How do I office chair? How do I sit?
September 16, 2020 6:30 AM   Subscribe

Looking for guidance on how to shop for an office chair. Ideal budget is 500USD, can go higher if necessary. Hard mode: I live in a small city in China (well, by Chinese standards).

For a long time, I've stood while using the computer, and sat while reading. This is still largely the case, and for now, standing causes no problems. That said, sometimes it would be nice to sit! Due to some recent RSI issues I've had to sit a lot more while using the computer (I got a foot pedal to do some repetitive work, which has worked nicely to give my hands a break, but I've found it's rather hard to use a foot pedal repeatedly while standing)...the increase in sitting time has started giving me back pain, I believe due to the crappy chairs I've been sitting in (they came with our furnished apartment). So at this point, sitting to work or to read has started making my lower back uncomfortable...I've started switching everything back to standing as much as possible (including reading), but I'd like to be able to sit for a spell without hurting! Especially to be able to read in a more relaxed manner...

I've searched here for other threads on chairs, but one key issue that I haven't really seen addressed (though this could just be lackluster searching) is how one "should" be sitting. In my various readings about back stuff etc, some sources recommend lumbar support, some don't, etc. I guess the "ideal" chair is an adjustable one, but still, I'd like a general sense. In my experience, some things that "feel good" in the short term can reinforce the things which cause issues in the long-term. For example, should shoulders be above hips? Slightly behind? Should the back be slightly arched backwards? That sort of thing. Keep in mind that I've largely stood for the last...decade, and as such I may very well not know "how" to sit. I've tried following the advice of experts (like the sitting method recommend in the book by Gokhale), but I haven't really been able to make it work thus far.

And then of course beyond that, chair recommendations. I'm going to try and find a local showroom, but I live in China in a non-consequential city, so not sure. I can probably find something, but maybe not a showroom of fancy 2000USD chairs...but in high likelihood I can find the Chinese knockoffs of those brands, which is why I need to know what I should be looking for in a chair besides name brand because it's going to hard to know what to look for among unfamiliar brands otherwise. Lots of well-known chairs (Herman Miller, for example) are available online in China, but they're quite expensive, and I'm wary of buying something so expensive without testing it out (and the chance of getting scammed on such expensive items online is non-trivial, whether it be fakes or the seller doing everything they can to make it impossible to return, even if you technically can (this happened to me recently on another high value item)). My budget is ideally around 500USD, though it's not a hard budget and I can go higher if necessary. I'm mostly worried about what to be looking for, especially because who knows if in a year a chair that feels good today will give me problems.
posted by wooh to Health & Fitness (3 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Honestly if you want to start simple you could get a bench or a simple flat wooden chair, sit on the edge of it without using the back support, and see how that feels. You could also try it with a wedge cushion, meditation cushion, or one of those inflatable balance discs on top if you want to increase the angle between your knees and torso.
posted by trig at 7:02 AM on September 16, 2020

I'd look around for a (secondhand?) Steelcase Leap. People seem to like it as much as the Herman Miller chairs but fewer people dislike it.
posted by callmejay at 10:48 AM on September 16, 2020

Most chairs are badly made and nearly all are ugly to boot. The word "ergonomic" is also completely phony. I've been an active seeker of ergonomic equipment for years, and there's nothing. More recently, I was also a study subject for ergonomic keyboards and manufacturers do just enough to be able to legally use the term but not enough to provide actual ergonomic support. Let's get that out of the way first.

Second, when choosing a chair, the chair needs to suit your height, with you sitting with your feet firmly on the ground (not splayed out or jutted toward the side), and your back straight (but not military-style rigid), with your posture determined by the straight position of your neck (not jutting forward, but rather with your chin tucked just a little, and all of the 3-D parts stacked atop one another in a supportive way: shoulders --> ribs --> hips, etc.).

You don't want anything to lean your head on. Neckrests will nearly always misposition your neck. And you don't want any armrests of any kind, or if an otherwise lovely chair has them you need to take them off, so you don't inadvertently lean on them or accommodate them with weird, if not entirely conscious, positioning.

Lumbar support is all well and good, but only if it matches the dip in your back where your lumber is. Generally speaking, I'd pay attention to overall fit of the chair, and then buy a few slightly hard pillows to accommodate the lumbar area if need be.

The key to "sitting well" is to have a chair that enhances your ability to maintain proper posture. I've had access to Herman Miller chairs (which are height-specific), and they can be comfortable, but I've never used them long-term. Instead, I've been happiest with an ordinary smaller sized office chair (as I'm small too), with the arms removed. At home, I currently use a wicker chair with arms spreads so widely I don't misuse them. I have a few small cushions behind me. I chose the wicker chair in part because they're reasonably low to the ground as am I, and when I'd ordered more officey chairs I hadn't necessarily been happy with the end result.

Know, however, that even after years of practice and self-reminder, it's easy to find yourself slouching. Also understand that chances are good if you've been standing all of these years, you've probably been unconsciously overusing part of your body at the expense of another part (e.g. leaning too heavily on one foot, carrying your weight on your dominant hip, etc.). This kind of partial body overuse is what you want to avoid both standing and sitting. Also know that if you type on a computer keyboard while sitting in this chair, you're going to want a keyboard tray that sits right above your knees (the taller you are the more awkward this can be), without smashing either into your knees or the edges of your chair. Finally, when choosing a chair, your best bet is to go somewhere with many chairs so you can actually sit in them. I've had very happy experiences with hand-picked chairs and less happy experiences with chairs picked online (which is how I ended up with wicker this time).

I know all of this sounds like a lot but the principle behind good ergonomics is simple: Maintain good posture.
posted by Violet Blue at 3:44 PM on September 16, 2020 [1 favorite]

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