Working from home definitely has its advantages. A shorter commute, comfier couches, and each day is “bring your pet to work day.”
But there are downsides, especially if you are transitioning from working in an office. One of these is not having a super-expensive ergonomic office chair to keep your back pain from spiraling out of control.
If you plan on continuing to work from home, you might be tempted to shell out for the same chair you have at your office. However, experts caution that price is not everything when it comes to choosing a chair.
“I think the common understanding is: if it's expensive and it says it's ergonomic, then you’re not going to have any back pain,” says Donna Costa
, director of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, School of Integrated Health Sciences' occupational therapy program. “But the chair may not fit the person.”
She recommends that before you buy an office chair, you actually test it out. “If you sit in a chair and you have pain, then it's not the right chair for you,” she says.
What to look for in an office chair
More important than the price tag, an office chair has to put you in an ergonomic position. Costa says that means your hips, knees, and ankles should all be flexed at about 90-degree angles. Your forearms should also be about parallel to the top of the desk.
To get into this position, the chair has to have an adjustable seat height. This allows you to raise the seat high enough that your knees are level with your hips, your back is upright, and your hands are about level with your elbows.
“You can get around that by adding an adjustable foot rest,” he says. “There are a bunch to choose from and they're pretty inexpensive.”
Next, a home office chair should have some kind of lumbar support. This helps maintain the natural curve of the low back.
”What happens while sitting is we start to slouch,” says Tarrillion, “and we get a complete reversal of that curve, which can lead to additional stresses on your lumbar spine.”
If your chair doesn’t have great lumbar support, you might be able to place a small pillow behind your lower back. This will give you “the support without going out and spending a lot of money on an expensive chair,” says Costa.
The last feature of a home office chair that you want to look for is armrests. These can help keep your arms in the right position and prevent them from tiring. Costa says while it’s nice to have armrests, they are not essential.
Maintaining a proper sitting position
Finding the right chair is just the first step. You have to make sure you are seated properly, aka ergonomically.
That means adjusting the chair height and adding a foot rest or extra lumbar support, if needed. Costa says your spine should be straight, except for the natural curve of your lower back.
You should also position the top of your computer screen so it is about level with your eyes. “Otherwise you’re going to have a lot of neck strain because you're looking down,” says Costa. Raising the monitor can also encourage you to sit upright.
So using a laptop while sitting on a sofa may not work for extended periods because it’s impossible to position the screen high enough that you aren’t flexing your neck.
Tarrillion says choosing the right chair and sitting correctly are applicable to everyone, but are more important if you have an existing back problem.
But sitting pain-free goes beyond just the chair. “No matter how good the chair is, after sitting for twenty minutes, we all start to slouch,” says Tarrillion.
He recommends that you get up and move around at least once an hour. You could go for a short walk or do a few simple stretches. He also likes desks that go from a sitting to a standing position. “When you start to slouch, you can stand up the desk,” he says.
Costa says people are increasingly looking at sitting positions other than the standard upright one we are used to. The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration lists four different computer workstation positions
: upright sitting, standing, declined sitting (hips higher than the knees), and inclined sitting (torso leaning back).
If you have back pain while sitting, and adjusting the chair doesn’t help, you might want to try a new position. “It’s really important to look at what posture you can work in without pain,” says Costa.
Best Home Office Chairs
While there’s no one best office chair — it all depends on your back and your body — here are a few ergonomic chairs to check out. These come in a range of prices, but still offer adjustable seat height and other features to help you get a good fit.
- Herman Miller Aeron Chair. This high-end wheeled swivel chair is mostly mesh, but still provides intuitive support. It comes with several ergonomic features, including adjustable seat and armrest height. There are also three sizes to choose from, so it will be easier to find the perfect fit.
- Bodybilt. This mid-priced office chair is engineered for maximum comfort. It’s adjustable, features a high back and can be customized with fabulous features and colors.
- Space Seating Professional AirGrid. This affordable office chair is perfect if your budget is tight, but you still want comfort. It comes with adjustable seat height, tilt-control, and lumbar support. Like the Aeron and Sayl, it has a breathable mesh back.
- Essentials by OFM Fabric Task Chair. Features a curved back, armless design, plushly countoured padded seat, and ventilated mesh back to keep air flow throughout the day.
- Flash Furniture Mesh Task Chair. This mesh office chair comes with built-in lumbar support to help relieve tired, sore muscles. It also features flip-up armrests to allow you to get in closer to your workspace which prevents hunching.
- Amazon Basics Mid-Back Desk Office Chair. Another comfortable chair that won’t break the bank, perfect for those who only work from home occasionally. The seat height is adjustable and the chair has a cushioned seating pad. One drawback is the lack of lumbar support, but a throw pillow tucked behind your low back might be enough to offset that.
Choosing the right office chair can help keep you pain-free when working from home. While there are many ergonomic chairs available, finding one that is a good fit for your body is more important than how much you spend. Choosing the right chair is just the start. You also want to adjust the chair and maintain a proper seating position. These steps can help you be more comfortable in your home office.
Updated: June 5, 2021