Choosing & Setting Up Your Chair

Chairs come in all shapes and sizes, just like the people who use them!  These helpful tips should offer some insight into how to select the one that's right for you!
Chairs come in all shapes and sizes, just like the people who use them! These helpful tips should offer some insight into how to select the one that's right for you!

When choosing a chair for your desk the task can seem daunting with all the conflicting information found on the internet. There are basic chairs out there that fit only one size and there are others that fit the small to the tall. There are chairs that are made for a standing station, there are fads such as a ball to sit on, or there are chairs that mimic a horse saddle. Some chairs only go up and down and others that do much more than that. There are so many different chairs with so many different features how do you know what you need or whether your choice will fit you?

First and foremost you must ask yourself, “How much time will I spend in my chair?” If it is more than 4 hours, you need a chair that is durable and has more adjustable features.

There are many different aspects that you may want to consider when selecting a chair. Let’s start at the feet. When sitting in a chair your feet and knees should make a right angle. To create this 90° angle you have to adjust the height of the chair. Most chairs have the basic function of going up or down which will accommodate you getting into your right angles. When you get your feet and knees at 90°, your hips should also be at a right angle, which will put your back at a neutral position (this can be adjusted up or down 1-2” for comfort).

Next, let’s look at seat pan depth. The seat pan is the part you sit on. When selecting a chair you want a seat pan that will give you good support and not be too short or too long. The length should allow you to put 2-4” between the pan and the back of your legs. Too short will put excess pressure on the back side of the thigh because a lot of your own weight will be resting there which can press on the sciatic nerve and give you leg pain. Too long and the seat pan could jam in the back of your knees and cut off blood supply to the lower leg causing numbness and the potential for blood clots if you sit too long. Shorter people with seat pans that are too long may not be able to sit back far enough to reach the back rest, which provides lumbar support.

Last let’s take a look at the lumbar support. Some chairs have great lumbar support; others do not. The lumbar support on some chairs move, but some don’t. When adjusting a lumbar support you want it in the small of your back. It should prevent you from slouching and support your back. To adjust it correctly, put the support in the part of your low back where it curves toward the front of your body. It should fit nicely and not put pressure on your hips. Too high or too low and it will be counter productive.

There are other chairs out there as well. A standing station chair has all the same concepts as listed above. The only difference is that with a standing-station chair you will need a foot rest to put your feet on to create that right angle at your feet and knees.

Many people use a ball as a chair. This is fine for those who use a chair intermittently, less than 4 hours of the day. A ball cannot be adjusted to your workstation and can cause awkward postures of the neck and arms. You don’t want the ball to be too small or you risk shoulder and neck problems because you have to shrug your shoulder to reach the top of the desk to do your work. Second, when sitting on the ball you are statically engaging your core for the entire time you sit on it. It is not recommended to sit on it all day. It is taxing on your core muscles to be sitting in an unstable position all day. Have your regular chair around so you can switch back and forth. It is recommended that you use the ball about 20-30% of the day and your chair the rest of the day.

A saddle chair is a new concept in office chairs. It is shaped like the saddle for a horse. The idea behind it is to create an upright posture. The chair forces you to sit up straight without back support. The concept is okay but like the ball it also has its drawbacks. Sitting up like that all day puts a lot of stress on your low back and core (like the Swiss ball). So have your regular chair around to switch back and forth.

When selecting a chair you want it to support you in the correct areas. The lumbar support should be in the small of your back not on your hips. The chair should be at a height where your ankles, knees, and hips are at a right angle. The seat pan should not be digging into the back of your knees or not too short and ending at the middle of your thigh. There are chairs out that that are less common and could be used part of the time, but make sure that you keep your current chair around so you can switch back and fourth.