“Ergonomic” has been a buzzword in the office seating and furniture world for many years now. To many, the term basically just means squishier or more comfortable—or just more expensive. However, the science behind furniture being more ergonomic has actually been very well studied, and it is clear that different furniture can affect the back and other parts of the body differently.
Anyone who has sat for too long in an improper position or gotten wrist pains associated with carpal tunnel has already felt the effects of what poor posture and improper equipment can do. Below is an explanation of some of the more technical details of why having good office seating will benefit the health of the office staff.
Problems with Standard Chairs
Office seating that is too firm and has a low backing can lead to a number of issues when sat on for too long. First, the hard bottom is not good for the lower back and bottom muscles and bones. Second, and most problematic in the long term for many people, is that this kind of chair encourages slouching.
When one slouches for too long over many years, the spine can become misaligned, causing a permanent slouch. This is affecting a large percentage of the American population and is certainly a concern for doctors and chiropractors.
Ergonomic chairs attempt to relieve these issues by promoting better posture and supporting the lower back and bottom. An ergonomic chair should be cushioned enough to not create tension, but also not so soft that there is a lot of sinking, which can weaken lower muscles.
The back of the chair should curve slightly out towards the bottom, which will help keep the lower back propped up and the shoulders supported in a more upright position.
Being able to lean back in the chair, as mentioned above, can be nice for stretching out the back muscles that could become too stagnant. For those who are more physically fit or interested in a unique solution that goes even further than a flexible chair backing, is to choose a “chair” with no back at all.
The most obvious example is the inflatable exercise ball or balance ball, which has actually gained steam as a legitimate alternative to the standard chair in some offices. The reason why an exercise ball is thought to be so effective is that it essentially forces you to have better posture and to utilize muscles that otherwise can become weakened when sitting for long periods of time. Because of the lack of stability, your muscles should be activating, from your legs up to your abdominals.
However, this is not agreed upon by everyone, and some studies have even shown that exercise balls and similar office seating alternatives can actually cause more pain in the lower back because of the lack of support.
Sitting is not something that humans were ever meant to do for extended periods of time. Every chair, when sat in for too long, will cause pain and damage. Nevertheless, the office culture of today demands sitting for hours. Finding office seating furniture that is as ergonomic as possible and standing up to stretch frequently will help with prevention.