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Chair Buying Tips: Choose a Chair with Care

Your chair is where you sit for countless hours typing, talking on the phone, surfing the Web, and meeting with clients and co–workers. Because you spend so much time in your desk chair, the best way to make the right chair decision is to become familiar with the various parts of this vital piece of furniture. Once you know what to look for, you can choose a model that's comfortable and durable, with features that ensure your safety and well–being.

Backrest

The chair you choose must have adequate upper and lower (or lumbar) back support. An inadequate backrest can put stress on your spine while you're seated, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Division of Safety. The lower portion of a backrest should provide firm support, yet be curved slightly to follow the natural contour of your spine, according to the University of California, Berkeley's Health Service Department.

You should also purchase a chair with a backrest that is adjustable in various ways so you can find a combination of settings that is most comfortable for you. Look for adjustments that allow you to change the amount of lumbar support provided in the backrest, change the angle of the backrest independently from the seat, and tilt the back and the seat together.

Seat

A chair seat should feel comfortable when you initially sit down, and should remain that way after you've been seated for a significant period of time, according to the Cornell University Human Factors and Ergonomics Research Group. If the seat becomes uncomfortable after prolonged sitting (1–2 hours), the foam padding may not be a high enough density and the contouring may not be the right fit for your body. When you're seated in the chair, make sure there's plenty of room around your hips and thighs — at least an inch of space on either side of your body is recommended by UC Berkeley's Health Services Department. Also, ensure that your chair's seat supports your thighs, yet the edge of the seat doesn't come in contact with the back of your legs while you're seated. If it does, you'll be unable to lean against the chair's back support.

If more than one person in your office will be using the same chair, you'll want to pick a chair that can be adjusted easily.

Armrests

Depending on your work style and requirements, you may not need armrests on your office chair, since they may get in your way as you move around. If you want armrests, UC Berkeley's Health Services Department recommends adjustable padded rests that comfortably support your forearms.

The NIH advises that this part of the chair be at least 2 inches wide to provide ample resting area. Armrests that are too high will not allow you to relax your shoulders, causing tension and discomfort. According to UC Berkeley's Health Services Department, long armrests can prevent you from getting close enough to your desk and may cause back discomfort if you're continually leaning over. Armrests that are spaced too widely will make you extend your elbows away from your body in an unnatural way.

Chair base

Does the chair have casters – those small, swiveling wheels that allow the chair to glide across the floor? What about a five–point base? According to NIH, these features are a must. The casters promote easy movement around your work space throughout the day without causing strain on your body. The five–point base provides stability, minimizing the chance that the chair will tip over.

Additional tips

Chair material: Chairs may be upholstered in a variety of materials, including vinyl, leather, and cloth. Personal preference and office décor play a role in chair material choice, but other health and maintenance issues should be considered. According to the Cornell University Human Factors and Ergonomics Research Group, cloth upholstery isn't as easy to clean as vinyl, and cloth covered foam has the potential to harbor dust mites. However, vinyl–type or leather coverings don't breathe as easily as cloth, which may cause discomfort after prolonged sitting.

Multi–use chairs: If more than one person in your office will be using the same chair, you'll want to pick a chair that can be adjusted easily. Read an article on how to choose a multi–use chair.

Chair accessories: A chairmat is an important accessory for any office. Read tips on how to choose a chairmat that's right for your workspace.


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