Saturday, March 16, 2013

How to choose a chair: community service

I'm reluctant about returning to health topics. Notwithstanding, I found what follows in my hard drive, so I thought it best to post it as a community service.  I wrote when in pain, so it shows. I'm fine now, but still think what I wrote back then might benefit someone

chair closeup; source:; owner Benjamin MillerChoosing a chair is mired with difficulties. It is hard to believe that such a common piece of furniture could pose any obstacle, but this is the case.  For instance: the fact that there is no "perfect" chair, the huge variety, the high prices of top end models and the impediment to thoroughly test them before purchase.

Perfect chairs

Digging in Herman Miller's (the maker of the Aeron chairs) website I stumbled upon a small PDF named “If the Chair Fits" which states that there is no perfect office chair because there is no perfect body.  If one of the leading chair manufacturers admits this, we must listen and get over it.  There's no sense in investing too much time looking for the perfect chair because there's none.


On the other hand, there are chairs that fit better than others.  Many of the tens of thousands of the models out there are likely to serve well  different persons.  Sifting through all these models is another matter.  From what I've read, there are certain shortcuts to this effect.  First, the chair must support as much of the back as possible;  there are some models that even support the head and neck.  Then, it must have armrests.  These are important because they let you to take off weight from your spine and stop you from having your arms hanging down.  Some of the better chairs permit you to adjust their height.  There are several people that hold that a lumbar support or pad is a must because it gives your vertebrae in that area a space to rest and/or serve you as a way to keep the natural curves of your spine.  I am dubious about this.  I have tried them and I get the impression that far from keeping your natural curves, it accentuates them by pushing too much in, which for some of us, is the problem we exactly want to solve.  Plus, they can been very uncomfortable, even painful.  I heard someone describe the feeling as "like having someone's #*$ing elbow jabbing you there".  If you feel that you really need it, you can always use a rolled up towel as a substitute (try many sizes at different heights). I think that the people at Herman Miller got it right with their 'posture fit' add-on which supports the sacrum rather than the lumbar area; and its adjustable to boot.  Finally,  your chair must also be height adjustable. 

High prices

Some of the better chairs are priced at ridiculous amounts.  As with other items, paying more  for a chair is no guarantee of better performance.  If you like any of these high-priced chairs, there might be no other way out other than to bite the bullet.  Still, you might save a couple of hundred by buying used ones at eBay.

Testing them

There is no way to judge what a chair will feel like by just looking a catalog.  You must actually go to the exhibition rooms and sit on them.  A little research in the Internet is okay to save you time, but it must serve you as backing, not substitute.  Once you have found a chair that strikes your fancy, find a dealer that has money back guarantee.  This way you can test it at your leisure without being stuck with an unsatisfactory model.  If merchandise return is not possible, see if any of your friends or acquaintances has one that is willing to lend you.  As last resort, sneak in (with permission!  I do not condone trespassing) on weekends or evenings to office buildings and do your testing there.

Standing desks

If no chair will adapt to your body, consider a standing desk. You can use one as your main desk or switch back and forth with a regular one and chair. This way you can avoid extended sitting and still be productive.



Easy Way To Test the Chair

Divide a sheet of paper in 8 columns.  For headers, write: date & time; neck; arms; upper back right; upper back left; lower back right; lower back left; bottom.  Before sitting down on test chair, jot down how you feel for each body part (give a number from 1 to 10).  Then, sit down properly for half an hour, reassess, take a 5 to 10 minute break (walk around) and repeat for two to three hours.  Do this for at least four days (these can be nonconsecutive) or less if you quickly decide that the chair is not for you.  Ideally, your numbers should stay stable on the upper end throughout the trial.



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