How do I chair? (Short people edition)
July 31, 2019 3:05 PM   Subscribe

I'm about 5 feet tall and have always had trouble sitting at desks, because if I bring myself up to the correct height for my wrist to rest on the desk, my feet are always dangling. Recently I have been having some aches and pains associated with my bad sitting posture, and I'd like to finally attempt to remedy this.

Thankfully I'm not glued to my desk at my current job so this is a problem mainly for home. I've already purchased a keyboard tray that lowers my keyboard and mouse so my feet don't have to dangle as much, but they're still not comfortably flat on the floor. I've tried using footrests but can't seem to get any footrest close enough to my feet because it gets stopped by the spokes on my chair or I end up pushing it away with the spokes. After getting a haircut last week, I realized that the built-in footrest on the barber chair makes it quite comfortable to sit in and looked up office chairs with footrests but only saw reclining ones. Fellow short people, how do you chair?!
posted by Forty-eight to Grab Bag (16 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Search for drafting chair.
posted by phunniemee at 3:06 PM on July 31

I'm 5'1", and I use yoga blocks under my feet when I sit at my desk.
posted by 168 at 3:22 PM on July 31

I don't think you need a built-in footrest. Most of my friends in the 4'9" to 5'2" range (and taller) get footrests. I have a very petite friend who travels with a collapsible one so that when we're at conferences, she can sit comfortably in the regular seats. (Hers looks less like the ones linked above, and more like a tiny stepstool, but it's the same principle.) Rubbermaid has a particularly nice one that expands to 6 1/2" but it's on the pricier side.

I'm 5'3", and tend to put my heels or arches on the rolling bars (horizontal to the floor) attached to the wheels of my desk chair, but it's not ideal.
posted by The Wrong Kind of Cheese at 3:23 PM on July 31 [1 favorite]

Usually if I sit on the very edge of a chair my feet reach the ground (ymmv); it's also a good way to force yourself to sit straight, but has the disadvantage of being uncomfortable for long periods unless your back muscles are used to it. Good for when you're out and about.

There are wedge-shaped ergonomic cushions like this that lift your spine (and therefore your arms) but not your legs. (So you can lower the chair but still reach the keyboard comfortably?)

There's this product (the Hag Stepup), which is super expensive but if you're handy or know a place where you can get something similar made for cheap, might solve your current problem with footrests. Another option is to look for a footrest shaped like a shelf, or an actual shelf, wide and tall enough that your chair wheels can roll under it.
posted by trig at 3:30 PM on July 31

As OP mentioned, the trouble with the kind of footrests The Wrong King of Cheese links to is that if you have a wheely office chair with star-shaped spokes with a wheel on the end of each, the spokes make it impossible to get the footrest close enough to be of any use. I've had countless footrests similar to that Rubbermaid design and they've mostly just seesawed back and forth over a central hinge, making it impossible to rest your feet on it without it moving beneath them. And somehow just having one small platform to rest your feet on isn't a patch on having the whole floor beneath you so you can move your feet around - having to keep your feet stuck in position on the little platform means you end up stuck in the same position for way too long. Or maybe I'm just a wriggler.

I mostly take trig's suggestion - sit with your butt cheeks on the front edge of the seat, with your knees dropped down low. It opens up your hip flexors and you sit very upright (almost like you're sitting on one of these) and can get your feet to the ground. Might take a little practice for your lower back if you're not used to it.
posted by penguin pie at 4:01 PM on July 31

I have this problem and purchased a used Steelcase Leap chair. It goes lower than any chair I could find at the time. Sadly it’s too low for my new desk so I still need a footrest, but that’s okay but I LOVE my foot rest. This is it and it works great with office chair wheels! The footrest was stupid expensive but I work from home full time and I’ve had it five years and it’s in immaculate condition still. I love it so much. I find that the fact that it has wheels makes it easier to get close enough to the chair. I highly recommend it! It’s easy to get movement with it if you like to fidget (but it stays pretty stable if you aren’t).

I also put an ottoman under my desk so I can switch between feet on the footrest and feet up. This is my preferred way of sitting. I have found that the key to avoiding aches and pains for a desk chair is to be in as many positions as I can during the day. I also bought a “desk hammock” like this but found the ottoman comfier.
posted by the thorn bushes have roses at 4:06 PM on July 31 [1 favorite]

I’ve gotten a desk raised to standing height and then purchased a stool with a footrest that works for sitting at the standing height desk. And then I’ve sworn that if I ever run a workplace of my own I’ll purchase desks for average sized women as the default human, and the guys can have a turn at altering their workspace to be comfortable for a change.
posted by deludingmyself at 4:41 PM on July 31 [3 favorites]

An adjustable desk is another option; the one I use at work goes all the way down to 25.5" at the push of a button, so you could use a chair that's comfortable for you, and still have your wrists (and legs) at comfortable heights.
posted by whisk(e)y neat at 4:59 PM on July 31

If you want to try out a footrest/etc for very low cost, you can approximate one with reams of paper. (This also works for monitor stands.)
posted by asterix at 5:10 PM on July 31 [2 favorites]

I'm 5 feet tall. I use a footrest similar to this one. The wheeled base of my chair doesn't come anywhere near it; it's at least a foot away. If I have the footrest close enough to the chair that the wheels could bump into it, that's less comfortable. (I just tried it out.) You might try moving your footrest further away from you, so your legs are bent at more like a 45 degree angle than a 90 degree angle. If that doesn't seem comfortable it might be because your footrest isn't high enough or isn't angled.
posted by Redstart at 7:38 PM on July 31

Any chance your employer has an ergonomic program? Ours hooks into the state IWIF system so someone trained comes out and can adjust the chair and more.

For home and driving, I’ve been pickier with selecting chairs and car seat experience. When I get out of synch, doing stretching exercises like what’s on PBS Esmonde Technique gets my posture in better shape.
posted by childofTethys at 9:01 PM on July 31

What whisk(e)y neat said: if you can't raise your chair, lower your desk.
Best way to do it is adjusting the seat so that your thighs rest on the seat and your feet flat on the floor, then adjust the armrests, and then put the desk at the level of the armrests.
posted by farlukar at 1:42 AM on August 1

I sit on a yoga ball with a footrest and a drop-down keyboard tray.
posted by bile and syntax at 8:30 AM on August 1

I used to use a footrest that's a plate with cutouts in the sides that sit on a base so the angle can be adjusted. The big honking rubbermaid ones are hard to change the angle, make noise when you do change the angle, and are too big for the chair base.

I currently rest my feet on the chair base, which involves some spinning it around so the spokes are in the right places. I am taller than you, YMMV.
posted by momus_window at 1:26 PM on August 1

Remember step aerobics? I use a step aerobics step for a footrest. Found it at Goodwill for a quarter. Other cheap options: bricks, cinder blocks, 2x4 hacked to a little longer than foot-length and duct taped together. Bricks and cinder blocks could also be covered with duct tape both for cuteness and floor protection.
posted by The Almighty Mommy Goddess at 1:29 PM on August 3

It's weird, isn't it? Office footrests are specifically meant to be used with office chairs; you'd think there'd be some with a niche between the feet for the front spoke to slide into, or maybe single-foot designs. But no, not that I've found, though that Hag Stepup thing someone linked to upthread looks interesting.

Anyway. I'm here to serve as a warning. I'm 5'4" and used to rest my feet on the chair base, but something about the way that made me hold myself eventually caused damage somewhere in my neck or shoulder, resulting in loss of function in one hand for which I'm now seeing a physiotherapist. Switching to a footrest, despite the drawbacks, really did help. Obviously YMMV, but I thought I was fine sitting the way I was, and I was mistaken.

I use a doormat under the footrest to keep it in place on the hard floors at work, and sometimes twist the chair base so that there's an angle to the fore instead of a spoke - doesn't last beyond the next time I push back from the desk, but lets me get closer for a bit with no obvious loss of stability. (At home, my desk height is better suited to me, so I don't need a footrest.)
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 4:55 AM on August 4

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