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.

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