If you have an office job and spend seven or more hours at your desk every day, you’ve probably also spent a lot of time thinking about your office chair and whether you should buy one that’s more ergonomic or just more comfortable. The answer is yes, you should invest in a better office chair. “If you’re sitting for a long period of time in one position that’s not a natural position or a bad position from a postural standpoint, over time, that’s going to cause you to have problems. It’s going to break down your spine,” says Dr. Marc Agulnick, an orthopedic surgeon based on Long Island, New York, and affiliated with NYU Winthrop Hospital.
One of the easiest ways to ensure you don’t suffer from that long-term damage is to upgrade your office chair and make sure you have an ergonomic desk setup. The bad news, however, is that the perfect, ergonomic office chair doesn’t exist because every body is different. “If you take a one-size-fits-all approach, there are a lot of people who are miserable with it, because what’s comfortable for one person is going to be miserable for another,” Agulnick explains, and being comfortable in your office chair is definitely a priority. But there are certain types of office chairs that are going to make it easier for you to maintain a healthy posture while you work, regardless of your body type or personal preferences.
With advice from Agulnick and Dr. Scott Bautch, a Wisconsin-based chiropractor who’s currently president of the American Chiropractic Association’s Council on Occupational Health, we narrowed some office chairs (and ergonomic chair attachments) that are going to help you sit up straight, and comfortably, at work and help prevent long-term damage to your back and shoulders.
A good office chair is going to help you maintain a neutral posture. That means sitting with your feet flat on the floor; your knees slightly higher than your hips; and your hips, shoulders, and ears all lined up with each other. And since that position will be slightly different for each person, the best way to find that neutral posture is with an adjustable chair — one that’s as intuitive as possible. That’s why Bautch likes the chairs from Humanscale, a New York City–based office furniture company that’s designs chairs that have “minimum amount of levers with maximum amount of adaptability for the person sitting in it.” Their Freedom office chair, for instance, uses what’s called “self-adjusting recline,” which allows the sitter to change the chair’s angle simply by leaning back, rather than fussing with a separate lever.
Bautch also recommends building micro-breaks into your everyday routine, times when you stretch and rest the muscles you’re using and use the muscles that have been resting. “Just little micro-breaks throughout the day, every 15 to 20 minutes, I’ll survive my sitting much, much better,” he explains. So if you’re sitting in your chair, slightly hunched over toward your screen, it’s nice to lean away from your computer, pulling your shoulders back like you’re going to put a pencil between them. And an office chair with a wider range of motion, like this one from Brenton Studio, will allow you to lean back whenever you feel like you need a little bit of a breather without any levers or tension.
“I love balls and ball chairs,” says Bautch. “I think they’re one of the most reasonable solutions” to add more motion to your everyday routine. And though it might take some time to get comfortable sitting on a ball chair, once you’re used to it, Bautch says there’s no real reason that you can’t use it as your only office chair.
One thing to remember with ball chairs, though: “If you don’t have a circle underneath it, we don’t want to have a secondary injury because, kind of the old kids’ game where the ball rolls away and you sit down and it’s not there anymore.” This exercise ball comes with a stability ring, so you don’t wobble away.
The lowest-intervention option is a half-ball, like this balance disc from Gaiam, that you can place on any office chair you might already own or use. It’ll activate your core and give you many of the same health benefits as a more traditional ball chair would but with significantly less risk of falling. It also makes it easy to switch between sitting on a ball and on a regular chair.
Another key part of the back to support is your lumbar curve in your lower back, because, explains Agulnick, “if it’s something that’s comfortably supporting the lumbar spine, it’s going to help people stay in a good posture, prevent them from slouching over and going into postures that could put a lot more stress.” And though all of the office chairs we’ve recommended so far have solid built-in lumbar support, there are also some less-expensive but still-effective products you can strap onto the back of your chair if you need more. Writer Maureen O’Connor recommended this mesh one, explaining, “ it comfortably curves into the lower back near the base of the spine. It’s a gentle nudge to sit up straight and can be strapped onto the chair of your choice — and, most critically, removed whenever you want.” Plus, because you’re adding it to your chair, you can place it so that it fits exactly in the small of your back, not too high or low.
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