Office chairs can be a real pain


When you consider that office workers spend thousands of hours sitting in office chairs at their desks, it’s not surprising at all that surveys identify those chairs as a major problem when it comes to the health of those employees.

According to one survey, most back, neck and shoulder maladies can be traced at least partially to office chairs, or more specifically, poor use of them. Whether it’s not having your chair set correctly or you’re spending too much time in it, your office throne is probably the cause of the pain you suffer by the end of the work day.

I know what you’re thinking: “It’s a chair! How difficult can it be?”

Turns out, there’s much more to getting the right chair than choosing cloth or leather, black or brown. Assuming that your office manager has ordered decent chairs, there are a few things to keep in mind when it comes to your office throne. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) suggests you choose a chair with controls that are easy to operate from a seated position, that adjusts for both height and tilt and has a backrest shaped to support the lower back. The seat should curve toward the floor at the front so as to not put undue pressure on the back of your thighs or stress the knees. With those checked off, OSHA also suggests:


Add back support if you need it.

Extra support should be added so that your back rests comfortably against the office chair when you’re sitting at your desk. The right support should support the natural curve of your lower back that the back muscles do not have to work so hard to maintain correct posture. Without proper back support, over time the muscles fatigue and the natural tendency is to slouch forward, straining muscles.


Adjust your chair correctly.

For height, stand in front of the chair and adjust the chair so that the highest point of the seat is just below your kneecap. Then, sit on the chair. With your feet flat on the floor, there should be at least two inches between the front edge of the seat and your lower legs. (If the edge is lodged in the back of your knee, it’s likely to cause not only knee problems but circulation problems throughout the leg.)


Now, the armrests.

Armrests can be a problem, especially if they extend far enough forward to prevent you from scooting in to work at your desk. Rests should be less than 10 inches long ““ just enough to let you rest on them without impeding good posture. Now, it’s time to adjust them correctly. Sitting upright with your arms hanging loosely at your sides, bend your elbows 90 degrees. Adjust the rests until they barely touch the undersides of your arms. Arm supports that are non-existent, too low, or too wide for an individual user make the shoulders hunch forward, eventually dragging the neck and spine forward with it.


Once you’ve adjusted your chair, it’s time to check the rest of your workstation. Check to see if you can sit comfortably with your legs under your desk. If you can’t, you may need to raise your desk  – either by adjusting its legs if you can, or switching in another desk. Make sure your keyboard, your computer and phone are within easy reach. Your keyboard should be positioned close enough to the body so that it is not necessary to lean forward to reach it. It should also be placed so that your elbows are at your side when you’re typing, not reaching out in front of your body.

Finally, to keep you from hunching over, it’s time to adjust your computer screen. The top of the screen should be at eye level.

You’re set, and OSHA-approved once you’ve completed all these steps.