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ChairYou are thinking of purchasing an ergonomic chair. Well done! The decision to think ergonomic means you want to take care of your skeletal joints, so that you suffer fewer discomforts as you age. My knowledge as a qualified Occupational Therapist, along with an M.Sc in Health Promotion is proof that my focus is support, safety and prevention.  I also have a congenital back disorder, which means that I practise what I preach!

Let’s start with what is an ergonomic chair? The word ergo is Latin for ‘work’, so it describes the purpose of the chair. Occupational Therapists teach safe performance in functional tasks for daily living that includes productive employment activities. Hence the mission of our company is to protect your skeletal joints, preserve your physical energy and promote your safety in the products that we sell, which for the moment are ergonomic seating.

Ergonomic chairs are used in all types of employment environments, from the workshop, clinical areas, to the office domain; which is now becoming more prevalent in the home. This is because of the increase in computer technology and access to the World Wide Web. Computer accessibility has become an essential tool in daily life, as people everywhere participate in a whole new world of social media interaction. Ergonomic chairs are fast becoming a necessary inclusion in our daily living requirements, for helping preserve skeletal joints in the spine and pelvis for supporting our bodies when sitting or standing.

Choosing an ergonomic chair should start with its purpose. This will determine the style of chair you need. Do you want it for an office, a clinical, or a workshop environment? What you work on will depend on how you want to sit. Are you word processing, sitting in meetings, drawing out plans, or fixing appliances? It may even be all of the above; in which case there are multi-task chairs that provide a range of options for different purposes. To answer the question, you need to visualise yourself working in the chair and ascertain the movements you perform.

Now let’s go on to the chair parts. The base mechanism fits under the seat and provides the mechanical features that will adjust the overall function of the chair. There are standard features that most ergonomic chairs should have and there are reasons for these features.

The adjustable seat height is necessary for adjusting the seat height, so that your hips remain at ninety degrees of flexion to the floor. This position will create a knock-on effect of positioning your knees and ankles to also be at ninety degrees. This equal symmetry creates equal balance and weight distribution in all your lower limbs joints.  Anything more or less will not distribute your weight equally and will cause uneven pressure to any of your lower limb joints.

The swivel component is also standard and is important for keeping your body central to the task being accomplished. Any time you change position, your whole body must remain central to the activity or your balance will not be safe.

The base mechanism also contains optional features such as a seat slide, which allows the seat to extend forwards or backwards. It provides greater depth or reduction to the seat and is useful if you are sharing the seat with someone taller or smaller than yourself. Remember that the seat length should not be any shorter or longer than four fingers measurement to your calf muscle, or it will constrict the blood flow in the superficial vessels reaching your lower limbs.

A tilt control feature is available in this mechanism, but will only be of real valuable for people suffering back discomforts. Allowing a moderate incline to the back rest can reduce the downward pressure running vertically through your back, thus reducing the pressure through each vertebra. If you do not suffer any back discomfort, then keep the position upright for working; as this is your optimum position for comfort and safety, when performing productive tasks. (You may want to have a nap in-between projects, so I cannot criticise that need!)

Now let’s consider your base, which sits on top of the mechanism? Your skeletal base is your foundation from where balance and flexibility is developed for creating good posture in sitting. So consider choosing a base that fits your movement requirements and weight needs, but aim to strengthen this area for producing good sitting balance. If you need help with this area, our company offers a free Therapeutic Active Living Plan with each chair we sell that will help you activate your pelvic region.

The back support follows as the next part to consider.  Do you want maximum padded support in the upper back, or would you rather localise the support with an adjustable, sliding mechanism? Do you want cosy padding, or would you prefer ventilation and breathable features. If you are suffering from back discomforts, then the sliding support mechanism is recommended. This adjustable back support can be re-positioned according to any discomfort in your back, for creating comfort and ease when sitting. Back support choice is a personal preference, determined by the shape of your back. Broad shouldered people will prefer the wider supports, whereas smaller frames should look for a narrower shaped support.

The position of your feet in sitting is important for your overall balance and stability. Ideally they should be firmly placed on the ground, in order to balance the central core region of your body. However, sitting is a dynamic position in activity; your feet should be moving from one position to another. This means moving them from flat on the floor, to hooking them back on to your chair base. This change in the position of your feet transfers the weight of your body firmly back on your pelvic bones.  It promotes an increase in circulation of blood, through unrestricted breathing to your lungs and helps to ease discomforts in your back when prolonged sitting.

As you regularly move your feet from one position to another, you will notice your body weight shifting for correcting balance. Moving either your legs or your arms will impact the movement in your pelvis. This automatic movement is needed because your pelvic area gets starved of oxygen through pressure downward pressure of sitting. Your pelvic region needs constant movement to replenish oxygen in the muscles under your pelvis. It will also help you understand the reasons for continuous movement, balance and stability in the pelvic region and its value for good posture when sitting. So look carefully at the different parts, making sure that the base suits your pelvic region encouraging active movements, because good balance will lead you to better sitting posture.

Armrests are not normally required for performing activity, but you will want them for resting after working. It is important to have adjustable height armrests, so the height can be changed, according to the heights of different people. If they are not adjustable, you will end up with tension in your shoulders that can result in pain.  Make sure that when you use the arm rests, your shoulders are relaxed and the armrests allow your forearms to rest comfortably at a ninety degree angle.

Skeletal support and comfort are your priority, when choosing an ergonomic chair. Feeling comfortable in sitting on your pelvic bones, creates the core foundation of sitting stability. Your back should feel comfortably relaxed with the back support, but not in a sedentary position. Your back needs active movement, along with support so that changes can be made to your sitting balance on your pelvic bones.

Ergonomic positioning comes from correct sitting in an ergonomic chair. It comes from moving your arms and legs in activity that helps restore balance in your pelvic region. Your base is the most important part to consider, when purchasing an ergonomic chair. The rest of the components contribute to your comfort needs, making performance safe and comfortable.

In conclusion and as a final to emphasize, ergonomic sitting is not a sedentary position. The human body is not designed to remain still while working. The ergonomic sitting position must always be an active position. The key to ergonomic sitting is in balance and stability in the pelvic region, by using your arms and legs to work in harmony with the spine and pelvis, for creating a synchronized sitting position.

 

By Gail C. McGonigal