It’s a grey, damp morning here in Bristol and I’m sat at my
desk still in my winter cardi and feeling quite glad that I don’t have to
venture out the house. Apart from grim weather, the end of February also sees International
RSI Awareness Day (28 Feb) - although oddly, it seems to be marked more in Canada than
anywhere else - and my annual nag about all things ergonomic!
Recently, several people have asked me about office chairs,
so I thought I’d repeat a few tips and suggestions here for a wider audience.
The most important things about the chair that you’re going
to sit on at your desk for possibly hours every day are that a. it’s
comfortable and b. it allows you to sit in and maintain a healthy posture that
doesn’t put unnecessary strain on any part of your body. I have a fancy,
all-singing, all-dancing chair that has every kind of support and adjustment
you can imagine. Unsurprisingly, it was pretty expensive (actually bought with
a grant when I first went freelance), but it has lasted me nearly 14 years so far
and is still in great condition.
However, I also have a second chair (for occasional work at
the downstairs dining table) from IKEA, that was a fraction of the price, but
is actually perfectly comfortable.
|My IKEA chair - complete with zebra-print fur back!|
However much you have to spend on a chair, the key elements
to look for are:
- height adjustment: you need to sit at the correct height
for your desk, high enough so that when you’re typing (or using a mouse) you
can have your arms loose by your sides and your hands still drop down slightly
onto your keyboard, with your elbows at an angle of 90 degrees or slightly more.
Most people sit a bit too low so that they have to bend up slightly from the
elbow, or more likely they ‘wing’ their arms out to the side and/or hunch their
shoulders. If that means that your feet
are off the ground, then you’ll need a footrest too so that they can be firmly
planted down flat.
I also drop my chair down slightly if I’m working on papers
flat on the desk (such as proofs), so that I’m not hunching over from my usual
- back support: when you sit back properly in your chair
with your bum to the back of the seat and your back against the back of the
chair, it should support your spine comfortably. Ideally that means a bit of lumber support,
i.e. moulding to the curve of your spine and supporting the natural hollow in
your lower back.
- seat tilt: this is the final feature that I use regularly,
although it’s not as essential as the first two. Some experts recommend that
you sit with your seat tilted slightly forward, so that your knees are very
slightly lower than your hips. This works on the same principle as the kneeling
chairs you may have seen – by making you tilt your pelvis slightly forward,
your spine settles into a more natural position than if you’re sitting on a
dead flat surface, where the tendency is to tip the pelvis back into a slouch. I
use the very slightest hint of a tilt most of the time when I’m working, but
tilt back if I’m say reading a long text or watching a webinar.
There’s no point in having a great chair though if you don’t
sit on it properly! Working comfortably is not just about knowing good posture,
but maintaining it day in, day out. Again, the posturite website
has good solid
advice about how to set up your workstation correctly (whether you’re using a
desktop or laptop) and how to sit at your desk. Most importantly, you need to
be sitting back in your chair with your spine in a comfortable upright position
– not ramrod straight or overextended like a gymnast, but not slouched or hunched
over either. Realistically, when you’re typing, you’re probably not going to lean
right back on the back of the chair, but I try to lean back and let the chair
take the strain as often as possible, when I’m reading something or just
thinking. In my office, I actually have a full-length mirror right in line with
my desk, so if I glance sideways, I can see my posture – I didn’t put it there
intentionally, but it makes a really good reminder! Everyone has different
tendencies, so trying to keep an eye on how you’re sitting, especially when
you’ve got engrossed in a piece of work is really important.
Personally, I often find myself creeping
forward on my chair, so I’m sitting right on the edge, leaning forward with my
back arched (I blame too many ballet lessons when I was young!). I’ve also
developed a habit of leaning the elbow of my non-mouse hand (in my case, my
right) on the desk, creating a horrible twist in my spine.
Postural habits are very hard to break, but if you try and
make yourself more aware of what you’re doing, then at least when you catch
yourself, you can reset your position back into a more healthy posture.
And as I’ve said many times before, taking frequent breaks,
where you get up from your desk, even just for a couple of minutes, to change
your posture, relax your muscles and just move around a bit is absolutely vital
in avoiding the tense, fixed postures that can lead to all kinds of health
problems. So go on, get up and
make yourself a cup of tea now and give yourself a break …
Labels: chairs, posture, RSI