To be considered to be ergonomic, the chair should be able to be adjusted to fit the user in a number of key areas. These include: lower back (lumbar) area, back angle, armrest height and width, seat pan length and width, and chair height. If there is a mismatch or no adjustment available it would mean that the chair is not ergonomic and could actually be very uncomfortable!

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Here Come The ‘Outliers’.

Have you ever seen one chair used as a standard in an office? No matter what the person’s job is, or if they are larger or smaller, or have pre-existing discomfort (like long term back pain), they all are using the same chair. Would this be considered to be ‘ergonomic’? Probably not. You might observe the people using this standard chair fidgeting. The amount that the user moves or fidgets in their chair is directly related to how uncomfortable they are in it. Many times this movement can be considered to subconscious, where the user does not even realize that they are doing it. As I mentioned above, ergonomics is all about the fit between the user and the equipment. When you think about all the different body types of people out there, it can become quite difficult just to find one single chair that would be a good match for everyone.

There is no such thing as a truly ergonomic chair because an ‘average’ person does not exist.

People may be slimmer, taller, or shorter than their colleagues. Even if someone may be ‘average’ height, this is very unlikely to carry over to all of their body measurements. This means that there would be a different requirement that each user would need from their chair, and one standard chair would be difficult to match up to an entire workforce.

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How To Find A Chair That Works For Everyone. 

So, having the necessary chair options are key to find an ergonomic chair solution that will work for everyone. But what about finding a chair that is absolutely ideal for everyone? Research has found that when trying out chairs, ensuring that each person has at least 18 minutes of sitting with each option helps a lot. This is the minimum required duration to be able to distinguish between similar chairs. Of course, someone may know immediately if a chair is uncomfortable and in this case the chair will not need to be tried for longer. This suggestion really helps for when there are several high quality ergonomic chairs with similar options. You may be surprised to learn that the opinion of each chair changes by the end of the trial period.

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This Is What You Should Be Looking For In A Chair. 

If you are in the market for purchasing an ergonomic chair there are certain criteria that you should be considering. Here are our suggestions to what to look for in an ergonomic chair. But, remember a trial period is always recommended to ensure that the chair is truly comfortable for you!

  1. Lumbar (lower back) support: The lumbar support should be adjustable whenever possible; ideally, the lower back support should be height and pressure adjustable. However, most chairs that are available today won’t likely have both types of adjustments standard. Usually only the backrest height lumbar adjustment is standard and the pressure adjustment is usually an expensive add-on. If you have the means, I’ve seen a lot of positive outcomes with having both types of adjustments in chairs. Note: adjustability in pressure is usually accomplished with some sort of air bladder that can be inflated/deflated or with tension adjustments on the back of the chair.
  2. Synchro-tilt functionality (ability to change the entire angle of the seat pan and backrest; they move together as a unit): Synchro-tilt is a common feature for the large majority of new chairs these days and usually comes with a free-float feature that can be used when the function is unlocked. The free-float feature essentially turns your chair into a rocking chair where sitting changes from a static to more of a dynamic type of movement. Those who use this function tend to like it.
  3. Multi-tilt functionality (ability to angle and lock the backrest into many different back positions): The multi-tilt function tends to be a standard option with higher-end type of ergonomic chairs. Otherwise multi-tilt is considered to be an ‘extra’ for many base model chairs. Multi-tilt functionality may cost you a little extra, but this feature is a big value-add since research is now recommending that the most optimal backrest angle for comfort is slightly reclined (between 95 and 115 degrees) instead of the ‘traditional’ sitting upright posture (90 degrees). The multi-tilt function allows you to make the adjustment and easily lock it into place. Note: You can have a multi-tilt combined with a synchro-tilt on a chair, it is usually pretty standard.
  4. Chair tension adjustability: Having the ability to adjust the chair’s tension has also become a standard feature these days on new chairs. This feature controls the ease that the synchro-tilt function works as well as how much ‘give’ or flexibility you have with your free float function (aka rocking chair ability) of the chair. Less tension means more freedom of movement when the synchro-tilt function is unlocked.
  5. Seat height adjustability: Adjusting the chair’s height is completely standard these days and has been for a very long time. If your chair cannot adjust its height, it is definitely time to look at purchasing a different (newer) chair!
  6. Seat pan depth adjustability: A seat pan slider is suggested to get the best fit out of the chair. It’s a commonly overlooked feature, but fitting the seat pan can go a long way to help solve lower back discomfort. Additionally, if you are looking to purchase a chair that will be shared amongst many people, this feature will help fit maybe 90 percent of people due to its depth adjustability. For those that are very small or very large, one standard sized chair will likely not be able to accommodate their thigh length so you may need to look at speciality sized chairs. Ideally, there should be about 2–3 fingers between the edge of the chair and the back of the calves!
  7. Armrest adjustability: The options for armrest adjustability include height, width, and length. To accommodate as many people as possible with one type of chair design, armrests should at least be height and width (usually can pivot towards the user). The armrest length feature is a useful adjustment if they come in contact with the desk, preventing you from getting close (and comfortable) to your work.

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Through the administration of countless assessments in both private and public sectors, Darcie has gained a wealth of knowledge and built a successful practice in the field of ergonomics. She has extensive expertise in conducting office ergonomics assessments in large scale workplaces for all different types of scenarios, from simple adjustments to incredibly complex cases. Darcie also has vast experience in delivering training presentations on the various aspects of ergonomics “best practices” in the workplace. Darcie is a Certified Professional Ergonomist through the Board of Certification in Professional Ergonomics, as recognized by the International Ergonomics Association. She also has a Masters of Science, specializing in ergonomics. A little known fact about Darcie is that she once scored from half, off a free kick, in a university varsity soccer (football) match!

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