Why Fixed Arms On Office Chairs Work Against You: A Case Of The Tail Wagging The Dog

Of course there’s nothing wrong with using an office chair with fixed arms. What's the big deal? As long as I've got somewhere to rest my arms that’s OK isn't it? Well, yes if you're very lucky it might be but the odds aren't good.

Why fixed arms on an office chair are never a good idea
Even today with all the awareness about potential problems with Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI) and carpal tunnel issues fixed arms are still the norm on many office chairs. This inflexible way of working is not good for as number of reasons.

First, most fixed arm designs are based more on coming up with a sexy shape than what they should do – support your arms and shoulders properly. Some have straight tops while others drop away alarmingly at the front, but hey they look cool.

Second, they are usually made from rigid hard plastic and are just plain uncomfortable to use.

Third, little or no thought goes into the design of them in terms of their height. It’s really all a bit of a lottery as to whether they are right for you. We are all unique and so a fixed arm can never work for more than a small minority of users.

It’s not a good idea to rely on luck that a fixed arm will be right for you. What can you do to find a better solution to fixed arms?

A simple step up adds loads of flexibility
Fortunately many chairs now come with standard adjustable arms and this is a major improvement for your comfort and proper arm support.

There's nothing particularly revolutionary about this sort of arm. Quite simply they quickly adjust up and down, normally by about 3 to 6 inches. Straight away you're able to set the arm height at the right height for your own personal comfort. For the vast majority of people standard adjustable arms are all you need. A number of manufacturers offer even more arm choices.

Adding further comfort refinements
One option you will always find worthwhile is selecting padded arms if available. These include foam padding on the arm tops and greatly increase comfort for the underside of your lower arms. Others are made with a soft plastic on the arm tops, however this isn't quite as effective as foam.

The next level of arm is often referred to as highly adjustable arms. These will have added functions and can include some or all of these features:

  • Tops that can be angled in and out for a wider range of arm support
  • Tops that slide backwards and forwards – useful for getting closer to your desk
  • Arms that can be adjusted in width to give your shoulders better aligned support
  • Arms that can be temporarily moved out of the way effectively making your chair armless

Is there a case for having no arms on your chair?
Most people find they need arms on their chair. However this isn't universal. If you prefer to work in a chair with no arms there’s no reason why you shouldn’t. Office workers who spend a lot of time typing and keying in data frequently find it preferable to work in close at their desk.

Effectively the desktop provides support for the user’s arms instead of the chair. In fact when you work up close to your desk many chair arms can actually hit the desk edge and prevent you working in this way.

Let’s quickly summarize the key point we've covered here.

  • Fixed arms are inflexible and uncomfortable
  • Getting fixed arms of the right height is a lottery
  • Height adjustable arms make it easy to set the arms where you need them
  • Padded arm tops will greatly enhance your working comfort
  • Highly adjustable arms have many useful refinements

Here's where you can find a summary of office chairs with adjustable arms. Some of them have highly adjustable arms with great additional functions to enhance working comfort.


When Should You Use A Chair Mat In The Office? Protecting Your Floorcoverings

The top of my garden has a lawn with each side connecting to neighboring gardens. There is a narrow diagonal track across the lawn where the grass is permanently flattened and this damage is caused by a fox. It uses my garden as a run and always walks along the same route. You would never imagine that a fox could cause this by doing no more than walking over the same length of lawn everyday.

Office chairs can be a bit like the fox and cause similar damage to your flooring and that’s where a chair mat can often help.

In this article we’re going to look at 3 key points about chair mats:

  1. What is a chair mat?
  2. When should you use a chair mat?
  3. What sorts of chair mats are best?

Let’s begin by answering the question is what chair mat?

bamboo mat

Bamboo Mat

Simply put, a chair mat is a means of protecting your office floorcovering. It acts as a barrier between the wheels of your office chair and floor to spread the load more evenly, preventing damage.

Depending on the type of chair mat used it can also enhance the appearance of your office, but more on that later let’s first look at when you might need one.

When should you use a chair mat?
The humble office chair puts a tremendous amount of pressure on your floorcovering. This is hardly surprising as all your weight is concentrated onto 5 small wheels, which frequently move across the floor throughout the day.

All this can quickly damage even quite tough carpets and tiles over a period of time. It is especially true where you have a wood floor finish, the destructive action of your chair’s wheels can literally tear up the top surface of the wood.

In the case of vinyl flooring it often leads to scoring and grooves appearing on the surface quite quickly. Just like the fox, you tend to move back and forth over the same section of floor throughout the day.

All in all swivel chairs can be very destructive unless you take action and use a chair mat to act as a form of load spreader, forming a protective layer. Chair mats come in a number of different forms, each intended to offer specific protection.

What is the best type of chair mat?
Selecting the best chair mat for your needs will depend to some extent on the type of flooring you’re trying to protect.

Clear Plastic
The commonest flooring in offices is carpeting and carpet tiles and the most popular type of mat for carpet protection is made from clear plastic. Care needs to be taken in selecting this type of mat.

Really cheap ones need to be avoided as the edges soon bubble and distort with use presenting a potential hazard as it’s all too easy to trip over these raised edges. You can usually tell this type of mat because it rolls up.

Better quality clear mats are semi-rigid tapering at the edges to give a smooth connection between mat and carpet. Additionally they have a grid of short molded plastic studs to the underside, which act as grips and prevent the mat slipping in use.

Wood Mats
Wood chair mats come in 2 formats. First there are laminate-based rigid mats finished in a realistic wood effect. These are very durable and are suitable for protecting all types of floor. Generally the finish is very good and they can certainly enhance the appearance of your office.

Second there are bamboo mats made from machined bamboo strips, which are professionally strung together and can be rolled up. These are then finished in a high quality stain and again are suitable for protecting most floor surfaces and also look very good in the office.

Rubber Mats
Rubber mats aren't nearly as common these days, mainly due to the improvement in quality and appearance of other forms of mat. They don't look very nice as generally they come in black rubber, which can look unsightly in a large piece. However one of their advantages is they are quite thin and so are ideal for protecting hard floor surfaces like wood and tiles. They act as a form of gasket preventing delicate surfaces from becoming marked or scored.

Here are the 3 key points we’ve covered in this article:

  • What a chair mat is
  • When you should use one
  • The different types of chair mat and which is best

So, if your floorcovering is starting to resemble that fox run it’s time to protect it with a chair mat. Read this article for further details on chair mat selection.


Why Is A Monitor Arm A Good Idea? Discover A More Flexible Way Of Working

It was the year 1991 and the office interiors business I ran with my business partner bought its first premises. At last we had enough space for a proper office and we fitted it out with a large desk arrangement with the main desk each at the front and a smaller return unit on one side.

My return was on my left and I had my PC screen on it because I didn't want it cluttering up my main desk when talking with clients. However for some insane reason I had my keyboard on my main desk instead of on the return.

m2 Monitor Arm

Humanscale M2 Monitor Arm

Consequently when I was using my computer I had to turn my head sharply to the left if I wanted to see what I was typing.

It wasn't altogether surprising that after about 3 months of working like this I developed a neck problem and needed physiotherapy to correct it.

When my physio asked about how I worked, the penny dropped and I took corrective action and bought a monitor arm.

What is a monitor arm?
A monitor arm is basically a flexible articulated arm support which attaches to your desk top and allows you to move and place your screen in many different positions. When old style cathode ray tube screens were the norm the arms were generally chunky heavy-duty things and usually had a tray on which the monitor was placed.

With the advent of flat panel screens this sort of support has been replaced by modern arms which are a lot more stylish and flexible and suit a wide number of monitors.

What are the benefits of modern monitor arms?
Working with a monitor arm offers far more flexibility than simply having your screen sitting on your desktop. Good arms allow an almost infinite variety of different positions; it really is as simple as just pulling or pushing your monitor to where you want it to be.

Not only that, when you want use your desk for other things like writing or maybe releasing a large area of workspace for sorting paperwork, simply push it out of the way until you need it again. It adds a huge amount of versatility to how you use your screen.

What sort of flat panel screens can be used with a monitor arm?
With modern monitors you will generally find that they have a standardized fixing arrangement. If you look at the back of your screen it will probably have 4 brass threaded fixing points, one in each corner. These are usually set out at either 75mm or 100mm centres. You may need to remove a cover plate to locate them.

Provided that the fixing points have been built into your screen it’s then just a case of checking that the arm has the correct fixing plate for your monitor. There are occasions when a screen won’t work with a monitor arm.

What sort of screens might not work with a monitor arm?
Arms designed for use with flat panel screens aren't designed to carry a lot of weight and whilst this shouldn’t be an issue with smaller screens you may every well find your choice is pretty limited if you are using something like a 24 inch or larger screen. So take care to check out the weight carrying capacity of arms you are looking at and make sure they are capable of supporting your arm properly.

Also, iMac users will find that the smaller models don’t have the industry standard fixings built in and so can’t be readily attached to an arm. It is possible to find a conversion kit to do the job, however it relies on attaching to the integrated stand.

Not only that an iMac weighs in at around 30 pounds ruling out many potential arms, and there’s also the strain this dynamic weight may apply to the desktop itself.

But, won’t I have to drill holes in my desk to fit an arm?
In the majority of cases there is no need to drill additional holes in your work surface. This is because most monitor arms are designed to clamp onto the rear edge of your desk and so it’s very simple to mount it onto your worktop.

Some are designed to fit through a hole, however this is generally the same diameter as the electric outlet point fitted to most desks. Consequently it’s just a case of removing the plastic insert from the outlet and using the hole for fixing it all up.

Once the arm is attached to your desk, all that’s left is to fix the plate to the back of your screen through the 4 fixing points. From start to finish the whole thing shouldn’t take more than 10 minutes before you are up and running and working more flexibly.

When should you use a monitor arm?
Given the choice it’s hard to know when you wouldn’t be better off working with a monitor arm. It makes office working so much more flexible being able to move your screen wherever and whenever you like. Hopefully you aren't working in the ridiculously constrained way I did all those years ago. Nonetheless if space is limited a monitor arm will give you the freedom to make the most effective use of your work area.

Let’s summarize the key points we've covered in this article

  • Monitor arms offer a huge improvement in the flexibility of the way you work
  • When you don't need your screen you can simply push it out of the way
  • Most modern flat panel screens include standard fixing points
  • Very large or very heavy screens may be a problem so check things carefully
  • Fitting an arm is a simple job and should only take about 10 minutes
  • When you work in restricted space a monitor arm can improve flexibility greatly

To find out more about working with monitor arms read this article which looks at popular models.


Arm Options For Office Chairs: Making Sure You Make The Right Choice

If you look at chair manufacturers’ price books you will see that most chairs are offered without any arms at all. Why is this? There are occasions where this makes sense, more on that later.

What choices of arms are there?
Increasingly these days chairs come with adjustable arms enabling the user to set the position to suit their way of working and this makes good sense. Nonetheless, there are still a huge number of chairs sold with fixed arms. These are a permanent part of the chair and don't move and can be a hindrance.

What arms should you avoid?
You may just be lucky and find that fixed arms are the right height and shape for you. Frankly this isn't very likely, so choosing them is all a bit of a lottery. For this reason it’s always best to avoid fixed arms because they can often get in the way when you're working if their shape and position doesn’t suit your body. Given the choice between fixed and adjustable arms it’s always best to opt for adjustability, even the most basic versions are a big improvement on a rigid arm.

What features are available on adjustable arms and which should you go for?
Adjustable arms come in a wide variety of levels of sophistication. Entry-level versions usually just adjust in height and this is by far and away the most important feature. It means you can set the arm height to support your shoulders naturally and safely. So the good news is even the most basic adjustable arm will offer you major benefits.

From there you can get highly adjustable arms where the arm tops swivel inwards and outwards. This can be very useful for people with narrow shoulders as the arm width is often too wide for them.

Additionally some arm tops also slide backwards and forwards and this again can be handy for fine-tuning the arm supports. It’s particularly convenient if you like to work close to your desk because you can push them backwards so they aren't in the way yet still support your arms.

Some top end chairs allow the width of the arms to be adjusted making it easy to set them to suit your shoulder width, so your arms hang at a natural angle.

If offered it is always a good idea to opt for padded arm tops because prolonged use of hard plastic arms can create a lot of discomfort to the underside of your lower arms.

A few manufacturers take things a stage further and offer arms that can be completely moved out of the way. HÅG’s Futu chair allows you to quickly push the arms behind the back of the chair. With Neutral Posture’s swing arms it’s possible to rotate them by 180 degrees to achieve the same effect. Effectively your chair becomes armless.

When don't you need arms on an office chair?
As mentioned at the beginning of this article there are instances when an armless chair makes sense. Some people like to work close up to their desk and so for them the actual desktop takes the place of the chair arms. And if this is how you prefer to work then this makes good sense.

It’s all down to how you like to work and if you're not sure whether you want arms or not, why not decide later? Many chairs allow you to retrofit arms so you could start out by buying a chair without arms and see how you get on. If all goes well that’s good and if not buy a set of adjustable arms and add them later. Just make sure they can be fitted later as not all chairs allow this.

Let’s summarize the keys points I've covered in this article.
Chairs often include the option of no arm, fixed arms and adjustable arms
Avoid fixed arms where possible they're uncomfortable and inflexible
Adjustable arms come in varying levels of sophistication to suit how you work
Armless chairs can be good for people who like working close up to their desk
If you pick the right model you can try armless first and add arms later


Sloppy Habits Working On A Laptop Can Result In Back Pain And Posture Issues

Laptops have been a great boon to working virtually anywhere, their portability means they can be fired up and used pretty much wherever you are and whenever you want.

However, this added flexibility comes at a cost as they aren't ideal for healthy working. They let us get lazy in our working comfort and unwittingly encourage a number of bad habits which if left unchecked will result in back and neck pain and discomfort frequently leading to long term health implications.

You see people working badly at their laptop, resting it on their knees in crowded waiting areas, hunched over them on the daily commute by train, and in the house slumped on a sofa with their backs rounded and necks craning forward.

Sometimes it just isn't practical to work in ideal conditions on a laptop, nonetheless a lot of the time it is. Wherever possible they should be used on a flat work surface like a desk, table or worktop with a good quality chair.

Even then because of their small size the screen display can be hard to set at the right height and the simple solution is to use a laptop holder. These devices allow your portable PC to be set at the right height and angle for optimal working.

Depending on how it is designed it may be necessary to use an external keyboard where the holder obscures laptop's built in keyboard.

There are many different designs of laptop holder and this article discusses some of the more popular models of these laptop accessories to help you work more comfortably.

And if you're looking for the ultimate seating solution for wireless working this chair is perfect with or without a desk.


A Footrest Can Offer Welcome Support For Tired Feet And Legs

Although footrests are most commonly thought of as something for the smaller built person to use, they actually work well for any office worker suffering from tired feet and legs because they provide a welcome angled surface to rest our feet on.

This can often help to take pressure off the underside of the thighs so often a source of muscle pain brought on by the pressure of sitting long hours in an office chair.

Some of the better models have roller bearings to let you move your feet on the angled foot support more easily to encourage circulation and a few even include built in massage balls so you can massage your feet as you work if you are daring enough to work without shoes on.

Some are critical of footrests and say they get in the way when moving position while working at your desk, an ideal solution to this is the revolutionary Webble™ which is highly portable and can be quickly shunted to one side with your feet if needs be.

Find out more by taking a quick look at some of the different models of footrest here.


Computer Monitor Arms Enhance Working More Efficiently In The Office

It is surprising how a fixed monitor position can affect a person's working comfort and general office productivity.

Most of us set up our VDU screen when we first get it for what appears to be the best position for using it when sitting in an office chair typing or reading online content.

There's nothing wrong with that, however, when we want to do something different, maybe hand write a report or study printed matter where we need an area of desk space to lay things out, our computer screen can often be in exactly the wrong place.

This is where a monitor arm can be really useful, the latest ones are generally supported on a round tubular pillar attached to the rear of the desk onto which is clamped an articulated arm.

Good ones allow a huge range of adjustment letting us pull our monitor in closer or vary its height and best of all simply push it out of the way when a clear desk is needed and pull it back in when we're ready to use it again.

All these movements are pretty much effortless because modern arms are carefully engineered and designed to make moving your screen really easy.

And for increasing numbers of users who have two monitors in use at once a dual arm monitor support will make a big difference to how you work as you are able to pull in whichever screen you are working on at the time.

For serious monitor addicts multiple arm arrays are available to handle 3 or 4 monitors if the need arises.

This article takes a look at some of the popular choices of monitor arm which are available to help make you work more comfortably and efficiently.


Aching Legs or Tired Feet In Office Chair? Webble Them Away!

Aching or tired legs and feet often crop up in the office as a result of lack of movement in our lower limbs.

We all know the answer is to get up and have a stretch, trouble is when you are beavering away it's so easy to forget.

Well the Webble™ will take of this while you continue sitting and working in your office chair. This revolutionary footrest makes it really easy to move your feet and legs whenever you feel like it as you continue working.

To discover more about this great lower limb exercise gadget I've added a review of it explaining how it works.


Got a Junky Office Chair? Here Are 7 Tell Tale Signs

Here's a quick check list of 7 things frequently found on junky cheap office chairs, you've got to be really unlucky to suffer all 7 of them.

If you've got 3 or more then you ought to think seriously about replacing your chair with something better because it's doing you no favors.

This list isn't exhaustive, these are just some of the commonest problems.

1. Fixed arms – never seem to be where you want them especially the sort with a great curve in them, like we've all got curved forearms haven't we?

2. Poor back height adjuster – a piece of oval steel on the back plugs into a hole in the back of the seat mechanism. It's held in place with a single screw knob which just can't seem to resist working loose all the time. And to hide this piece of non-engineering it maybe has the luxury of a length of concertina black plastic which always manages to ride up and expose the tube it's supposed to hide.

3. Cheap seat foams – do you find after a short while of sitting back pain and discomfort sets in and it feels like the foam disappeared? Maybe it's totally flat anyway, give away sign is chair fabric that's all loose and baggy like clothing someone wore before they dieted.

4. Seat doesn't tilt – let's you sit at any angle as long as it's 90 degrees and after a day sitting like this your body will be aching all over and thinking it's morphed into a set square.

5. Chair has no tension adjustment – maybe you got lucky and are the same weight the manufacturer made the chair to suit. Chances are though it's not like this for you, if you're light built your chair will always dictate to you how you sit in it, you'll always be fighting it. If you're well built you may well experience being bounced all over the place because you're stronger than the chair's mechanism. Neither scenario is good, you just be comfortable or productive.

6. Seat doesn't adjust to your leg length – this is still a feature that is the exception rather than the rule on office chairs, 80% don't have it and yet it's key to achieving proper seating comfort. Look around any office you'll see the sufferers, short legged people perched on the seat edge because it's way too deep. Long legged people sat back in their chair and still their legs overhang the chair edge by a mile.
Are you suffering discomfort as a result of this missing adjustment?

7. Adjustment levers are loose and imprecise – do the adjustment levers on your chair slosh around, are they really awkward to operate and feel like you're stirring a cake mix? This is a common problem on cheap office chairs caused by poor design and low quality steel allowing excessive wear to build up in the moving parts.


So there you have it 7 tell tale signs which define junky office chairs. If your chair fails inspection on 3 or more of them, chances are you're pretty fed up with it anyway, so maybe it's time to look for a quality ergonomic office chair. Here's a summary of the reviews of some quality office chairs worth looking at.

What are your pet office chair hates?


Should I Get An Office Chair Mat?

It isn't normally necessary to use a chair mat with an office chair when it's being used on good quality carpeting, although they can be useful when the casters don't roll easily because of the carpet pile. For other floor coverings, there are some situations where using a chair mat may be advisable.

First, if you are using your chair on a delicate surface like a hardwood floor, or maybe a marble, stone or possibly an old pine boarded floor. These surfaces can easily get damaged or marked by the casters on an office chair and so most quality chair manufacturers produce casters specifically for use in these situations.

Even these can mark and wear delicate floor finishes, so for these sorts of situations a chair mat can prove an ideal solution.

Chair mats come in different materials and the most common is clear plastic however these vary considerably in quality and it's best to avoid the really cheap ones as they soon curl up and split and develop undulations. Better quality ones are a good thickness and keep their shape.

There are some really nice quality hardwood finish mats and these are usually very good quality and will last for many years.

You can find more about chair mats in the chair accessories section of the website

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