Why Are Ergonomic Chairs So Uncomfortable?

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We spend the majority of our time in some type of work environment, whether at the office or in our home.

Ergonomic chairs can play a major role in our work day, and there are a multitude of options on the market with different features and styles.

Have you ever tried using an ergonomic chair and wondered why it was so uncomfortable? Doesn’t “ergonomic” mean “more comfortable?”

Unfortunately, it’s not that simple and there’s no one-size-fits-all solution. 

“Ergonomics” is the science of designing equipment to work with our bodies in a more comfortable, efficient way [1].

Since each person’s body is different, what is ergonomic for one user may be a nightmare for the next.

In this article, we will look at some of the major reasons why an ergonomic chair can be uncomfortable and some steps you can take to avoid that problem.

If you’re curious which chairs we think may help avoid discomfort, check out some of our top premium picks, reclining office chairs, and mesh office chairs.

Wrong Size

In order for a chair to be ergonomic, it has to fit you. Since this is the most important factor in comfort, take a look below at the four critical areas where fit matters [2].

Seat Depth

Seat depth refers to how far the seat extends towards your knees when sitting in it. Most office chairs have a seat depth of 17-20 inches. 

Very tall people usually need a deeper seat to accommodate their long legs. Short people with small legs need a more shallow seat. With some chairs, you can adjust the seat depth by moving the backrest forward or back.

There should be 2-4 inches between the edge of the seat and your knees. This is the most comfortable position, and it promotes healthy leg circulation. By measuring from the back of the buttocks to the back of your knee and subtracting 2 inches, you will know what seat depth is best for you.

Seat Width

You don’t want to feel hemmed in by your chair. An adequate seat width will leave you a couple inches on either side to comfortably change positions. Freedom of movement is critical to your comfort and wellbeing. 

This can be an issue for people with broad hips or a very large build. To avoid this problem, try measuring from one side of your hips to the other while sitting down. Then you will easily be able to determine if a chair will accommodate you.

Height adjustment

After the seat, height adjustment is the next priority. Your feet should rest flat on the ground with your legs either level with your hips or sloping slightly downward. Most chairs can be adjusted from 16-21 inches off the floor.

If the chair doesn’t go low enough, your feet will dangle, which is not good for your leg circulation. On the flip side, being unable to raise it high enough results in an uncomfortable, “crunched” position of the legs and hips that will leave you painfully sore.

Headrest

A headrest is a popular feature on many ergonomic office chairs and gaming chairs, but if it’s not positioned correctly, it may cause more harm than good. 

For very short or tall people, its placement can oftentimes end up feeling awkward and uncomfortable. Or its adjustments may be limited and unable to accommodate your needs. 

If you can’t comfortably rest your head on it, then it’s not a headrest you want.

Lack Of Adjustable Features

The key to the ideal ergonomic chair is the adjustable features. The more there are, the better chance there is of customizing it to fit your body. Cheaply-made chairs don’t have the same adjustment capabilities as quality ones.

You need to be able to adjust the height, lumbar support, tilt/reclining angle, headrest if applicable, and the armrests for maximum comfort. 

Some chairs come with additional features like a rocking function or the ability to move the backrest up and down or forward and back.

Lack Of Range In Adjustable Features

Even if a chair is adjustable, it doesn’t necessarily mean it can be adjusted to fit your body. An adjustable headrest may not be able to move to the exact angle you need. 

The backrest may not tilt back far enough for you if you want to fully recline. Maybe the armrests don’t have the range of movement you need.

Don’t assume that if it says “adjustable,” it will work for you. Look at the fine print to see how adjustable it really is.

Lack of Lumbar Support

Ergonomic chairs are designed to support the spine’s natural curved shape. Lumbar support is critical to reduce lower back pain. Without it, people begin to slouch and flatten the rest of the spine, straining the lower back muscles. 

You want a chair with built-in lumbar support that comfortably fits the small of your back. An incorrectly positioned lumbar cushion can be very uncomfortable and cause even more problems.

Many ergonomic chairs feature adjustable lumbar cushions to provide the ideal amount of support. Some move in and out, and others also move up and down.

Improper Position

No matter how great a chair is, if you aren’t sitting in a healthy position, you will still suffer from pain and soreness. You don’t have to stick to the rigid old rules of having your back straight up at a 90-degree angle. In fact, it can be healthier to have your back in a slight reclining position, about 135 degrees. 

Your legs can also be angled slightly down from your hips instead of at a perfect 90 degrees [3]. Many chairs are designed with a “waterfall” seat edge that promotes this.

Your sitting position shouldn’t cause extra tension and should work with your anatomy, not against it. An ergonomic chair supports your frame in a healthy posture.

Uncomfortable Materials

A chair’s materials can drastically affect how comfortable it is. For some people, the classic, soft leather is preferable. They find mesh to be scratchy or rough. Others hate leather’s lack of breathability and prefer the cool, airy mesh for long days of work. Ultimately, this comes down to personal preference.

The materials you can’t see matter just as much. Quality chairs have thick cushioning made from durable, high-density foam that can hold up to long hours of use. They don’t flatten out or become deformed. Such foam can give you the supportive comfort you want and need.

How To Be Comfortable While Using An Ergonomic Chair

Change your position

Even though it’s easy to get lost in a task and stay locked into one position for a long time, changing it can go a long way towards your overall comfort [4]. 

Try readjusting the backrest angle, the armrests, or the headrest. Maximize all the adjustable features and change up your posture to engage different muscles.

Change the distance from your desk

You can also move closer or farther away from your desk to force your body to adapt to a new position. Even slightly changing your location in your workspace will force your brain and body to adapt.

Stretch breaks

Even if you have the most comfortable chair in the world, your body still needs to move. Taking periodic breaks to stretch improves your flexibility, circulation, and mental awareness [5]. 

There’s a reason why this advice has been around so long. It’s highly effective in reducing chronic pain and also improves mental health.

Get educated before going shopping

Don’t run out and buy the first chair you see that’s labeled as “ergonomic.” Do your homework and research available options. Take some time to assess what your priorities are and then carefully examine each model to see if it meets your needs.

Online reviews can be a great resource, as well as talking to other users or sales staff. Check out guides and lists of the top models on the market.

Try out more than one chair

Don’t settle for the first, second, or third chair if it’s not what you want. Again, take your time to find one that is everything you need. This is an investment into your health, and you are the one that will be using it. 

Since there is a wide range of options, it’s good to familiarize yourself with the different types and learn what you do and don’t like.

Final Thoughts

If you’ve found ergonomic chairs to be uncomfortable in the past, hopefully now you understand why that could be. Even the most expensive chair can be uncomfortable if it doesn’t fit you. 

Finding one that accommodates your build, size, and preferences is crucial in having a truly ergonomic chair.

Even after finding one that adjusts to fit your body, try practicing the tips above to maximize the benefits. With simple changes, you can enjoy a pain-free workday and healthy body.

Ergonomic chairs don’t have to be uncomfortable. The key is being clear on what feels best to you and what makes your body relaxed. If you’re going to spend the majority of your day in a chair, it’s worth the time and effort to find one that makes the time spent in it a pleasure. 

References

[1] https://www.dictionary.com/browse/ergonomics

[2] https://www.ehs.pitt.edu/workplace/ergonomics/chair

[3] https://www.physiomed.co.uk/uploads/guide/file/20/Physiomed_Sitting_Guide_-_Correct_Sitting_Posture_Digital.pdf

[4] https://www.spine-health.com/wellness/ergonomics/ten-tips-improving-posture-and-ergonomics

[5] https://ehs.virginia.edu/Ergonomics-Stretch-Breaks.html