Importance of a good sitting posture – adjust your chair!

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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.

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.”

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 controls on an office chair

controls on an office chair to create the right sitting posture | best sitting posture by adjusting your office chair correctly
Common adjustments on an office chair
FeatureWhat is it for?Should my chair have it?
Seat height adjustmentThis adjusts your overall position (height) in relation to your work surface.Yes, critical
Lightweight BuildLight, strong materials help you to move more freely and without strain.Yes, critical
BaseWe 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.Yes, critical
Stable movement and easy manoeuvrabilityReduced rolling resistance allows for freer movement that does not cause strain on any muscle from pushing or moving your chair.Yes, critical
Mesh backrestThe mesh should mould to your body for better support and allow a free-flow of air for reduced heat-entrapment.Highly recommended
Adjustable lumbar supportChanging the support on your lumbar spine can be the difference between a bad back and a productive workday.Highly recommended
Dynamic sittingAn 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 adjustmentAdjust the tension in the backrest and seat tilt depending on your body weight.Recommended
Adjustable armrestsAdd to your comfort by ensuring your arms are comfortably supportedRecommended
Adjustable headrestAdjustable headrests allow you to get better support around your head and neck when you recline in the chair.Optional
Seat depth adjustmentImportant for taller people that often find their sitting posture is compromised because the standard seat is not deep enoughOptional

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.

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 bent at about 900.
  • 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

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 while sitting and improves your posture.

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.

Author: George Mashinini
Office Ergonomics Risk Facilitator at Karo Manufacturing (Pty) Ltd
16 Dec 2020

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