Adjusting Your Office Chair Can Mean the Difference between Pain and Productivity
By Tracy and Tom Hazzard
For most of us who work from a desk with a computer, the chair we use — whether in a home office or working from an employer’s space — may not have been chosen by us for that specific task. Whether it’s your chair of choice or not, proper adjustment of seat height and angle, lumbar support, and the angle of the back are critically important to productivity, say chair designers Tracy and Tom Hazzard, co-principals of their eponymous design firm Hazz Design.
|Whether it’s your chair of choice or not, proper adjustment of seat height and angle, lumbar support, and the angle of the back are critically important to productivity…|
Spine and ergonomics specialists agree that back pain is one of the most common work-related injuries in the United States. Lower back pain, neck strain and leg pain are often related to office ergonomics. But most office chairs are designed with a specific person in mind: a 6’1" male with 21" measurements from hip to underside of the knee, and an average weight of 225lbs.
Despite the theory that these measurements represent the average American office-working man, chairs designed to these proportions don’t necessarily work for anyone whose measurements deviate more than slightly from that norm. And they’re particularly challenging for many women. (The nation’s workforce is now nearly 60% female, according to data from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development reported recently in The Economist).
Adjusting a Chair Properly
So how can you sit more comfortably through the workday? Tracy and Tom offer the following steps for adjusting a chair properly — and retrofitting it if necessary. The chair features mentioned below may vary or may not be available on your office chair. Be sure to refer to the instruction manual for your particular model.
Step 1 — Adjust the Height
The lever is typically on the right side of chair (while seated). Perfect height is when your feet are flat on the ground with your thighs parallel to the floor.
· Pull up on the lever and release your weight to raise height.
· Pull up on the lever, keeping weight on chair to lower height.
Step 2 — Adjust the Back
Not all chair backs are adjustable, but if they are, the back will move vertically up or down. Perfect height should be at least high enough to reach the bottom of the shoulder blades.
· If there is a knob at the lower end of back side of the back cushion, loosen the knob, raise or lower the chair back to the desired height, and tighten the knob to hold in place.
· Other chair backs adjust by simply lifting them up through several height positions. You will hear a click for each position, and can stop at any point. To lower the back to the bottom position, you may need to lift the back all the way to the top, and then it will drop to the lowest position again.
Step 3 — Adjust the Seat Depth
Not all seat cushions are mechanically adjustable. If they are, they move forward and back to adjust the depth of the seat in relation to the back cushion. Perfect seat depth is when your back is contacting and supported by the back cushion, and you can put two fingers between the front edge of the seat cushion and the back of your knees.
· If there is a lever or button located on one side of the seat, move the lever or button and slide your seat forward or back.
· Turn your chair over and double-check the area where the back is attached to the mechanism. Sometimes there is a knob or slot that can be adjusted by removing and reattaching the back cushion creating more or less space between the back and seat.
Step 4 — Adjust the Armrests
Not all armrests are adjustable. If they are, they move vertically up or down, flip up or back, and sometimes flip in and out. Perfect height is when your upper arm forms a right angle (90 degrees) to your lower arm as you are working.
· Find the height release button on the side of the arm or trigger under the front of the arm pad. Press the button or pull the trigger and raise or lower the arm as needed.
· For arms that flip up or back, there may or may not be a release button located toward the outer bottom of the arm structure. Push it and just flip the arms out of the way.
For those who just can’t get the fit right with the chair they have, modifications may be possible. (You may need a few simple tools, such as a screwdriver or Allen wrench, to accomplish these.)
1. Call the manufacturer. Manufacturer labels are typically under the seat along with model numbers. Explain your issue even if the chair is no longer under warranty. If your problem is the chair height, for example, different range gas lifts may be available to help you achieve a lower or higher height as needed.
2. Add a pillow. This helps take up the seat distance and relieve pressure behind your knees and in your lower back.
3. Remove the arms. If you cannot get close enough to your desk because the arms are interfering, check to see if the arms are attached to the seat cushion only. If so, you can remove them.
4. Modify your desk. Remove the keyboard tray so you can get closer to the desk or use the keyboard tray as your laptop/ desk surface.
Or, it just may simply be time for a new chair — preferably one that offers fully adjustable lumbar support; wide-range, non-incremental height adjustment; and adjustable arms that either move out of the way entirely, or, can be set above or below the desk surface to ensure you get close enough to work without strain. These added features are worth a small increase in your chair budget. They also extend the lifetime of use and comfort you will get out of a chair. HBM
With more than 20 years of living and designing together, husband and wife team Tom and Tracy Hazzard draw on their individual perspectives, talents and experiences to create right-fit designs for home or work. They establish exclusive relationships with their clients to solve the problem of what to make, how to make it cost effectively, and most importantly make it stand out competitively to connect with the consumer. Please visit www.hazzdesign.com for more information. Be sure to visit their blog where they share their thoughts on office seating, design and how to survive working and living with your spouse. V19-5 Add:10/12 HP: