You might not realise it but sitting for upwards of eight hours a day in your office chair could be slowly affecting your posture, which could in turn create back and neck problems further down the line. It may be of no major consequence now, but come retirement time you might wish you had invested in an ergonomic chair and followed expert advice on how best to sit in it.
The sole purpose of the ergonomic office chair is to coax the body into a position that doesn’t impact on spinal ligaments, discs and surrounding tissue.
Ergonomic chairs aren’t as attractive as standard office chairs, mostly because they’re constructed around a frame that has the appearance of an old-fashioned dentist chair, but they are unquestionably the best option for encouraging correct posture, which in turn improves breathing and helps reduce fatigue.
Choosing an office chair – things to consider
The first thing to look for in an office chair is height adjustment. Some chairs don’t go down low enough to accommodate someone below 5’6” while others may not go high enough. When seated, your upper legs should be close to parallel with the floor so the lower back isn’t put under any strain and the blood flow isn’t restricted in the base of the upper leg behind the knee.
Any ergonomic office chair worth its salt will come with an adjustable lumbar support, which can normally be tightened or loosened using a dial on the rear. Some chairs also let you move the lumbar support up and down a few inches for optimum comfort.
Lumbar supports do take a while to get used to. In fact, they can initially cause the lower back to ache a little while the lower spine is coaxed into optimum position. You just need to give them a few days to start working their magic.
Seat pitch is also an important factor when choosing a chair. Most chairs have a lever below the seat that provides a backrest pitch of between 15˚ and 45˚ from neutral. This allows the user to recline back in the chair when stretching or even catching a few winks. The tension of the chair’s reclination can also be adjusted for the individual’s body weight, though be mindful that some models have a spring that’s too stiff for comfortable and effortless use by featherweights. Once you’ve found a comfortable pitch, simply flick a lever to lock the backrest into position.
If possible, opt for an ergonomic chair with adjustable arms so you can rest your forearms while using a computer keyboard and mouse. The forearms should be roughly in line with the keyboard and mouse pad to prevent unnecessary strain on the wrists.
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Ergonomic chairs come in a variety of material combinations. Mesh is one of the most popular materials because it allows the skin to breathe and helps prevent perspiration on hot days, especially if there is no air-con available. Some chairs use a combination of mesh for the backrest and padded man-made textile for the seat. Of course, the most attractive and desirable material of all is leather, so opt for this type of upholstery if looks and tactile appeal are defining factors.
One major detail that distinguishes the ergonomic office chair from a bog-standard one is the firmness of the seat pad. All the models on test here come with firm seats to hold the pelvis properly in position. Compared to your old plush office chair, they often feel almost too hard at first but we can guarantee that you’ll soon come to love that firmness every time you sit down.
Although not essential, a headrest is another addition you may wish to consider. It won’t come into effect while you’re sitting upright using a keyboard but it’ll make a lot of difference when you lean back for a stretch or a sneaky post-lunch nap.
£146, Office Furniture Online
Best for: Overall value
Key specs – Seat height: 40-50cm; Lumbar support: Yes; Adjustable arms: Yes; Headrest: Yes; Estimated recline: 45˚; Materials: Mesh, padding; Colour options: 4
This model is proof that you don’t need to fork out a fortune for a good ergonomic office chair. Like so many other models, the Ergo-Tek isn’t the most attractive but, for the price, it’s exceptionally well designed and uses decent quality metals, plastics and fabrics.
It also comes equipped with features you’d expect from a much more expensive model, including rear lumbar support that can be adjusted two inches up or down and tightened or loosened while sitting in the chair, a lockable spring-loaded lean-back function adjustable for all body weights, padded arms that can be lowered and raised or extended an inch outwards for those of a wider girth, and an adjustable headrest.
The telescopic seat range on this model (40cm to 50cm) makes it ideal for practically all body heights and our skinny, lightweight tester appreciated the gentle spring action of the adjustable reclining function – it took little effort to tilt the back rest to what seemed like a phenomenal 45˚ maximum pitch. In fact, if you’re not careful you easily could doze off in this model.
The firm but comfortable foam seat pad features a waterfall-style front end that pitches gently downwards to help increase circulation to the upper legs, while the long-life Elasti-Mesh backrest provides ventilation for hot days in the saddle.
Tested for weights up to 154kgs and supported by five strong polished metal legs attached to smooth running castors, this model is brilliant value given that it covers all the main characteristics required of this category of chair.
From £1,002, Steelcase
Best for: Comfort and adjustability
Key specs – Seat height: 43-58cm; Lumbar support: Yes; Adjustable arms: Yes; Headrest: Yes (optional); Estimated recline: 30˚; Materials: Padding; Colour options: 8
This attractive but pricey model from office ergonomics specialist Steelcase has it all and then some. In fact, few office chairs provide such a wide range of adjustment. For starters, the seat’s 43cm to 58cm vertical travel will accommodate a very broad range of heights and it can even be shifted forwards or backwards by several inches for both long- and short-legged users.
Moving over to the lumbar support, this one is hidden from view and adjustable for both tension and a vertical movement of at least five inches (13cm). The armrests, too, can be moved in an amazingly wide variety of ways, including inwards and outwards up to an angle of about 30 degrees.
However, one of its very best features is the way it reclines. Normally, a little muscle effort is required to hold a specific angle of pitch when reclining, but with this model you simply lean back (tension is easily adjustable via a knob under the seat) and a loose ratchet system gently holds the seat back in position, automatically releasing as you move forward again.
Moreover, as you tilt back, the seat pad cleverly articulates forward a few inches like some posh aircraft seats. Naturally, you can also lock the degree of inclination – in this case four positions up to around 30 degrees from neutral. The whole package is topped off with the springiest headrest in office land.
The Steelcase Leap came fitted with an ultra-comfy but firm foam padding covered in a pleasing polyester-type mesh material. It is, however, also available in eight colours of high-quality leather.
The Leap isn’t readily available online so you may need to visit your nearest Steelcase showroom where you can try it out and choose your favourite material and colour combination. This is the best high-end choice.
£1,240, John Lewis & Partners
Best for: Quality and comfort
Key specs – Seat height: 41-51cm; Lumbar support: Yes; Adjustable arms: Yes; Headrest: Yes; Estimated recline: 30˚; Materials: Leather padding; Colour options: 2
If cost isn’t an issue, consider this model from York-based Humanscale. Clad in high-quality vellum (prepared calf skin) replete with special concave channels for the coccyx area and the spine, this model takes office chair comfort to a whole new level. The seat and back pads are firm but they’re also plush enough for many hours of office tasking.
The feature-filled Freedom comes with adjustable lumbar support (operated by a small lever on the back), a telescopic gas piston that provides a very wide span of adjustment to accommodate a full range of heights, a widely adjustable articulated headrest and well-designed arms with about four inches of vertical travel (simply pull them up and forwards to release the latch). Seat pitch is about 30˚ from neutral and easily adjustable using the barrelled tension nub located beneath the seat.
Granted, this is a lot to spend on an office chair but it does offer superior value for money given the quality of the materials used and its many attractive design flourishes. It certainly looks the business and there’s no contesting the comfort and support it provides.
£1,030, John Lewis & Partners
Best for: Comfort and support
Key specs – Seat height: 36-58cm (3 chair sizes); Lumbar support: Yes; Adjustable arms: Yes; Headrest: No; Estimated recline: 20˚; Materials: Mesh; Colour options: 1
The Aeron is available in three different sizes with seat heights ranging from a low 36cm to a lofty 58cm. Despite the surfeit of mesh, this chair is stupendously comfortable and features a steeply tapered front end for upper leg comfort, the obligatory adjustable lumbar support and the smoothest and springiest reclining system of all. Indeed, you could spend all day on this thing just rocking back and forth.
Impeccable metal work is evident throughout, though the jury’s out on the hard mottled plastic seat frame and rubbery armrests; they somehow look out of place on a chair at this price. On a positive note, the bevelled armrests adjust for both horizontal and vertical positioning: you get about eight inches of vertical travel using a leaver on each arm and both arms can be swivelled inwards or outwards by about 20 degrees.
Despite the lack of a headrest, the Aeron is a commendably functional entry into the pantheon of office ergonomics (it is, after all, the model that can lay claim to having started the whole move towards ergonomic office chairs) but it’s just pipped by the Humanscale Freedom, which offers similar comfort and features without looking quite so outlandishly modern.
£697, Office Furniture Online
Best for: Variety of seating positions
Key specs – Seat height: 41-81cm (3 models); Lumbar support: Yes; Adjustable arms: No; Headrest: No; Estimated recline: 15˚; Materials: Fabric or leather; Colour options: 20
This one’s definitely an acquired taste since it looks and behaves completely differently to any other office chair. Modelled on the horse riding position, the HÅG Capisco is comprised of a narrow saddle-like seat with short, stubby arms that aren’t of much use if operating a computer mouse. However, it does feel extraordinarily comfortable when you lean back and rest the elbows on the substantially comfy arm pads.
The nature of the Capisco’s deep but firm hump-like seat encourages the user to sit with legs apart so there’s little chance you’ll be able to cross your legs (not that you should). However, this unique design does provide a few alternative seating positions, including sitting in reverse with the chair back against your chest or standing up in a seated position (there are three different seat height models available). The Capisco provides a range of adjustments including super-smooth spring-loaded tilting up to 15˚, adjustable seat depth and adjustable back height.
According to HÅG (part of the Norwegian Flokk empire), this chair is “designed to follow body movement and encourage positive healthy posture while promoting good blood circulation”. It’s certainly different to anything else on the market but whether or not it’s a bit too left field is open to debate.
£250, John Lewis & Partners
Best for: Breathable mesh on a budget
Key specs – Seat height: 45-54cm; Lumbar support: Yes; Adjustable arms: Yes; Headrest: No; Estimated recline: 20˚; Materials: Mesh; Colour options: 1
This own-brand John Lewis model has an attractive profile that doesn’t look as “out there” as some of its more expensive competitors. Like the Herman Miller, this is a full mesh chair with adjustable arms that raise and lower about four inches and swivel inwards or outwards in three steps; a useful feature to have for resting the elbows when using a computer keyboard and mouse. Wide-shouldered users can also extend the arms outwards by an inch or two for a little more breadth.
We found the slightly raised padding near the front lip of the seat pad added a little too much pressure to the underside of the leg, and the fixed lumbar support is made out of cheap-looking plastic, even if it does work quite well. The Murray’s seat height range isn’t as good as the Humanscale or Herman Miller either, but it does go low enough for someone in the 5’7” range and high enough for six footers. It also tilts back about 20 degrees from neutral.
The whole package is topped off with easy-running castors on a chromium five-legged plinth. Ultimately, the Murray isn’t quite as well equipped as the winning Ergo-Tek but it’s still a worthy contender.
Best for: Budget
Key specs – Seat height: 45-55cm; Lumbar support: Yes; Adjustable arms: No; Headrest: No; Estimated recline: 30˚; Materials: Padding and mesh; Colour options: 1
You may not find a cheaper ergonomic-style office chair than this Ikea offering. As you might expect, the Markus arrived flat packed but it only took about 30 minutes to build.
The seat is thinly padded and firm but strangely comfortable (rather like a Recaro sports car seat) and the mesh back is so tall there’s no need for a headrest. However, there are a few caveats with this chair, which means it’s not suitable for every height and weight.
Firstly, the seat height range is limited to between 45cm and 55cm, meaning it won’t be suitable for anyone less than, say, 5’7” inches in height. Similarly, the adjustable reclining spring is too stiff for featherweight users to pitch backwards without excessive muscular effort. Finally, the arms are 69cm tall and can’t be adjusted so they may not fit under the lip of some work desks, especially those with a slide-out keyboard shelf. The seat does have lumber support but, again, it’s non-adjustable.
There’s nothing intrinsically poor about this chair but you just need to be made aware of its shortcomings and, more importantly, whether it will suit your body dimensions and weight. Luckily, there are so many branches of Ikea in the UK that you shouldn’t need to travel too far to try one out for yourself.
Given its ultra-low price, good comfort levels and overall build quality, the Markus is still very much worthy of a position in this roundup. But if you can stretch the budget a little further, then the Ergo-Tek is a much more accomplished model that will suit a much wider range of body statistics.
This article has been updated. It was originally published in January 2019.
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