How do I adjust my office chair?


If you regularly work at a desk, it is important that your office chair is correctly adjusted. An incorrectly adjusted chair can result in back pain and other health-related problems. As medical professionals will tell you, many people develop serious back, shoulder and neck problems because they are continuously sitting on an incorrectly adjusted office chair. Most office chairs have a number of levers and knobs that allow you to change the setting of the chair. What do they all do? How do I adjust my office chair correctly?

Adjusting your chair correctly is simple and only takes a few minutes. Let’s start by understanding the controls on your chair.

Common controls on an office chair

controls on an office chair
Common adjustments on an office chair

Your new office chair may have some or all of the following controls to adjust:

  • Chair height
  • Seat depth
  • Seat angle or tilt
  • Backrest angle or tilt
  • Lumbar support and/or backrest height
  • Backrest spring tension
  • Headrest – height and angle
  • Armrests – height, width, depth and angle

All the controls should be easily accessible when you are sitting on the chair.

ergonomic office setup
Ergonomic office chair setup

1. Seat Height

The first step is always getting the seat height correct. Stand in front of your chair and adjust the height of the seat pan to just below your knee caps.

  • Now sit on your chair with your back firmly against the backrest.
  • Keep your feet flat on the floor.
  • Your knees should be bent at about 90 degrees.
  • Check the gap between the front edge of your seat and the inside of your knees. It should be about the size of your clenched fist (5cm).

2. Seat Depth (if available)

You should have a gap about the size of your clenched fist between the front edge of the seat cushion and the inside of your knees. If you don’t, then adjust the depth of the seat. A shorter person will want the seat closer to the chair back and a taller person will want it a little further away. If you are short and the chair has no seat depth adjustment, place a cushion between your back and the backrest of the chair.

3. Lumbar Support

Proper lumbar support is essential when you are sitting for long periods of time. An adjustable lumbar support is a feature most people look for when buying a new office chair.

The lumbar support should be adjusted so that it fits snugly in the natural curve of your spine, typically at the small of your back directly above your belt line.

4. Armrests

Your forearms should rest comfortably at your side on the armrests. The armrests should, at a minimum, be height adjustable. Many modern chairs have armrests that are width and depth adjustable, and also have the ability to pivot both inwards and outwards. This allows for a more customised fit to your body.

5. Headrest (if available)

Headrests help to provide support and comfort to the head and neck while you are in a reclined position. Not every person requires a headrest, but they can improve your comfort for many day-to-day tasks like talking on the phone.

Tip: Placing your head back and touching the headrest forces you to push your shoulders into the backrest and lift up your chest. This lifts your diaphragm which enables you to breathe better. Improved breathing leads to better concentration.

Benefits of an adjustable office chair

Reference: Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety

  • Support for your posture: Traditional chairs may be one of the reasons why people tend to have an incorrect posture while sitting at their desk. An adjustable office chair takes these problems into consideration.
  • Comfort: Adjustable chairs are more comfortable than normal chairs because they are user-friendly. You can adjust all the features individually to fit your needs until you’re totally comfortable.
  • Reduced risk of neck problems: Without a neck support, you’ll develop stiffness in your neck and shoulder region. This can even lead to complications like cervical spondylosis. A headrest that supports your head and neck is a good feature for people who spend more time answering phone calls at work.
  • Reduced risk of back pain: Adjustable office chairs come with a backrest that supports the natural curve of your spine. Unlike traditional chairs, adjustable chairs are high enough to support the entire back.

Author: George Mashinini
Office Ergonomics Risk Facilitator at Karo Manufacturing (Pty) Ltd

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