How to adjust your chair for the correct sitting posture

Office chairs have an array of levers and knobs to adjust the backrest, seat and armrests.

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If you regularly work at a desk it is important that your office chair is correctly adjusted. As medical professionals will tell you, many people develop serious back, shoulder and neck problems because they do not have a good sitting posture. Most office chairs have a number of levers and knobs that allow you to change the settings of the chair. What do they all do? What is the right way to adjust your office chair to achieve the correct, or best sitting posture?

The impact an adjustable office chair has on your sitting posture

The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety says that an adjustable office chair can have a beneficial impact on your sitting posture by providing:

  • Support for your posture: Traditional chairs may be one of the reasons why people tend to have an incorrect sitting posture. An adjustable office chair takes these problems into consideration.
  • Comfort: Adjustable chairs are more comfortable than non-adjustable ones. By being 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. To create the best sitting posture, use a headrest that supports your head and neck. This is especially important 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.
  • How important is a fully adjustable office chair?

The right sitting posture is important

According to Spine Health, a trusted resource for back and neck pain relief, a good sitting posture depends on setting up your ergonomic chair the right way. “Many office workers spend thousands of hours sitting in an office chair at their desk, so there is a great deal of opportunity for their sitting posture to either continuously help their back, or hurt it.”

What actually happens to your body when you sit?
What is the best ergonomic chair for me?

SpineUniverse, a leader in patient and healthcare professional education says:

“While most people believe it is relaxing, sitting is actually hard on the back because it transfers the full weight of the upper body onto the buttocks and thighs. Sitting, especially for long periods of time, can also cause increased pressure on the intervertebral discs. It’s also hard on the lower extremities since gravity pools blood in the legs and feet and creates a sluggish return of blood to the heart.”

Adjusting your chair to achieve the right sitting posture is simple and only takes a few minutes. Let’s start by understanding the controls on your chair.

Common Issues with Ergonomic Chairs: Solutions for a Pain-Free Workday
Common adjustments on an office chair
Feature What is it for? Importance
Seat height adjustment
This adjusts your overall position (height) in relation to your work surface.
Lightweight Build
Light, strong materials help you to move more freely and without strain.
We all know the pain of sitting in a chair with a wheel that’s fallen off, or a broken support beneath the seat. A sturdy base is essential.
Stable and easy to move
Reduced rolling resistance allows for freer movement that does not cause strain on any muscle from pushing or moving your chair.
The mesh should mould to your body for better support and allow a free-flow of air for reduced heat-entrapment. Pros and cons of mesh office chairs.
Highly recommended
Changing the support on your lumbar spine can be the difference between a bad back and a productive workday.
Highly recommended
An office chair which permits the backrest and seat to move relative to each other increases your muscular movement in the lumbar region, reducing stiffness and pain in the lower back.
Highly recommended
Backrest tension adjustment
Adjust the tension in the backrest and seat tilt depending on your body weight.
Add to your comfort by ensuring your arms are comfortably supported.
Adjustable headrests allow you to get better support around your head and neck when you recline in the chair.
Seat depth adjustment
Important for taller people that often find their sitting posture is compromised because the standard seat is not deep enough.

Adjusting your office chair for the best sitting posture

Your new office chair may have some or all of the above controls. To achieve the correct posture, the controls should be easily accessible when you are sitting on the chair. The perfect office setup.

1. Seat Height

The first step to a good sitting posture is ensuring that the seat height is 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 slightly below the level of your hips.
    • 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)

The best sitting posture should result in a gap about the size of your clenched fist between the front edge of the seat cushion and the inside of your knees. If this is not the case, 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

adjusting the lumbar support on an office chair

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. Best back support for office chairs.

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 while sitting and improves your posture. What is the difference between office chair armrests?

5. Headrest (if available)

Headrests improve your sitting posture by providing 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 lifts up your chest to create a better sitting posture. This lifts your diaphragm which enables you to breathe better and improves concentration.

6 Factors to consider when selecting an office chair.

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