If you work from home or spend any serious amount of time sitting in front of a computer, your office chair is hands down the most important purchase you’ll make while furnishing your home office. Sure, your desk is a bigger decor statement, and a less-than-stellar printer can ruin your day, but research is finding that how, how often, and how long you sit can have a huge impact on your overall health. The chair you choose should not only look good, but should be comfortable, and designed to match the amount of time you spend sitting in it.
Sittable Hour Rating
If you work primarily in front of a computer like I do, choosing a supportive desk chair is crucial. That means upper and lower back support, adjustable arm rests, and an adjustable height. Most office chairs these days are rated by hour – like two, six, eight, or ten – according to how long it’s recommended you sit in them. This is a nice way to narrow down your options before you start digging into other features, and can give you a good overall sense of how comfortable the chair is going to be.
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The next feature you should look for is lumbar support. Not all chairs have it (though many do), but if you’re going to spend any amount of time sitting in it, your desk chair should. The lumbar is essentially the lower back and all the muscles, bones, and nerves that make it up, and it’s responsible for carrying most of your weight and facilitating most of your movement, which is why lower back pain is so common. Chairs with lumbar support help minimize pressure on the lower back and can even help improve your posture.
Upper Back/Neck Support
Lumbar support is the feature that’s always talked about when it comes to the ergonomics of office chairs, but upper back and even neck support are important, too. The human spine is naturally curved, and depending on your height and the height of the chair back, not all chairs will fit comfortably with the shape of your body. Look at least for a chair with an adjustable back height to help ensure a comfortable fit. Higher end chairs are even more customizable, allowing you to adjust the curve and pitch of the chair back, while mesh-backed chairs conform easily to the shape of your body while still providing support.
What type of arms your desk chair should have is a little more difficult to recommend simply because everyone uses their desk differently, which makes this feature one that’s a little more subjective. Some people simply can’t stand office chairs with arms, while others can’t live without them. Chair arms at a comfortable height can help relieve shoulder strain and pressure on your wrists and hands, while ones that are too high or too low can actually make them worse. The ideal height for the arms will depend a little on your desk and what you use it for – if you’re primarily using a keyboard, a laptop, or writing by hand – so if you prefer a chair with arms, definitely look for one with arms you can adjust.
Now, all this isn’t to say there’s no room for style when it comes to office chairs. These aren’t orthopedic shoes, all utility and no style. In fact, often the most ergonomic office furniture is the most stylish, too – either leather executive chairs or funky modern designs engineered specifically to maximize comfort and support. But it’s an important distinction to make, because there are also plenty of office chairs that are more style than substance. Decorative desk chairs are great if you’ll only be using them for a quick drive-by email check at a computer in a public area of your home. Serious sitters, though, should try out chairs if possible, or if you’re buying online, look for specific mention of support features in the product description, catalog, or manual.
Of course, there are those out there that would argue (and pretty compellingly) that no chair, no matter how well designed, can make up for just how bad sitting for long periods of time is for the body. Unfortunately, the reality is that a lot of us have to spend time at a desk. The result is a lot of hybrid solutions, like desk chairs that encourage more active sitting. For the slightly more adventurous, standing desks eliminate the need for a chair entirely (and also all the negative health effects of sitting). If you’re interested in trying out a standing desk but aren’t sure you’re ready to nix sitting entirely right off the bat, consider pairing a standing desk (or high counter or very tall table) with a bar stool to help you make the transition.
What are you looking for in an office chair for your home office or computer desk? Are you more interested in having a chair that sits comfortably, or one that will mesh with the decor of a larger room?
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