Ergonomics: You and Your Chair

Posted on 07.16.2015

Ergonomics often deals with small adjustments that seem inconsequential until you work without them. Sometimes a fraction of an inch can make the difference between a comfortable, long-term working experience and a career stopped in its tracks because of debilitating pain. In a medical transcription editor job requiring long hours and repetitive movements, it’s important to pay attention to all aspects of your working environment and to customize your equipment to fit you. Let’s have a little chat about your chair.

Just because your chair is advertised as ergonomic doesn’t mean it fits you. You have to adjust any chair you’re using to work with your individual height and leg length. Any chair that is adjusted to fit you will be more comfortable than an expensive “ergonomic” chair that is not adjusted for you. Keep these guidelines in mind as you evaluate your chair.

Make sure your chair allows your feet to sit flat on the floor. The angle formed behind each knee should be 90 degrees. I’m one of the world’s shorter people, so chairs are always too high. They cut off my circulation at the back of my thigh and sometimes I feel like a little kid, swinging my feet around. Most of the time I just deal with it, but here at work I can lower my chair until my feet sit flat and my thighs are parallel to the floor—it’s amazing the difference it makes! I’m actually comfortable without having to squirm around all the time to maintain adequate blood flow and venous return to my feet and ankles. This keeps me focused for longer periods of time and my feet don’t swell up. Taller people may not notice these same problems, but the guidelines still apply as you don’t want your chair too low.. So make sure you’re sitting comfortably, with your feet on the floor and notice the angle of your legs. If something needs to be adjusted then adjust it.

Don’t perch. Some people seem comfortable with their behinds barely on the edge of the seat, sitting swaybacked and leaning on their arms, but they’re not really. If the truth came out, they’d probably confess they sit this way because their chair is too high for them. One of the benefits of an ergonomically correct chair is it allows you to adopt a more healthy posture. Good posture allows your body to function more efficiently, without pain, and without crushing your internal organs. A well-supported body will perform better and feel better in ways that go far beyond the demands of your desk time. A properly adjusted chair allows you to sit comfortably with your fanny in the chair and with your lower back supported and in contact with the chair back.

Don’t slouch. Okay, I confess. I’m really being hypocritical here but that doesn’t mean it’s okay to slouch. You should sit straight, with your lower back supported, maintaining the natural lordotic curve. When you slouch, you lose this curve; it flattens out and you end up putting a lot of pressure on your sacrum. Sacrum sitting can make your bum feel numb, and this leads to squirming, preoccupation with your behind, and the feeling that you should leave your desk to go get something to eat, which leads to weight gain…so, you know, it’s not optimal. Again, I seem to take this lightly, but some of you probably know exactly what I’m saying: slouching leads to numb-bum weight gain (NBWG). Maybe. At any rate, you should try to sit up straight so you’ll be more focused and productive.

Another aspect of your chair is the armrests. A lot of office chairs have adjustable armrests, so you should take advantage of this feature. Armrests should allow your elbows to bend at about 90 degrees so your lower arms are parallel to the floor. This allows your forearms and hands to naturally sit on the desk in front of you.

Ergo, an ergonomic chair is only ergonomic if set up ergonomically. Happy sitting!