Why Do Office Chairs Cause Discomfort? What Can You Do To Minimize It?

If you had to drive a strange vehicle you wouldn’t contemplate driving it any distance without carefully adjusting the seat to make sure you were comfortable and could reach all the controls safely and easily. Funny how that often goes out the window with office chair users, so it’s little wonder that discomfort is so common in the office.

What causes pain in an office chair?
Office chairs can trigger pain for many different reasons and it’s not always obvious why you are suffering when sitting and working in the office environment. In this article I want to take a look at the many factors that can exacerbate pain and discomfort with office work, let’s begin with the commonest one.

Poor adjustment
The first reason for discomfort is probably the most obvious but is also the most overlooked. When it comes to office chairs people seem all too ready to sit down and start using them without making any adjustments apart from maybe setting the height. They overlook the seat’s other functions, possibly because they are unaware of them, although your chair may not include all the necessary adjustments.

Lack of adjustability
Whilst it’s important to set up and adjust your office chair so that it’s a good fit for you, this isn't always possible. The reason for this is that many chairs lack the ability to make key adjustments.

A good example of this is chairs that don’t allow the user to adjust the seat depth to suit their leg length. Probably less than 20% of office chairs include this vital function. This causes big problems for users with either very short or very long legs as the seat depth is quite unsuitable for their needs.

Fixed arms found on many cheap chairs and are another contributing factor, particularly with shoulder and neck pain.

Lack of quality
Low cost chairs often exclude important functions like seat depth and arm adjustment. As a result the user has to make the most of a badly designed product and is often forced to sit in an unnatural position for extended periods. The outcome is invariably pain and lack of comfort.

Another issue with cheap seats is the low quality of the components. Because these aren't actually seen as they are hidden within the workings of the chair it’s easy for manufacturers to cut corners.

One of their favourite tricks is to use low quality seating foams. When you first get the chair the foam seems fine, however within a few short months it has quite literally gone flat. And so instead of a gently cushioned sit, you’re down to the boards and it as hard as rock. Consequently you end up sitting at all sorts of unnatural angles to relieve the pain to your thighs and bottom.

Bad sitting habits
Sitting with a poor posture is a sure fire way to inflict pain on your body. Slouching forwards or craning your neck is a very common form of sitting badly. It often happens because people haven't set up their chair in relation to the key pieces of equipment they work with. Monitors are too far away so can’t be read easily, or mouse and keyboard are poorly placed involving unnatural movements that quickly build into discomfort.

Apply the same rules as you would when getting into a strange auto and spend a few moments to make sure all the key things are close at hand. Other bad habits include tucking one leg onto the seat and sitting on it. And wedging phone receivers between ear and shoulder. You definitely want to avoid both of these.

Summary
Let’s just summarize the key points I've covered to make sure you are giving yourself the best chance of working comfortably.

  • Make sure you have adjusted your chair to fine-tune it to your body
  • Be aware that some chairs may lack some important functions vital for good comfort
  • If your chair has major problems like flat foams replacement may be the only answer
  • Be aware of bad habits, check and adjust if necessary before ‘pulling away’ for a days work
  • Applying these simple rules will give you a much better chance of working comfort and keeping pain at bay.

You can find more about the importance of proper chair adjustability in this article on the 5 essential features of an ergonomic office chair and why they are vital for working comfort.

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