We’ve spent a lot of time over the past five decades studying ergonomics — that’s the science of an efficient workplace — and we’ve learned quite a bit compared to the Mad Men era. Ergonomics has told us an awful lot about how to configure a workplace so that people sitting in it are as comfortable and productive as possible. And yet, we still have a fairly profound amount of ignorance about something as seemingly-straightforward as the furniture we sit on while we work. What does it mean, for example, for a chair to be labeled the ‘best chair for ergonomics‘?
Hopefully, we don’t have to define any terms here; you know what “best” and “chair” mean, and we’ve already given you the definition of “ergonomics.” What we’re looking for then is the chair that most enables workplace efficiency…but that’s not a terribly useful thing to ask if you don’t know what causes workplace inefficiency.
What Causes Workplace Inefficiency
Forgoing a vast number of non-physical factors like ‘are you under stress at home’ and ‘are you sleeping enough’, the number one cause of workplace inefficiency is pain. When you’re sore, when you have a crick in your neck, when your fingertip hurts every time you strike a key on your keyboard, it distracts you from your task.
So, then, what we’re talking about when we ask about the best ergonomic chair is simply “the best chair for pain prevention and/or relief.” As it turns out, there are a huge number of things that can cause pain while sitting in a chair — but the science of ergonomics has more or less quantified and defined them, and mostly solved those problems. Let’s look deeper:
Attributes of the Ideal Ergonomic Chair
Ideally, an ergonomically perfect chair would seat you with your feet flat on the ground and your thighbones parallel to the ground. This, in turn, means that the distance between the seat pan of your chair and the floor has to be almost exactly equal to the length between the back of your knee and the sole of your shoe. Because people have a wide variance in the lengths of their legs, a chair either has to be exactly the right height in the first place, or it has to be adjustable so as to suit a variety of people.
Similarly, the ultimate ergonomic chair will seat you with your wrists and elbows forming a parallel line to the ground, with your elbows supported by the armrests of the chair. This of course means that your armrests must also be adjustable based on your height.
The Backbone Of the Argument
Perhaps the most important aspect of an ergonomic chair is its ability to prevent the most common kind of pain in America: lower back pain. Lumbar support is a standard feature on almost every office chair these days, but several studies have shown that it’s not enough. Some chairs offer lumbar support that is massively adjustable; able to be shifted in any direction, tilted, and even rotated. These chairs are good — but still not ideal.
The ideal ergonomic chair actually moves with you, so that your lower back is constantly supported, no matter what you’re doing — reaching, leaning, relaxing, sitting up. If you can find an office chair that has all of the basic ergonomic adjustments and moves with you as you move, you’ve found something very close to the ‘best’ chair for ergonomics.