Our tips for choosing the right one.
How’s your work chair?
Working in an office can involve many hours sitting in a chair….. but what kind of chair are you using at home? Prolonged sitting and poor posture can add stress to the structures in the body and spine. Sitting in a bad chair for prolonged periods can lead to back pain, neck pain, headaches and the poor ergonomics can contribute to ongoing pain. This pain can occur in other areas like arms, wrist, hand, buttocks, hips and legs. It’s really important to have a chair that’s ergonomic and that supports the lower back and promotes good posture but it’s not just at work that we should consider our chair. Many of us spend many hours at home working on computers or laptops.
There are many types of ergonomic chairs available. No one type of office chair is necessarily the best, but there are some things that are very important to look for when buying an ergonomic chair so that you can adjust it to your specific needs
What are the features to look for in a good chair?
- Seat height. – Should be easily adjustable. to allow to have feet flat on the floor, with thighs horizontal and arms even with the height of the desk.
- Seat width and depth. The seat should have enough width and depth to support comfortably. The depth needs to be enough so that the user can sit with his or her back against the backrest of the chair. The forward or backward tilt of the seat should also be adjustable.
- Lumbar support. Lower back support in an ergonomic chair is very important. The lumbar spine has an inward curve, and sitting for long periods without support for this curve tends to lead to slouching An ergonomic chair should have a lumbar adjustment (both height and depth) so each user can get the proper fit to support the lower back.
- Backrest (area above lumbar support). The backrest should be adjustable in forward and back angles
- Seat material. The material on the office chair seat and back should have enough padding to be comfortable to sit on for extended periods of time.
- Armrests. Office chair armrests should be adjustable or removable to allow the chair to fit properly in at the desk
- Swivel. Any conventional style or ergonomic chair should easily rotate so the user can reach different areas of his or her desk without straining.
All of these features should be adjusted to give you good ergonomic posture at your workstation. For a guide on good ergonomic posture see our related article on desk set-up and ergonomics.
Dr Giulian Di Venuto – Osteopath
My number one tip is to maintain your body through exercise, stretches and an osteopathic tune-up or maintenance treatment.
Changes in posture are of concern to Osteopaths because postural deviation can produce excessive stress on the musculoskeletal system.
I often describe optimal posture as the position, arrangement or alignment of the skeleton that requires the least amount of muscular energy to hold it upright and to account for the constant downward pull of gravity.
Deviations of the skeleton, of only millimeters, changes all the angles. It’s like the leaning tower of Pisa…everyone knows as soon a they see it that it does not look right and that at any moment gravity will win!
I have always said, Osteopathy is like Engineering for the human body. We assess the body like an engineer would address a damaged building and figure out why the injured area is failing and causing pain. We address the foundations and fix the cracks. This is often why we will recommend that people get regular maintenance care and treatment and advice specific to them, their body and their lifestyle.
Dr Ashleigh Maggary – Osteopath
My number 1 posture tip is the – Rolled towel thoracic spine stretch
This stretch is great for correcting forward head carriage and rounded shoulder posture, and encourages relaxation after slumping at the computer desk for prolonged periods of time.
Roll up a medium sized towel, and lie over the towel as it’s placed from the base of your neck to the mid back. Keep a flat pillow under your head (to avoid over extending your neck) and your knees bent (if necessary, to avoid low back strain). This stretch encourages stretch to the muscles which shorten during prolonged desk posture (pectoral and anterior neck muscles) and provides slack to those normally strained (trapezius and rhomboid muscles).
Spend 15 minutes in this position, focusing on deep breathing and allowing the body to relax into position. To increase stretch lie with arms outstretched. You should notice the stretch will ease and become more comfortable. Discontinue if any pain occurs.
Dr Grant Sinclair – Osteopath
I see tight or stiff upper back and neck and shoulder area as a large contributor to poor posture.
I find this stretch to be my ‘go to’ stretch for anyone with upper back or tightness across the neck or shoulders.
Most people can do it at the desk driving car (at stop lights of course) or in between activities.
The Eagle Arms stretch
How to do it
1) Cross your left elbow under your right and twist your forearms so your palms come together in the centre of your body
2) Bring your forearms away from your face
3) Try to lift your elbow to your shoulder height
4) Hold for 30-60 seconds right and left
Dr Hilton Blauensteiner – Osteopath
A lot of people because of sedentary work posture can experience lower back pain.
Here is an exercise to decompress lower back that I use myself, it’s great for easing the muscle tension caused by sedentary work and can be done easily in bed at night before going to sleep.
Instructions: Lie comfortably on back with legs straight and try to stretch by pointing one leg away from the head (towards the foot). Start by doing the stretch lightly a few times alternating between left and right legs. Next try holding the stretch quite firmly for a few seconds. [A variation to this position is to have the hips and knees bent with the feet flat on the bed/floor and then pushing the pelvis towards the foot on the same side.] If done correctly, this will have the effect of stretching the region right at the base of the lumbar spine, which is where the stretch should be felt. It is also where most low back pain originates. Compare left and right sides and try to stretch until both sides feel like they can stretch the same amount. As with all stretches, starting slowly and gently is a good idea to minimise causing further strain or aggravation.
Dr Jed Pullen – Osteopath
My postural tip:
The mouse often causes many problems affecting your wrist to your neck. Make sure your mouse is as close to the front of the desk, sitting directly next to your keyboard, with your shoulder relaxed and elbow by your side. This minimises stresses place on muscles and joints of the arm, shoulder and neck. The mouse often starts to move forward over the day, along with your posture, so take note to readadjust every half an hour.
Dr Bridget Vinning – Osteopath
I have listed a few different stretches/exercises because I find them really beneficial and addressing the posture problems I see most commonly.
- Foam roller chest stretch. Lying with a foam roller or rolled up towel vertically down the spine, place arms out by side on the ground. You should feel a stretch in the front of your chest, your pectoral (chest) muscles. Hold this position for 3-5 mins daily.
- Cat/camel stretch. On all 4’s with hands underneath shoulders and knees underneath hips, arch your back into the air, tucking your chin and tail bone under. Then lower your back towards the ground, looking up towards the wall in-front of you and with your bottom in the air. Hold each position for 3-5 seconds, repeat 10 times each day.
- Chin tucks/ posterior cervical muscle stretch. This can be done, lying down, sitting or standing. Nod your head forward whilst tucking your chin in towards the back of your neck. You should feel a stretch at the base of your skull and down the back of your neck. Hold this position for 20-30 seconds and repeat 3-4 times during the day.
Dr Vincent Cahill – Osteopath
There is two hints or things I get people to focus on
1. Shoulders don’t look good as earrings. I think when people are stressed or anxious or even really absorbed in things they tend to walk around or sit with elevated shoulders loading the traps and neck.
2. Concentrate on lifting your sternum at the computer. By lifting your sternum your shoulders will drop and your head will come back form the screen as well.
Dr Kellie Rawlings – Osteopath
My tips are regular exercise, stretching and tune-ups and being aware of the little things that can make a really big difference such as
– limiting screen time (phones/ipads etc) especially on weekends.
– being aware of your posture when lifting and bending and doing everyday tasks like lifting kids, groceries washing etc
– good footwear if you intend to be standing or walking for a while – high heels can look great but they are a nightmare for your posture.
– Don’t think it won’t catch up with you and you can get away with no exercise or wearing high heels every day, bending and lifting badly or simply not looking after yourself…… you will definitely pay the price!!
Dr Kieran Schulz – Osteopath
Would have something very inspired to say if he was not doing his posture the world of good by taking a well eared holiday, resting and relaxing……. Which we all should do more often!
The Standing desk movement:
To sit or stand, which is the answer?
With us undertaking more hours at the computer/desk people are looking for ways to make themselves as comfortable and pain free as possible. The truth is the human body is not made to sit for extended periods of time. Thinking about our spine as a spring, when we sit this spring is constantly loaded and it means that eventually it gets sore and painful. What our body needs and craves is movement.
Swiss balls where very popular from the early 2000’s, but the truth is you can slump on a Swiss ball just like you can in a chair. What they did provide though was movement, that slight movement from side to side or up and down was enough to keep that spring moving. Following the same fundamentals more companies are providing standing work stations for their workers. The thought of standing for 8 hours in a day makes my legs hurt already, but when you stand you rock side to side and sway and that again is enough to unload that spring. Also by standing you are distributing that force and load that would have just been on your spine through your hips and legs. So having an adjustable desk in which you can stand for a while and sit for a while it the ideal set up.
More research is coming out of America that is looking into the benefits of moving more at work. Things like walking meetings are being held. It has been shown that walking meetings will be on average 10 minutes shorter than sitting ones and also have a higher information retention rate (also no one falls asleep in a walking meeting). Certain companies are even looking at having a treadmill desk set-up to break up your day. A lot of the time this obviously would not be practical but you are getting the idea.
So what is the take home message? Move (pun intended) more at work, whether it be a walk at lunch time, getting up to get a cup of water or having your offices first walking meeting. By doing this you will let the body do more of what it wants to and minimize the aches and pains that come with long hours at the desk.
- Thompson WG, Levine JA Productivity of transcriptionists using a treadmill desk. Work 2011;40(4):473-7
- Levine JA et al. Non-exercise physical activity in agricultural and urban people. Urban Stud. 2011;48(11):2417-427
- Seat: Knees at approximately 90 degrees. Horizontal thighs and vertical legs. Flat-soled, or small-heeled shoes are the best with the feet sitting comfortably on the floor.
- Back Support: The backrest needs to be adjusted until a light supporting pressure is felt in the natural curve of the lower back. Too much pressure will push you out of the chair and too little will cause you to arch your back. As a rough guide 2 fingers should fit between the front of the chair and the back of the knee.
- Armrests: Generally not needed as they cause problems with desk height adjustments. If you do have them ensure they can easily fit under the desk or remove them.
- Height: When your shoulders are relaxed and elbows at approx. 90 degrees, the desk should be just below the height of the elbows. Keep in mind the legs still need to be at approx. 90 degrees.
- Leg room: Do not store things under the desk, which cramps your leg space. This often puts your body into awkward positions causing injury.
- Keyboard: To minimize unwanted bending of the back and reaching forward with the arms the keyboard should be placed as close to the edge of the desk as possible. The keyboard feet are best lowered to minimize bending of the wrists. The elbows should still remain at approx. 90 degrees.
- Mouse: The mouse should be located directly next to the keyboard with a mouse pad to allow easy screen navigation. A good idea may be to learn how to use the mouse in both hands to minimize stress on the single hand. Avoid holding the mouse when it is not crucial to do so and ensure the mouse settings suit your needs.
- Height: The screen should be approximately at eye level when sitting in an upright position. Use books under the monitor to temporarily adjust the height of the screen.
- Distance: The screen should be about an arms length away from the user.
- Location: The screen should be positioned so as to minimize glare or reflections.
- Document holder: If using a document holder the best place for it is between the screen and the keyboard or on a slight angle to the screen where you can observe both at the same time.
The telephone should be placed on the same side you write within easy reach from your chair (as pictured in desk setup). Using a headset and preset telephone functions will be useful to minimize twisting or bending of your spine.
Important Points to Remember!!
- Knees and elbows should always be at approximately 90 degrees.
- Feet should be comfortably flat on the ground.
- Elbows should be above the desk height, with wrists straight.
- The computer screen should be at approximately eye level. Use books as a temporary boost to the screen height.
Written by: Dr Jed Pullen – Osteopath @ Move Osteopathy – New Farm and Queen Street
Come in and see one of our Osteopaths for a consultation for specific advice, treatment and take home stretches specific to your needs.
You will find some really great information and pictures produced by the Victorian Government on their work safe website