What is an ergonomic chair?

what is an ergonomic chair

The term “Ergonomic chair” seems to be the latest buzzword as research shows that sitting for long periods of time can be detrimental to your health. It is then no surprise when customers ask us, “what is an ergonomic chair?”

Possible definitions include:

  • An Ergonomic chair is one that not only follows best practices in terms of proven ergonomic design, but is highly adjustable and caters to different people and sitting positions.  www.ergonomictrends.com
  • An ergonomic chair is a chair designed to suit a range of people. It has adjustable parts that enhance maximum comfort during sitting. It provides the correct support to your body. This support balances your body and protects you from future physical pain that may arise from a bad sitting posture. www.safecomputingtips.com

Ergonomic chairs are predominantly sold on the basis that they have been designed to be adjustable. Unfortunately, this is not always clear, as adjustable could mean that the chair only moves up and down, or it could include other adjustable features such as height adjustable armrests, adjustable lumbar support, reclining backrest, seat depth adjustment, and so on.

Does an adjustable chair mean it is an ergonomic chair and that it will be suitable for you?

Let us answer this by looking at 3 cases:

  • You work in a laboratory where the height of your workstation is 90cm. The standard ergonomic chair is made for a desk that is 73cm high. Can you get a chair that adjusts high enough and provides adequate support for your feet?
  • You are petite and the adjustable arms on your chair are too far apart for you to comfortably use them. Are armrests available that rotate inwards to bring them closer to your body?
  • Your job requires you to get very close to your desk for certain tasks, but the armrests prevent this. Are armrest available that can be lowered to go under the desk when required?  

Looking at the above examples, it becomes clear that the chair has to be compatible with you and your environment. The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health & Safety (CCOHS) gives a more wholistic definition for an ergonomic chair, namely:

A chair becomes ergonomic only when it specifically suits a worker’s size (body dimensions), their particular workstation, and the tasks that they have to perform.

From the above definition, there are 3 elements that a chair has to meet in order for it to be classified as an “Ergonomic Chair”.

1. Your body shape and size

Every one of us is physiologically different. We are not all the same height, we do not weigh the same, our arm and leg lengths are different, and so the list goes on. With this in mind, purchasing a chair for yourself becomes a very personal matter as the chair needs to meet your physical requirements. As an example, if you are very tall, a ‘standard’ chair may not be suitable for you.

Not only must the chair meet your physical size and shape, but it should also take into account any special requirements that you may have. For example, if you have had a recent back operation, or you are suffering from Muskuloskeletal Disorders (MSD) such as lower back pain, muscle strains, tendonitis, etc. Does the chair suit these special needs?

2. Workstation setup

Your workstation is critical when selecting a chair. How high is the workstation? Can the chair be adjusted accordingly? Is there sufficient space below the desk or table to accommodate your legs? Can you place for feet in a comfortable position? Is your movement restricted?

3. The task you perform

What work do you perform at your workstation? For example, do you work in a control room where you are looking at multiple screens at different heights for long periods of time? Do you work in a call centre which requires shift work and you are one of three workers using the same workstation and chair? Do you have to perform physically demanding tasks like lifting objects at your workstation?

Only once we understand your physiological shape and size, workstation setup, and finally the task that you need to perform, can we recommend the correct ergonomic chair for you.

Features of a good ergonomic chair

  • Seat height adjustability.
  • Seat depth adjustment.
  • Adjustable armrests (width and height).
  • Backrest angle adjustment.
  • Adjustable lumbar support.
  • Neck/head support.
  • Manoeuvrability.  


After going through the above process to purchase an ergonomic chair, there is one last, but extremely important point. In order to enjoy all the benefits of your ergonomic chair, you need to consistently sit correctly on your chair. What is the right way to sit?

Sitting incorrectly makes the entire process of defining and sourcing your ergonomic chair null and void, and will negatively affect your long-term health.

Author: John Karle
Director at Karo Manufacturing (Pty) Ltd
6 Nov 2020

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