How do I choose the best office chair for me?

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So you are trying to choose an office chair for yourself and wherever you look there are chairs. In as much as they all look different, they all look the same. Confused? Well you are not alone, but there is light at the end of the tunnel. I want to share 6 important questions that will make answering “How do I choose the best office chair for me”, a whole lot easier.

1. Do I suffer from any musculoskeletal pain?

A common type of musculoskeletal pain is lower back pain. Neck, shoulder, hip and knee pain can also be classified as musculoskeletal pain. Musculoskeletal pain effects the bones, muscles, tendons, ligaments and nerves.

If the pain occurs only from sitting then this can normally be dealt with by using the correct chair in conjunction with setting up your workstation correctly. Your workstation includes your chair, desk, computer, keyboard, mouse, lighting, telephone and anything else that you use during your working day.

If you have had surgery to your back, neck, hip or knee, then there may be certain seated positions which result in pain. For example, if you have had a knee operation, then using a kneeling chair may result in additional pain. Contact your medical practitioner to confirm if there are any seated positions that you need to avoid. If so, then it could impact your selection of an office chair. 

2. What is the weight rating of the chair?

Chair components are designed with a specific weight rating. For example, a Class 4 gas lifter is rated to a maximum of 150kg and a Class 3 lifter to 120kg. If you select a chair with the incorrect weight rating, it may negate it’s warranty. As an office chair can be a costly expense, you will want, and expect it to last a long time.

3. What is the height of my existing desk/table that I will be sitting at when using my office chair?

If you are using your chair in conjunction with an existing desk, table or counter, you need to measure the height from the floor to the top of the working surface. All task-type office chairs are height adjustable, and the adjustability of the chair must fall within the range of your work surface.

As a rule of thumb, the height of your chair, when measured from the floor to the top of the chair seat, must be 25-30cm below the height of your work surface. 

Because chairs are often selected online or away from your actual workstation, the height adjustability of the office chair is often overlooked. Make sure that your preferred chair supplier is aware of the height of your work surface so that they can recommend a chair that has the correct height adjustability for your work surface. 

4. How long do I sit on my office chair during the day and how does this relate to the adjustability of my chair?

An important question and one that’s easy to answer. Over a period of a week, measure exactly how long you sit at you workstation and calculate the average number of hours per day you spend sitting. To provide you with the necessary support and comfort, the longer the time you spend sitting on your chair, the more adjustable features you will require from the chair (see question 5 below). 

Sitting for 1 hour a day requires a chair with fewer adjustable features. If you are sitting for 6 hours per day, you require a chair with greater adjustability.

Note: As a general rule you should not sit continuously for longer than 40 minutes without getting up and walking around.

5. What adjustable features must I look for when selecting an office chair?

a. Height Adjustment

You should be able to set the correct height for yourself and then move the chair into your workstation. For optimal comfort, refer to our guide how to setup your workstation.  

b. Backrest Angle Adjustment

You  must be able to position the backrest of the chair in a way that suits your body and the way you prefer to work. The angle between the backrest and seat of the chair must be adjustable. By altering this angle from an upright to a more reclined position (for e.g. when you are on the phone or talking to someone at your workstation), you automatically stimulate the muscles in your lumbar region of your back. This is known as dynamic sitting

Although not essential, a great additional feature is a backrest that can adjust vertically, providing you with additional support in the place where you need it most.

c. Adjustable Lumbar Support

We do not all have the same shape of back and we all have slightly different needs when it comes to back support.

The contoured backrest on your office chair should give your back the comfort and support it needs. A good office chair should include a lumbar support that can be adjusted vertically as well as horizontally (depth). Good lumbar support is essential to minimize strain or compression of the lumbar discs in your spine. 

d. Adjustable Armrests

Height adjustable armrests are a definite “must-have” as they take some of the strain off your neck and shoulders by transferring the force from your head through to your elbows resting on the arm pads. It is crucial that the arm pads are set inline with the top of the desk or a little higher at your workstation.

Additional adjustments on the armrests, like width and angle adjustment, allow you to position them in a way that suits your body and improves your comfort, while making you less likely to slouch.

e. Manoeuvrability

The ability to move around in your chair adds to its overall comfort and usefulness. You should be able to swivel and move in your chair so that you can reach documents, files, etc. Chair castors (wheels), give you effortless mobility but make sure to get the right castors for  your floor. Nylon castors are suitable for carpet floors, while rubber castors are suitable for hard surfaces like wood, vinyl, tiles and concrete surfaces.

f. Headrest and/or neck-rests

A headrest is a ‘nice to have’, but in the majority of cases it is ineffective when you are working in an upright position. What I like about a headrest is that it serves as a datum for sitting correctly and improving posture.

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.

Headrests are also great when taking a few minutes to lean back to relax your head and neck muscles. The average a human head weighs 5kg balanced on 7 vertebrae and supported by about 20 muscles. As you tilt your head forward the weight bearing load can increase 4 times….and you wonder why you have neck pain!

force on neck when sitting

6. What is the price?

This article would not be complete without a discussion on price. At the end of the day you get what you pay for. Bearing in mind that if your chair does not do its job your body will compensate to a greater or lesser degree. The more your body compensates, the greater the chance of injury and other long-term health problems.

Buying an office chair with less features because it is cheaper, can and will most likely, lead to increased long-term health problems. Not using your chair correctly will have the same effect.

What is the price of a good ergonomic chair?


How do I choose the best office chair for me? By answering the above 6 questions, you will quickly eliminate those chairs that are not suitable, and so put you in a better position to buy the best chair for yourself.


Author: John Karle
Director at Karo Manufacturing (Pty) Ltd

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