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An Overview: Chairs & Accessories

There are a lot of chairs to choose from, and many of them claim to be the "best ergonomic chair." So how do you sort the hype from the facts? The best chair is the one that feels right when you sit in it, but here are some factors to consider when shopping for your chair:

The Base

Back Support



The Seat Pan

Chair Covering

Chair Height


Lumbar Support

Many people like a mobile chair. If your chair needs to slide, it should have at least a 5-pedestal base with casters (wheels) that glide freely over the floor surface. If you choose a chair with less than 5 pedestals, you're sacrificing some stability and safety; chairs with 4 casters can tip over more easily. The base should allow for the chair to swivel easily.

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When looking at chairs, keep in mind that armrests should only used while reading or resting between typing sessions, not while actually typing or using your mouse. Therefore, depending on how you spend your time in the chair, you may not even need armrests.

If you do decide to purchase a chair with armrests, make sure that they're adjustable, broad, cushioned, and comfortable. While sitting, you should be able to independently adjust the height of the armrests and move them closer together or further apart. Some chairs offer the added convenience of being able to easily move the arms out of the way when they're not being used.

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The seat pan (i.e., the part of the chair on which you sit) should allow even weight distribution and comfortable support. Note both the width and depth of the seat pan; it should be wide enough to give you at least one inch of unused space on both sides of your thighs and hips. The seat pan should also be deep enough to comfortably support your thighs and not put pressure behind your knees (which is bad for circulation). Many seat pans have a "waterfall" front feature that prevents undo pressure behind the knees.

The seat pan should feel comfortable even after sitting for 30-60 minutes. Insufficient cushioning and poor contouring can cause discomfort and hip and back fatigue, so the padding should be of a high enough quality to resist becoming permanently deformed.

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Consider a chair that allows for easy height adjustment. The best option is a pneumatic device that permits seat pan height adjustment while you're sitting. Also acceptable is a spinning mechanical height adjustment. Either way, make sure the adjusters are within easy reach while you're seated - you shouldn't have to get up just to change the height of your chair.

If more than one person will be using the chair, make sure the range of heights will accommodate all users. You should be able to adjust the height of the seat pan so that the fronts of your knees are level (or just slightly below level) and your feet are firmly on the ground. Remember that a footrest can be used to compensate for dangling feet.

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A good lumbar support (i.e., the part of the chair that supports your lower back) is an essential requirement for a good ergonomic chair. Many chairs have cushioned lumbar supports that can be adjusted up and down and forward/backward to best fit your shape. Adjustability is especially helpful if multiple people use the same chair.

A fixed-height lumbar support may be acceptable if you're the only user of the chair and it feels comfortable when you sit back against it. When sitting against the lumbar support, make sure there's sufficient room for your hips and that you aren't being forced so far forward in the chair that you lose thigh support.

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The back support should recline to allow you to sit back at more than 90 degrees. The best chairs allow the back to move and also track your back as you move back and forth; try to avoid locking a back support in one position. Look for a support that's broad enough for your back and doesn't put pressure on the side of your back. The support should also be tall enough to provide good support to the middle of the back (at least up to your shoulder blades).

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If you like to recline to read a book, talk on the phone, or relax, look for a chair with a high back and good neck and head rest.

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Chairs come with a variety of coverings; cloth and leather are the most common. There are practical considerations to take into account when determining which material is best for you. Cloth upholstery, a very common choice, is comfortable, but isn't very resistant to spills and stains and can be difficult to clean. The materials may absorb moisture, and cloth-covered foam seat pans can be a significant source of dust mite allergen. Vinyl and similar coverings are more spill-resistant and easier to clean.

However, because the material doesn't breathe as well, it can begin to heat up if used for prolonged periods. This type of covering can also lack traction and therefore be uncomfortable if you are wearing incompatible clothes.

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The price for a good chair can run anywhere from several hundred dollars to more than a thousand. Many manufacturers dedicate significant resources to scientifically designing and testing their chairs. Add marketing costs, and you can see why these chairs command such high prices. That said, if you're among the millions who spend the majority of their days sitting in a chair, a high quality, comfortable, and healthy chair can be a very wise investment.

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