Ergonomics by the Seat of Your Pants

You are uncomfortable in your chair at work. Do you toss it? Chairs are expensive, and most businesses want to exhaust all options before replacing a chair.

Here are a few tips on how to get that chair working for you, and even a few little known ergonomist tips to improve the chair comfort.   

The basics:

1) You should be working at seated-elbow height so raise or lower your chair until the keyboard or desk top is at seated-elbow height.

2) The arms on the chair should not prevent you from pulling in close to your desk. If so, adjust or remove the arms.

3) The curve of the chair back should fit into the curve of your lower back. For most chairs, you can adjust the chair back up and down as well as in and out.  

4) There should be a fist-width of distance between the back of your knees and the forward edge of the seat pan.

5) The seat pan should be approximately level.

6) Your head should be aligned vertically with your spine. If the chair is reclined too far back, or the monitor is too far away, people crane their neck forward. Bring the chair back forward to see if that corrects your neck posture.

Other ideas:

If the chair is just a smidge too low and just won’t go any higher, you can replace the standard 2” casters with 3” casters. This will raise your chair another inch. This $50 change can often be the difference between tossing and saving your chair. Most chair casters are standard and take no tools to change. Make sure you change all five casters on your chair. They usually ship in sets of five, but double check to make sure you are getting enough.

If the chair is too high or low and sinks over time, you can replace the cylinder. This is a trickier installation and unless you are very handy, I would leave this to the pros. There are online videos on how to do this repair; I would recommend watching them to see if this is something you want to undertake.

If the seat back cannot be adjusted for your comfort, many people try adding extra pillows. I caution against this because it changes the geometry of the chair. Perhaps it gives you better back support, but now the chair arms might be uncomfortable or the seat pan becomes too short. The same goes for adding height by stacking on extra pillows. I recommend the other fixes described here before adding extra pillows.

Finally, don’t forget to get up and move!  The best way to eliminate an uncomfortable chair is to eliminate using it!  You should be out of your chair frequently, every 20 minutes, stretch gently throughout the day, and stay as active as possible.  Check out these exercises recommended by the Mayo Clinic.  Additional resources are available for policyholders within the Safety Director from