Ergonomic Chairs: A Guide for People with Bad Posture at Work

Woman slouches forward at her desk

Let’s face it, our backs go through a lot. You don’t have to engage in extreme sports or hard labour to put pressure on your back either. Everyday activities like sitting down or working in the office put subtle pressures on our backs. The raising awareness of this has led to a huge surge in the importance of everyday ergonomics.

One part of that is posture. Slouching in your chair might seem like a more comfortable way to sit, but it could be the start of long-term back problems. This guide focuses on how an ergonomic office chair can help improve your posture and reduce the chance of any health complications down the line.

Sitting and Bad Posture

We all get general aches and pains from going about our day, but for those who get them persistently, it can lead to a decline in quality of life and even time off work. Musculoskeletal complaints like back pain are a big problem in the workplace. In 2018, there were an estimated 141.4 million working days lost due to sickness or injury (according to the Office of National Statistics), accounting for almost 20% of all workplace absences that year.

It’s not just back pain that bad posture can lead to either. Over time, you could also cause problems like:

  • Misalignment of your musculoskeletal system
  • Wearing of the spine
  • Neck and shoulder pain
  • Less flexibility

Good posture will reduce the chances of you getting a musculoskeletal problem. You’ll feel better at work and at home, keeping you focused on your tasks and generally healthy over the long-term.

What Good Posture Looks Like

If you’re unsure of how you should be sitting to minimise the chance of back pain, apply these good posture pointers when you next come to your desk:

  • Both feet should be flat on the floor
  • Don’t cross your legs
  • Hips and knees at 90 degrees
  • Maintain the arch in your back
  • Don’t slouch
  • Position your monitor in line with your eye-level

Here is an easy diagram that separates good and bad posture:

Good posture vs bad posture diagram

What to Look for in an Office Chair

To make sure you are getting the most amount of help from the furniture you sit on in the office, you need to identify an office chair with solid ergonomics that can help improve your posture see our extensive guide to ergonomic chairs or take these quick pointers to guide your search.

Back and head rest

A good ergonomic chair should have a substantial back rest that covers the whole of your back. Ideally, it will stretch beyond your back and cover your shoulders, offering support all the way up to your neck.

The chair will also have a cushioned head rest, allowing you to lean back without straining your neck.

Height and arm adjustments 

We measure up in all different heights, so it’s essential that an ergonomic chair has the correct adjustments to set it just right for you. Line up the arm rests (they should be able to slide comfortably under the desk) and height adjuster (feet on the floor, eyes in line with the monitor) to fit your individual body shape.

Lumbar support   

This is probably the most important part of posture-based ergonomic design. The lumbar (or lower back) is the number one location for musculoskeletal pains. Lumbar support is a feature that can save you a lot of discomfort. Lined up with the bottom of your spine, lumbar support maintains the natural inward curvature of the back, saving it from the strain of unnatural positioning. Any ergonomic chair worth its salt with have a cushioned lumbar support built in.

Types of Ergonomic Chairs for Bad Posture 

Some office chairs come with some or often all of the ergonomic features mentioned above. When cycling through the vast choices of office chairs, keep a look out for these three – they are all well suited to offering support for those with bad posture.

There are three significant types:

You’ll recognise these as popular day-to-day office chairs, complete with all the ergonomic features you need. Built for comfort and longevity, the operator chair is a solid choice for those wishing to encourage the best possible posture.

Executive chairs are more a high-end, luxury choice that offer all the same ergonomic features as operator chairs. Often made from luxury materials like leather, and executive chair will offer you the most support of any type of office chair.

Similar in style to that of the operator chair, draughtsmen chairs are only different in their lack of arm rests. While they are great for lumbar support and posture positioning, their lack of arm supports make them only viable for shorter periods of sitting.

For more on the types of chairs that make up the workplace, see our guide to every type of office chair.

Alternatives to the Office Chair

Aside from the traditional office chair, there have been many other solutions for bad posture that you might see dotted around your office. These alternative chairs often look unusual in shape and seem unnatural to sit on, but the intention is the same – to improve overall comfort by encouraging better posture.

There are three significant types:

  • Exercise balls
  • Kneeling chairs
  • Saddle chairs

Why these should only ever be temporary

Ergonomic chairs are expertly crafted to help bring comfort from head to toe. The three options above offer novel ways to lessen the pain caused in some of these areas (namely the back, shoulders and neck), but do so by neglecting other areas.

Many of these alternatives to office chairs miss out essential ergonomic features like adjustable arms, head rests or a five-star wheelbase. They may help to instil better posture habits over time, but if used for extensive periods they may cause strain elsewhere. If you do choose to experiment with one, be sure to only use them for short stints at a time. 

General Tips for Better Posture

There are plenty of other ways you can maintain good posture aside from what you choose to sit on. Here are four simple hacks to keeping bad posture in the office at bay.

Track any problems

You’ll probably discover that bad posture doesn’t just sneak up on you and never go away. It may be with you one day and not return for a couple of weeks, leaving you baffled as to the cause.

If musculoskeletal problems are occurring, keep track of your daily wellbeing and note down any symptoms when they do crop up. That way you can determine any patterns that might be the root cause of all your complications. Once you know the cause of the issue, you can make adjustments to bring about results.

Keep moving

Beyond back and neck pains, a sedentary lifestyle is generally bad for our health. For many of us, the modern office environment is a huge factor in this – making it important that we take steps to stay active as much as possible.

Research has shown that taking movement breaks every 30 minutes can greatly reduce the chance of sitting-related health risks arising. Make sure you’re up on your feet regularly to keep those joints moving throughout the day.

Remind yourself

When we’re drowning under a pile of tasks to do that day, our health can quickly be side-lined. For the sake of your long-term health, it’s essential you maintain good habits and give yourself those little breaks. If you find yourself forgetting, set yourself a reminder on your phone every half an hour telling you to get up and move!

Add attachments and support

Even if you’ve been given a great ergonomic office chair, it still might not be enough to bring maximum comfort in the office.

Thankfully, there are other attachments and supports you can add that might be the solution you’re looking for. Extra lumbar support might be required if your lower back is causing you bother. You might need a footrest if your feet can’t fit firmly on the floor. Around the workstation, attaching a wrist support to your keyboard can make long hours of typing more manageable.

Look around your workstation and identify areas where it can be ergonomically improved. It might not be directly linked to bad posture, but it all adds up to a healthier and happier you in the office.

Bad backs, necks and shoulders can be a common occurrence in the modern workplace. If you find yourself in persistent pain and discomfort, you don’t have to grin and bear it. Implement some of these tips and solutions and soon you’ll find that niggly back pain is a thing of the past.  

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