How An Office Chair Tilt Tensioner Works And Why It Improves Your Sitting Comfort

Office workers come in different weights and sizes and it’s important your seat includes a tilt tensioner for tuning your body mass to allow for comfortable reclining.

Tension Adjuster Knob For Backward Resistance

For a moment think about weighing a cooking ingredient on a set of kitchen balance scales.

It’s easy to see when you have the right amount as it reaches an equilibrium point and is balanced.

Too much weight on one side and not enough on the other is easily identified as being way out of line with what’s needed.

Exactly the same principle applies to your computer chair, it too needs to be in balance. Otherwise you will be forever fighting it for control when leaning back in it.

So what’s needed to get things set up correctly?

Has your chair got a tilt tensioner?
Let’s get the bad news out of the way first. Your chair may not include a means of adjusting the pressure required to move the back when you recline.

Take a look on the underneath of the chair around the middle at the front of the chair. See if there is a round knurled knob, this will be the tension adjuster.

Occasionally you may find the adjuster is a crank handle underneath the chair on one side. Also some more sophisticated chairs have automatic tension control. However, it’s unlikely you will find auto adjustment on a chair costing less than $400.

OK, assuming you've found your seat has the adjuster what next?

How to adjust your chair’s backward tilt resistance
It’s actually very easy to adjust. On most chairs to increase the resistance of the back you would turn the knob clockwise or anti-clockwise to reduce pressure.

When you haven't adjusted it before you can quickly assess which way to turn it. Lean back in your chair, now is it taking a lot of effort to recline, or are you moving back much too easily?

Too much effort means you need to reduce the pressure and too little needs an increase. Short or light built people usually need less pressure, whereas tall or heavier built individuals will need more pressure.

You'll know when you have things set right because just like those kitchen scales your body will be perfectly balanced when you lean back in your chair.

Further reading
Tilt tension is just 1 of 5 essential features that an office worker needs in a chair. Discover the other 4 by reading this article on what an ergonomic office chair should include.

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63 Responses to “How An Office Chair Tilt Tensioner Works And Why It Improves Your Sitting Comfort”

  1. Hi, just wanted to thank you. I bought a used, but practically new, office chair with tilt tension, but didn’t know the knob on the bottom adjusted it. For the last day or so, i’ve been struggling with the tension on my back, so that i had to sit completely upright, but thanks to your article, i adjusted that knob and now feel OK. Not too much tension, now (i had thought that knob was to take the chair apart).

    Thanks! I feel much better now,


  2. I’m glad you were able to get your chair tension set up correctly, there must be thousands of chair users sitting in discomfort because they aren’t aware of this and similar adjustments. Unfortunately the office chair industry doesn’t do a very good job of explaining this sort of thing to the people using its products.

  3. hey, bought my daughter a chair, can’t get tension to work to rock.

    looked at my chair that worked perfectly fine, moved knob, now can’t get my chair to rock again. help what am I doing wrong?

  4. Denise

    It sounds as though you have locked the chair back off, try pulling the control knob up, down, in or out and see if it will release. Also, lean back with your back as you try this on some chairs it won’t release without applying some pressure.


  5. Hey,
    I am having the same problem with my chair. The knob turns but the resistance doesn’t change. I tried pulling and pushing and doing it while I lean back in the chair. Any other suggestions?

  6. Jeremy

    It sounds like the adjuster is faulty and may just be spinning and not actually engaging properly. There’s not a lot I can suggest apart from speaking with the manufacturer to see if they can help, if you know the make and model of the chair.


  7. the lever which adjusts the height on your chair may need pulling out to release the tilt mechanism. check on the lever for it saying lock or free and some arrows.

  8. i just realised how old these posts are !!
    oh well if you havent figured it by now try my way

  9. I had the same problem. The tilt adjustment needs to be unlocked first. To do that pull outwards on the knob that controls height, that will unlock the tilt which you can now adjust to your liking using the big cylindrical knob. Pushing the height knob in again will lock up the tilt tension.

    Hope this helps.

  10. Thanks for the additional information Natalya, adjustments can vary with different chairs.

  11. i have an office chair with the platform tilt lock adjustment trigger, but its stuck and i cannot get it loose. Is there anyway i can loosen this knob?

  12. I presume you mean that your seat is locked in a fixed position? Sometimes these do get stuck, try leaning back in your chair whilst trying to release the pressure and see if that releases it. It might be worth turning the chair upside down to see if you can see what is stopping from releasing.

    Also if you know what make it is you could always try contacting the manufacturer for advice.

  13. Thanks so much. My dad just gave me his Broyhill office chair, and I couldn’t figure out the tension control. Now the chair can tilt back wonderfully. Very comfortable. I was looking online for an instruction manual, and I couldn’t find one. Lucky that I found this website commentary.

  14. Thanks everyone for the comments,on the chair.Being pushing the lever up and down turned the round knob(lol) and i stil couln’t rock.I then read where the level arm on side pulls out as well as making me fall to the floor lol.Now i am a rocker again.LOL rock on everyone kidding.So glad i found this by accident.

  15. Thank you for your article. I’m an athletic female weighing about 150lbs. I think this is a standard weight and yet chairs are too tense for me. I adjust them to the least tension and still strain or push with me feet to lay back. Anyone else have this issue? Will it loosen over time? Thanks.

  16. If the chair doesn’t have a tilt tension adjuster it won’t get any better. If it does it should be possible to make the adjustment to suit your weight.

  17. Thanks for the tips. When I got my chair it worked great. Used it one day then it would not rock. Tried some of the tips only to discover that the plastic tubes that cover the part that holds the chair was stuck in the up position blocking the chair.

  18. Glad you got it sorted Larry. Those plastic covers are often more trouble than they’re worth.

  19. Re: my chair is stuck and won’t lean back.

    My chair was locked. It kept locking up and I could not figure out what to do. I was reading this page just now and saw that you have to grab the lever that adjusts the height (not the tension knob that you turn). Normally the lever to adjust the height just lifts up and down (no revelation there, right?)

    Well, dummy that I am, I just found out that if you pull it (the height-adjusting lever, not the tension knob) straight out (as in away from the chair) it “pops” into place and suddenly the chair works again. I just wanted post because I have never figured this out before.

  20. Glad you got it sorted Joe. It would help if manufacturers supplied proper instructions with their chairs.

  21. My is stuck on lock after I tilted it back and I can’t get it back out. Please e-mail me how to get it out. Thanks in advance.

  22. Try leaning back a bit further in your chair and at the same time move the lever under the chair up and down or pull it out and see if that releases it.

  23. This a great feature on the Leap, thanks for pointing it out.

  24. Well, I unscrewed the tilter too far, and can’t get the cap and spring assembly back on. Seems there may be a trick to get enough pressure on the spring for the cap to reach the screw. Thank you for any tips.

  25. That’s a bit tricky to sort out.

    See if you can compress the spring in a vice or G clamp. While it is still compressed tie some string tight around the coils to hold the compression.

    Place it back on the assembly and see if you can get the cap to locate.

    Then cut the strings to release the spring tension and adjust from there.

  26. Very helpful. Thanks everyone. I’m rocking!

  27. Glad you found it useful.

  28. Any advice for loosening an extremely tight tension knob? I’ve got a brand-new chair I bought online that’s tilted all the way forward, and the tilt lever on the side does nothing at all. After reading this article, I’m convinced the tension knob needs loosening, but it seems immovable. I’ve tried loosening the screw at the base of the knob, but that won’t move either. Any help you could give would be great!

  29. Hi Lauren

    It’s tricky to know exactly what the problem is without seeing it.

    If the chair is brand new have you contacted the supplier, as it could be faulty?

    Also the lever may be jammed in the locked position, try pulling it in and out to see if it releases it.

    If you’re able to take a picture of it and post it on Flickr I could take a look and see if I can figure what the problem is.


  30. Just pull back on the height ajuster. Chair can be up or down. It’ the small, flat lever not the long one with or ball on the end, nor the dial. Pull it back, then push it left and right till it pops back into place. The chair is for from broken, just gotta play with it a little….Good luck…steve…

  31. Thanks for explaining this Steve.

  32. Hey.I have a problem with my chair too.The tilt tansion is stucked and i kinda can’t loose it up.My dad strained it too much…any help ?

  33. It’s difficult to know what to suggest without seeing it. You could try spraying it with some easing oil and see if that loosens it.

  34. My tilt got stuck and I figure out how to fix it.
    The height adjust level needs to get pulled out a little to allow the chair to tilt.

  35. Good point Joe, glad you fixed it.

  36. Hey. I was trying to adjust the tension knob and it got unscrewed and the spring came out and now I can’t put it back in. The spring is too hard to push down. Is it possible to fix?

  37. This might work. See if you can compress the spring in a vice, or with pliers, next get some string and tie it tight on both sides of the compressed spring so it holds the spring closed. Then place it back in the chairand see if you can get the tension knob to screw in a few turns. If it holds, then cut the string and pull it out and it should work again.

  38. Ok, this is what worked for me: You don’t need to mess around with the round thingy underneath your char. The lever that you use to pull the chair up and down can be pulled out a bit (at least in my case). In other words, sit on your chair and do the following: pull out the up-down lever that is typically underneath your right arm-rest (i.e. pull it further to your right). At the same time push with your back to lean backwards. In my case, it unhinged a lock and allowed the chair to lean back. Hope this helps!

  39. Hope people are still around to help, my tension tilt knob won’t budge. I tried turning it one way, to tighten the tilt, but it was the wrong way and now the tension is at it’s loosest and the can’t turn the knob to tighten it. I lifted up the plastic cover over the spring and it looks like the spring is completely tight. Soooo, I’m kinda confused. And yes, the up/down lever is not in the lock position.

  40. That’s a bit odd, because the spring would be fairly open to make the tension so loose. Does the control knob seem as though it’s still properly connected to the part it screws into? I’m wondering if it’s become disengaged somehow, although it would probably feel a bit loose if it has.

  41. I purchased a good used computer chair and it was great on the day I got it…I just attempted to check the levers on the side to see which worked what and now the one that is supposed to tilt the chair seat itself is not working and my seat is stuck in a forward tilt…can I do anything to change this ? thanks

  42. It sounds like you’ve got the adjustment lever jammed. Try leaning back in the chair and seeing if you can move the lever. Alternatively, take a look under the chair and look and see if any of the levers look jammed and try moving them around to disengage them.

  43. Hi, thank you so much for posting this! I know it’s ages old now but it still applies, and the comments have proved helpful! I not too long ago bought a nice comfy desk chair from Walmart. However, no matter how tight I adjusted the tension knob, it would always reset to being too loose after a few minutes and I would nearly fall backwards. I pushed in my lever and suddenly I can tighten it a lot more than before. Odd, I know, usually you’d think “in” would be to lock it, but I guess the manufacturer wanted to be different? I dunno, hopefully that fixed it. If not, I’ll be back on here to let you know-!

  44. Let’s hope it’s fixed it.

  45. I have just acquired a very old and special wooden office chair from an artist I adore. It tilts back, then lays back too far as if the spring is completely wore out. An upright, locked position would be ideal. I tightened plastic cap a lot. It seemed fixed, then sat down and 2 seconds later it loosened all the way out again, maybe only when it exceeds normal tilting max. Then jumps to too broken full lean back. Should I tighten till it won’t turn anymore? Is there a way to replace spring? I appreciate any help. I’m in love with this chair.

  46. On very old chairs the tilt does tend to go back a lot further than modern chairs. It’s unlikely that the spring can be replaced as spares will no longer be available. You could try tightening it till it won’t turn further, although from what you’ve said it sounds like the adjuster just jumps back so it may not work. Worth giving it a try.

  47. The knob on my chair changes the tension as well as allowing it to be locked in a reclined position. My problem is that for some reason it is stuck in a locked position and i am unable to turn the knob to loosen it. I am a fairly strong guy too. The thing i am worried about is that I didnt tighten it all that much, at least that I remember. Do you have any ideas on how i can fix this problem?

  48. Try leaning back into the chair back as you try to loosen the knob, sometimes you need to take the weight of it to move it.

  49. after turning the knob at max.. it still tensioning hard..when i lean back as if im being pushed by the there anyway to loosen the tensioner more?

  50. Are you sure you turned it in the right direction? Try turning it the other way completely and see what happens. If that doesn’t work it’s probably faulty.


  52. Sounds like you got things sorted, Chris.

  53. We recently purchased a McKee chair at Staples as it was comfortable at the store, per the tilt tension. The one that arrived and had to be put together has the knob underneath but nothing will move it. The “spring?” seems very compressed . Is this fixable or do I need to make a return to Staples?

  54. You’re probably best to return it as it could be faulty. And if it’s something simple they should be able to sort it for you.

  55. This is the longest-running discussion in a comments section that I’ve ever seen on the internet. Kudos to Duncan for being so dedicated to our very specific category of issues for over 5 years! (Unless “Duncan” is a pseudonym for the rotating intern…) 🙂

    I skimmed the conversation and am not sure if my exact situation was covered. If it was, my apologies.

    Brand new chair, standard configuration (tension adjustment knob, and one arm that controls the height, and “in” locks / “out” allows it to tilt). Tilt control works, but the tension knob will barely move. I get about 5 degrees of movement, and then it feels like it’s obstructed on either side of the turn. There is no screw or hex nut to adjust on the bottom of the knob. (Ha, adjusting the tension of the knob that adjusts the tension of the chair!)

    This was a gift, and bought online, so there are a couple small barriers to me getting to the manufacturer for answers. While I work that out, I’d figure I’d ask here. Thank you!

  56. Definitely sounds as though the tension knob is faulty in some way. Normally you should be able to turn it several complete revolutions in both directions. Could be cross threaded maybe? I think the only way is to get in contact with the suppliers and I appreciate that’s awkward as it was a gift. If you do get things sorted, please update here.

  57. Hi there, having the same problem as Duncan above. I recently purchased a DXRacer Gaming chair for ~$400. This is not an isolated incident though as I have another office chair with the same problem. It seems to be a prevalent issue with “standard mechanisms”. This is what I have discovered thus far; While observing and turning the tension knob at the same time, I can see the steel pin inside the spring not turning at all. My guess is the plastic handle used to turn the pin toward the “tight” or “loose” position is not gripping the pin, hence the handle just turns without the pin. Am I correct in saying this is how the tilt tension system works? I have sent a message to the Australian distributor to get this sorted out, and as they have a 100% feedback on their Ebay store, it is in their best interest to help me resolve this issue. I dare say they will come to the party and send me out a new mechanism, in which case would be the easiest solution for both of us.

  58. Sounds like the hole in the plastic handle has rounded and so when you turn it nothing happens. To alter the tension the pin has to move. Sounds like it’s definitely faulty, hope you get it sorted out.

  59. I’m having an interesting problem with a brand new chair. It’s a “big and tall” chair designed to support up to 350+lbs, which I’m not, but I liked the sturdy metal base and all metal frame and support screw/bolt carriage. I weigh about 215 but I’m wondering if this chair is actually for someone that weighs closer to 300 as the tension knob all the way tight causes the chair to not recline at all and completely loose still has enormous resistance. The chair itself is quite comfortable and microfiber but I can’t recline the chair without straightening out my legs and using them as force against the desk. Is this tensioner perhaps faulty? I occasionally see in the above posts something about a screw that can adjust the tensioner and make it even looser than the factory default setting?

  60. Kev,
    It sounds to me like you’re probably right that the manufacturer is taking no chances and deliberately making the tension very strong. It’s worth speaking with the supplier to check though.

  61. Just wanted to say all these years later how helpful this was to find!

  62. Glad it was helpful to you.

  63. Thanks! My chair was locked in upright. Pulled the lift part out like the smart guy said, and bam. Office chair/videogame chair sorted out

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