Why Cool Office Chairs May Not be Cool for You
Posted on April 16, 2014 | in Ergonomics
by Parul Lahoti, CPE
Stepping into a modern office space, full of light and color, may seem like a breath of fresh air for those used to more traditional set-ups. Media outlets like Forbes.com recently posted some of the coolest and most inspiring spaces, some even toting swings for employees to enjoy. But when we look closer at them, their “cool” office chairs may not be so cool for your body, if you work at them for extended periods of time. Even though they may be called “ergonomic”, they may be missing some of the key components needed to get the body into the best posture. Let’s take a look at some of the design flaws in so-called “ergonomic chairs” you may be tempted to buy. A quick Google search leads us to some very interesting items which are definitely cool-looking, but may actually be hurting your back.
The Jobri kneeling chair shows a woman reading while using this chair. We can see by her slightly bent posture, she is already starting to slouch, leading to a curved back posture (also called kyphosis). Long periods of time in this hunched position may put compressive force on your vertebrae, similar to bending over. Also, with her knees in a bent position, there are additional forces on the knee joint, with no support from the feet, which could cause undue fatigue in that area.
The Trey Chair folds down to seat a friend or a laptop, but, in doing so, changes what may be a neutral back when sitting in the chair at the left, to another curved back posture seen in the photo to the right. The lack of arm rests in this model is also concerning, which could result in undue strain on the shoulders and upper back.
How comfortable does this look? The Surf Chair by Coroflot won some major awards for design, yet even the judges noted its lack of keyboard and arm support were not great for computing. But another thing to note is the curved back of the chair, putting your back into a curved posture, and potentially adding compressive forces to it. So while it may look comfy, it’s probably preferred for watching a movie or taking a nap.
This chair was first spied at the National Ergonomics Conference and Expo, a place where you expect to find something from a brand called ErgoErgo. However, this is more reminiscent of the fitness ball chair, which has made its way into many an office. Look closer though, this model may have the height adjustability the fitness ball lacks, but it doesn’t have arm or back support, which may lead to undue force on your body.
It’s not all a lost cause though. Many manufacturers of great chairs are “hipping up” their chairs for the modern workplace. Chairs such as the Steelcase Think chair (as seen below) and the Herman Miller Mirra chair are examples of chairs which look cool, and still meet the adjustability and support needs of 90% of the population. And more and more, these chairs come with a “cooler” price tag, which makes buying them a bit more budget friendly.