Ergonomics is the “science of work,” said Gary Allread, the program director for the ergonomics division at Ohio State University’s Spine Research Institute. That definition doesn’t just apply to our jobs, though; ergonomic principles can be used for pretty much any activity (that means an ergonomic office chair isn’t going to immediately fix your lower back pain). Allread and his team offer consultation services for a variety of workplaces, including manufacturing plants. They even occasionally provide input on product design to help companies better understand how to create products “to make sure they can interact with people as well as possible,” Allread says.
A less-than-ideal work setup might cause pain in your back, arms, hands or wrists. You might also find yourself fidgeting, making more mistakes or taking more breaks, all because you’re uncomfortable, Allread warned. Long-term, you might end up with tendonitis or carpal tunnel syndrome.
Allread made two main suggestions we all can try to improve how we work:
- Sit with your back against your chair. (“You want the chair to do the work and not your back,” he said.)
- Support your feet. Either plant your feet on the floor or, if they don’t reach, use a box or other footrest to support your feet.
If your chair lacks lumbar support, Allread said, you can roll up a towel, secure it with tape or rubber bands and place it at your lower back as a lumbar cushion to “keep the back in its natural curve.” Allread also noted that companies are beginning to introduce different chair sizes, supporting a wider range of body sizes, which is an important consideration if you’re shopping for a new ergonomic office chair and looking for the best seat height and seat depth.
“One mistake people make is they say, ‘Well if I get a great chair, then I’m not going to be sore anymore,’ and that’s not really looking at the big picture of what it takes to keep people comfortable and productive at their jobs,” Allread explained. There are a lot of factors, and a new chair is just one of many things that can make your work environment more comfortable.
So, let’s keep that all in mind as we weigh our options for the best office chair.