Do you find that after a days work your back aches and your neck and shoulders are stiff and sore? People may tell you that you need an ergonomic or orthopedic office chair to deal with these challenges. What are orthopedic office chairs and how do they differ from their ergonomic counterparts? What is the best office chair for medical conditions like sciatica?
Is there really a difference between an ergonomic and orthopaedic office chair? The answer is YES. Unfortunately, many companies use these terms interchangeably to describe their products, thereby creating confusion among consumers.
In this article, we will define both chair types and highlight their differences. Finally, we will provide guidelines to assist you in selecting the right office chair and deciding which is best for medical conditions like sciatica.
1. What is an ergonomic office chair?
An ergonomic chair is designed to optimise support for your body while you sit. The key feature of every good ergonomic chair is that it is highly adjustable.
Your sitting posture changes throughout the day, and a good chair needs to accommodate these changes by continually supporting your body. Good ergonomic chairs can prevent back, neck and shoulder pain caused by incorrect sitting. To achieve this, they should have the following design features:
Design features of ergonomic office chairs
Ergonomic chairs typically have either of the following swivel mechanisms:
2. What is an orthopaedic office chair?
Orthopaedic chairs include all of the above Design features of ergonomic office chairs. These chairs will therefore also prevent back, neck and shoulder pain caused by incorrect sitting.
However, there are two crucial differences between orthopaedic and ergonomic office chairs, namely the Free-Float Swivel Mechanism, and Dual Density Seat Foam.
a. Free-Float Swivel Mechanism
Orthopedic chairs use a free-float swivel mechanism that allows separate, or independent control of the seat and backrest .
This is not possible on a chair fitted with either a synchronous, or permanent contact mechanism.
By independently controlling the angles between the backrest and the seat, orthopaedic chairs may alleviate, and even rehabilitate, certain medical preconditions, specifically musculoskeletal issues of the spine. Medical professionals often endorse orthopaedic office chairs.
All orthopedic office chairs are also ergonomic chairs, but ergonomic chairs are not necessarily orthopedic chairs.
b. Dual Density Seat Foam
Moulded foam has long been recognised by ergonomists, occupational health, and medical professionals as being able to deliver the best support and cushioning. Dual Density moulded foam adds an extra dimension by providing even better support and comfort.
Dual density seat foam
The seat foam has a firm inner core (shown in red), surrounded by a softer outer foam layer (shown in yellow). The combination of these two layers improves your posture and reduces backache and muscle fatigue.
3. Ratings for Orthopedic Office Chairs
To assist you in selecting the correct orthopedic office chair, we have developed an Orthopaedic Rating system. This rating is based on a 4-point scale where one point is awarded for each attribute.
BASIC. This is the entry-level rating and the chair must have a free-float mechanism.
FAIR. In addition to the free-float mechanism, an extra point is awarded for a height adjustable backrest.
GOOD. In addition to the free-float mechanism, an additional point is awarded for a height adjustable backrest, and another for height adjustable armrests.
EXCELLENT. In addition to the free-float mechanism, an additional point is awarded for a height adjustable backrest, and two points for multi-adjustable armrests.
4. Comparing Chair Types
In the table below we compare the important differences between orthopaedic and ergonomic office chairs.
|Key Features||Orthopedic Office Chair||Ergonomic Office Chair|
|Swivel and Tilt Mechanism||Fully independent seat and backrest (free-float) mechanism||Various types, typically synchronous and permanent contact|
|Seat Foam||Moulded, Dual Density||Moulded, single density|
|May alleviate certain medical preconditions, specifically musculoskeletal issues of the spine like sciatica||Yes||Less likely|
|Seat angle adjustment||Yes, fully independent seat angle adjustment. Lockable in any position||For synchronous mechanisms, there is a mechanical link to the movement of the backrest. For permanent contact mechanisms, the seat angle is fixed|
|Negative tilt (forward sloping) seat adjustment||Yes||No|
|Backrest angle adjustment||Yes, fully independent backrest movement. Lockable in any position||Yes. For synchronous mechanisms, there is a mechanical link to the movement of the seat.|
|Backrest height adjustment||Yes||Optional on some chairs|
|Lumbar support||Yes, integrated with backrest height and angle adjustment||Optional on better ergonomic chairs|
5. Heavy Duty Orthopedic Office Chair
If you have a larger build and need a high-back chair, most standard task chairs will be unsuitable for you. If you also have a back-related ailment, not only do you require a heavy duty office chair, but also an orthopaedic one that will provide the correct support for your back.
6. What is the best office chair for sciatica? Is an orthopaedic office chair a good choice?
Sciatica occurs when the sciatic nerve is pinched. It results in pain in the lower back, back of the thighs and legs. Typically it only affects one leg.
The best office chairs for sciatica should have a forward tilting seat and excellent lower back support. In others words, an orthopaedic office chair is ideal for a medical condition like sciatica.
7. Which chair is best for you?
Before selecting an ergonomic or orthopedic office chair, the first question that needs to be answered is whether or not you have any medical preconditions, specifically musculoskeletal issues of the spine like sciatica. If so, then it is likely that an orthopedic chair will be the better option. If not, then either chair type will be suitable.
Remember: All office chairs are designed for the “average” person. This results in chairs that suits the vast majority of the population, but not everyone. For example, a short slim person may find that a standard chair is too high and the armrests are too far apart. In such a case, the chair may need a different height adjuster or armrests that have width adjustment.
Ergonomic and orthopedic office chairs are designed for the “average” person. There is no, and will never be, a one-size-fits-all.
To ensure you purchase an office chair that’s right for you, get professional guidance from a specialist – contact us for professional advice.
Selecting the right chair for you, must take the following into consideration:
For a detailed explanation, refer to our article – How do I choose the best office chair for me?
Still confused and need help selecting the best chair for you? Visit our showroom. Our qualified Office Ergonomics Risk Facilitators will assess your posture and determine whether an ergonomic or orthopedic office chair is best for you.
Revised: 30 September 2021
Author: Philip Wichmann
Director at Karo Manufacturing (Pty) Ltd