How Do Ergonomic Chairs Help? 5 Ways (Backed By Science)

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In 2016, the Bureau of Labor Statistics [1] found that a third of the time taken off work was due to musculoskeletal disorders. That’s a lot of us struggling with back problems, neck issues, and other repetitive strains. 

Like me, you may be rubbing your lower back thinking about the ache caused by hours in an uncomfortable office chair. I was lucky enough to reduce that with a good ergonomic chair, and you can do the same. 

So how do ergonomic chairs help? The right chair should help support the whole body where it counts for greater comfort and reduced fatigue. 

In this article, we’ll discuss five important ways ergonomic chairs can help your well-being while working. 

5 Ways That Ergonomic Chairs Help

Ergonomic chair benefits at a glance (backed by science)

Way they helpHow Study link (see references)
Provides better lower back supportAdjustable or well-designed lumbar support[2]
Facilitates proper posture, including neutral alignment of your hips and pelvisBackrest and back support design
Structure of the backrest and seat cushioning
Supports your unique body typeHigh adjustability (seat height & depth, lumbar support position, armrest height, etc)[5]
Enables varying your physical position throughout the dayDynamic adjustments like the recline or tilt lock[6]
More comfortable material & experienceBreathable fabric and / or high quality padding[7]

Let’s step through each of these benefits in more detail.

1) Better lower back support

One way ergonomic chairs help is by providing effective support for your lower back or lumbar region.

This is often done poorly by office chairs not designed with ergonomics in mind. These chairs can ignore the natural curves of your back, using either flat backrests or only providing minimal lumbar support. 

When present, this lumbar support may not be adjustable to suit your body.

By contrast, good ergonomic chairs provide effective, adjustable lumbar support. Proper lumbar support helps retain a neutral spinal posture and can improve comfort while sitting [2].

Typically, an ergonomic chair allows you to adjust the lumbar support to best fit the curve of your lower back. 

In many ergonomic chairs, you can directly adjust the position of the lumbar support. Otherwise, you can do this indirectly by adjusting the backrest height, so that the lumbar support lines up with your lower back.

Adjustable lumbar support can be either height adjustable or depth adjustable. 

Height adjustable lumbar supports allow adjustment up or down to find the best position for your back.

Depth or tension adjustable lumbar supports allow you to change the amount of forward pressure applied.

The ability to fine-tune your lumbar support in these ways is one key benefit of ergonomic chairs. You can configure your chair for extra comfort, in a way not possible without these design features.

2) Facilitates proper posture

Ergonomic chairs enable better posture by providing a backrest and seat design that supports the natural contours of your back.

Often, the backrest height and lumbar support can all be positioned to best “prop up” your lower back. This helps tilt your pelvis into a more neutral angle without you having to think about it. 

Additionally, the seat depth and cushioning should allow for a natural position, avoiding the need to round the lower back.

The postural improvement also extends to your upper body (shoulders, neck and head).

This is because ergonomic chairs generally sport a contoured, full-length backrest. This type of backrest promotes a neutral posture throughout the length of your spine, not just the lower back.

Further, when you realign your hips and adjust the curve of your spine, your shoulders should follow and reduce the risk of slouching. 

Slouching can be a bigger issue than you might think. This is because while there is no immediate discomfort, extended slouching can strain your neck and cause you to develop muscle imbalances.

This postural issue can have a lot to do with your core strength and size, so some people will find it easier to make changes than others. But, it helps to have the right chair to allow for easier correction. 

Ergonomic chairs help via spinal and hip support, but it also helps to have measures that place the head and neck in a better position. Curved head rests cradle the back of the head and keep the neck supported without any undue pressure. 

You should also be able to tilt the backrest and headrest independently. This will allow for the optimal view of the monitor without physically raising and lowering your head.  

3) Supports your unique body type

Good ergonomic chairs are highly adjustable. In many cases, you’ll be able to adjust:

  • Seat height and depth
  • Lumbar support height and tension
  • Armrest height, depth and pivot (i.e. angled inwards, straight or outwards)
  • Backrest height 
  • Chair tilt or recline level

This means compared to more basic chair types, you can adapt ergonomic chairs much more easily to your particular body type (or your anthropometrics, to use a wanky but cool sounding word).

So, if you’re a little on the taller or shorter side, you’ll be able to adjust your seat position and backrest options to ensure you’re effectively supported.

The same applies if you’re normal sized “overall”, but have unusual body proportions (i.e. long torso relative to your legs, extra wide hips, etc).

For more information about ergonomic chair adjustments and what qualifies as ergonomic, check out our guide

To see what the above looks like for a specific example chair, check out our article on how to adjust the Herman Miller Aeron ergonomic chair to your body type.

4) Enables varying your physical position throughout the day

Another way ergonomic chairs help is by facilitating a variety of physical positions throughout the workday.

Usually, these chairs let you recline backwards, enabling dynamic movement of your body while working. 

Many ergonomic chairs also let you limit or even lock the level of tilt. This allows you to vary the load on your lower back, as well as the muscles stressed.

Personally, I like to lock the backrest tilt on my current chair at different angles between 90 – 110 degrees throughout the day. This helps me avoid sitting in one static position all day. 

5) More comfortable material

A long shift in the same position runs the risk of aches and pains. The worst feeling is when areas go numb because you pressed them against an unforgiving surface for too long. 

We’ve all been there. 

How can ergonomic chairs help? Typically, an ergonomic chair uses higher quality, breathable fabric and premium cushioning.

Some popular chairs like the Herman Miller Aeron or the Ergohuman Chair opt for a mesh fabric which is particularly breathable and conforms easily to the shape of your body. In the Aeron’s case, this material is designed to make you feel like you’re “floating on air”. 

That may sound like a cheesy marketing line, but high end mesh chairs can legitimately create that sensation.

Also, good ergonomic chairs will provide premium grade cushioning. This is often a high density foam that provides an extra level of support. Also, in many models, the seat edge is a soft “waterfall” design, which allows you to comfortably shift position. This also promotes circulation of your legs and knees.

When searching for an ergonomic chair, you’ll come across many high-end models (i.e. the Herman Miller line). But, if they are a little beyond your budget, don’t panic. Check out our selection of alternative options, as well as our ergonomic chair price guide

The right chair is part of a bigger plan 

While a good chair is a brilliant starting point, there is also the issue of being sedentary at the desk. 

We have all sat for too long, even in a good chair, and felt the effects. Getting up to stretch and take breaks and simple neck and wrist exercises all help. The CDC even encourages employers to support workers in getting more active in the workplace. 

A good ergonomic chair can make a big difference

Hopefully, this gives a good idea of why we are so passionate about top-quality ergonomic chairs. 

We know from our own experiences that they can make a big difference to our posture and reduce discomfort.

If you are ready to find a budget ergonomic chair, check out our guide here. We’re sure you can find something that makes a difference.

Thanks for reading!