Anatomy Of An Office Chair Part 4: The Chair Back

In this final part of our look at the key elements of an office chair it's time for the chair back to take center stage.

Chair backs come in many different formats, the commonest is the foam padded back usually upholstered in the same fabric as the seat.

Typically backs are offered in low, medium or high versions. If you going for a low or medium size back then you want to make sure it's height adjustable so it can give you proper support.

The most important thing is to ensure your lower back gets good support. Although some high backs are also height adjustable it's less important, provided it offers good lumbar support.

Let's look at how backs adjust.

How adjustable height chair backs work
Chair backs adjust in a number of different ways. A popular method is the ratchet back which is very simple to set up. Built into the back support is a ratchet mechanism. To move it up you would normally grip the back on each side at its base and push it up gently. As you do so you will find the back clicks a little higher to a number of preset positions. So once you find the one that works for you that's it.

And in case you need to start out again if you lift the back up to its maximum height it usually drops back down to the lowest position so you can start over if necessary.

Sometimes there may be a couple of buttons to press in while you adjust the back. As soon as you reach the desired height just release them to lock in your preferred height.
Some chairs use a locking knob. You would undo it to let you move the back and then tighten it again to save the height setting.

So much for adjustable backs what if it's fixed?

Is it OK to use a fixed height back?
In the right situation a fixed back is fine. It needs to be a full height back so it covers up to your shoulders or beyond. Ideally it should include some sort of lumbar support which needs to be adjustable. That way you can fine tune it for your lower back.

Some chairs have exposed lumbar supports while yet others are built into the chair back itself.

Some of the more sophisticated chairs these days like Humanscale's Liberty and Diffrient World chairs have a 3 ply mesh specifically designed to give your back support where it's most needed.

Others like Herman Miller's Sayl chair uses a cleverly designed open plastic material. This is reinforced in the areas where most support is needed making sure you gain proper comfort.

In the case of Steelcase's Think chair it has an open weave fabric behind which are a series of lateral wire supports designed to take up the shape of the user's back.

All of these innovative back designs have the added advantage of providing excellent air circulation, which is a great help for sweaty backs in summer.

Here are the key points we covered

  • Low and medium height backs should be height adjustable
  • Backs usually adjust via ratchets, buttons or locking knobs
  • The most important thing is to get good lumbar support
  • It's OK for backs to be fixed provided they are designed to support you properly
  • Some modern chairs use specialist mesh or plastics to support you correctly

This concludes our look at the various parts of an office chair here's where you can find further information on some great chairs with all the features you need.

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