Ergonomics is the study of designing equipment to fit the human body. Ergonomic chairs can increase your productivity in the workplace and are also better for your health.
As little as 50 years ago, people had very active work styles. Careers in farming, factory work, manufacturing, and retail were the norm. A lot of people were in the military back then too. What these jobs all have in common is you’re always standing, walking around, sitting briefly, and standing up again. People were constantly changing positions throughout the day.
Fast forward to 2012. The personal computer dominates the workplace and people end up spending more and more of their time sitting in a chair. In fact, for many people – sitting is the ONLY way to work. Americans typically work longer hours than other parts of the world as well – 8, 10, even 12 hour days are not unusual.
When you spend so much of the day sitting, having an ergonomic chair is vital to your productivity. Let’s face it – when you’re comfortable, you can do anything better. Or let’s say it another way – when you’re NOT comfortable, your concentration and productivity suffers.
Ergonomic chairs help you bring your best to the office. You need to feel good to function at peak performance. If your neck starts to stiffen, or your wrists start to hurt, you’re not going to think as clearly as you would if you didn’t have those symptoms. You’re not going to work as efficiently. And the worst part is that it can lead to human-error and bad decision making. Making mistakes and bad decisions are costly to any business.
It’s well known that happy workers with good morale, make the best workers. An ergonomic chair makes you feel good. You can concentrate on the task at hand. You have more energy, can work over longer stretches, and are more accurate and efficient.
Having an ergonomic chair also increases productivity by reducing employee downtime and absenteeism. Using an ill-fitted chair will not only cause performance and concentration issues, but it can lead to real physical problems as well. Aching backs, sore wrists, neck and shoulder pain can cause an employee to miss work for days and sometimes weeks. And a lot of this can be prevented by using ergonomic chairs. This is a great segue onto our next topic – the health benefits of using an ergonomic chair.
Did you know that before the personal computer, carpel tunnel syndrome was a relatively unknown term? That’s right – the invention of the personal computer has increased cases of a painful condition in which the median nerve (the nerve that runs up and down your forearm) is compressed. As humans continue to charge down the computerized career path so many of us have, new human maladies are bound to develop as well.
The importance of correct posture provided by an ergonomic chair is even more important in the long-term. If you sit in a poor posture for one day, the pain in your neck and back will eventually go away as your body recovers. But sitting in a poor position EVERYDAY can lead to real long-term problems because it’s hard for your body to recover from everyday abuse.
The main physical problems associated with poor ergonomics are Musculoskeletal Disorders (MSDs). These mainly affect the nerves, tendons and muscles and can make it very painful for an employee to use his hands, arms and wrists. Repetitive activities can also lead to an MSD. Here are some known problems associated with poor ergonomics:
Poor ergonomics can lead to a number of long term physical problems. Often, we brush off the symptoms early on thinking that the pain and discomfort will go away. But that's the worst possible thing to do. With the types of physical problems discussed here, it's important to deal with them as soon as possible. If you wait until the pain is too much to bear, you may already have permanent damage. Ergonomic chairs help you be proactive, so you’re taking preventative measures before it’s too late.
When shopping for an ergonomic chair, the key thing to remember is you’re looking for a chair that will fit your body – and not having to force your body to fit the chair. So with this in mind, adjustability features on ergonomic chairs are paramount. Here are some of the features to look for in your next ergonomic chair.
Adjustable Seat Height
Virtually all ergonomic chairs will have adjustable seat height. You’re aiming for three things when it comes to seat height:
Adjustable Lumbar Support
The lumbar region is your lower back area. Your spine has an inward curve (towards your stomach) in the lumbar region, so putting your lower back against a flat backrest will not provide the lower back support you need. Flat backrests often lead to slouching which straightens the lower back area and causes strain.
When looking for adjustable lumbar support in an ergonomic chair, both the depth and height of the support is important. So you want the lumbar support to come far enough forward so that your lower back is supported by it. You also want the height of the lumbar support to be adjustable so you can move it up or down.
The backrest of a good ergonomic chair should adjustable in three dimensions:
The backrest should adjust up or down so you’re getting proper back support, particularly in the lumbar region. It should also be adjustable forward and backward so that when your back is flush against the backrest, you have 2 – 4 inches of clearance between the front of the seat and the back of your knees. Proper backrest tilt ensures you’re in a comfortable position while not leaning too far forward.
Ergonomic chair armrests should be adjustable up and down, and they may also have adjustable inward and outward swivel. You want your arms to rest on the armrests without tension, particularly in the shoulder area. When typing, it’s okay to relax your elbows slightly on the armrest but you should keep your forearms off the armrest as it could lead to an unnatural typing position.
Your ergonomic chair should swivel 360 degrees so you can comfortably reach for things around your desk. Avoid reaching back or around your body while your body is facing forward as this can cause undue strain. Swivel the chair around and reach forward naturally.
Comfortable and Breathable Seat Material
The material that makes up the seat and backrest of your ergonomic chair should be comfortable enough to sit on for extended periods of time. Softer materials made up of cloth are more “breathable” and generally preferred over a hard surface.