Answer this question. Who do you spend more than 8 hours with at work? It’s not that pretty neighbour in the other cubicle, but your office chair. Whether you realize it or not, your office chair is probably the single most important component of your work environment. And perhaps the real stepping stone on your way to the top.
Listen to Pavitra Jayaraman in conversation with Sanjay Hegde, a Bangalore-based orthopaedic surgeon
Most of us don’t realize how important this piece of furniture is for our health. This was a lesson Vijayalakshmi N., associate director, MindTree Ltd, learnt the hard way three years ago. In November 2006, she suffered from a stiff neck and a shooting pain in her lower back. Her orthopaedist diagnosed her with RSI (repetitive strain injury), a common problem afflicting those who sit long hours in front of the computer. “I paid the price for those uninterrupted hours by being forced to take two months off to heal. Even after I went back, it took me more than a month to get back into the groove,” says Vijayalakshmi.
She rejoined work in early 2007 and soon met Bharati Jajoo, an ergonomic assessment specialist who was then visiting MindTree for a workstation analysis programme. Dr Jajoo suggested Vijayalakshmi change both her chair and her desk. The height of her desk was reduced and Vijayalakshmi was given a new chair with extra lower back support and adjustable armrests so she wouldn’t have to raise her shoulders while working.
Aeron by Herman Miller
Says Sanjay Hegde, orthopaedic surgeon at Bangalore’s Manipal Hospital: “30-40% of my routine outpatient consultations are office injuries in the form of back or neck strains.” Dr Hegde adds that while ergonomically unsuitable office furniture is responsible for a number of injuries, bad posture, or even lack of awareness on what good posture is, adds to the risk. “It has been found that sitting is 11 times more stressful than standing. So the only solution is to try our best to support the natural curve of the spine,” says Dr Hegde. And the solution to a well-supported back lies in the chair.
Vishal Garg, interior designer with New Delhi-based Origin Design Consultants, says mesh-back chairs are popular these days. “These are both stable and flexible enough to take the contour of the back. But beware: Your back should not sink into the chair backrest,” he says.
There is no “one” perfect chair for everybody, says Dr Jajoo. “A good chair is a combination of the features of the chair and the person using it,” she says, adding that ideally chairs should be bought keeping the user in mind.
One of its key design features, called PostureFit, supports the way your pelvis tilts naturally forward, so that your spine stays aligned and you avoid back pain when seated for hours at length, says Subir Das, head, textile and apparel design, at the National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad.
Expert view: PostureFit is good for maintaining the neutral position of the spine while sitting. While working on a computer, a person needs to maintain the same neutral posture. Ensure that the seat-pan can accommodate people of different sizes.
Price: Rs65, 000, plus tax
Order: Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org
This Malaysian brand’s range comes with a ventilating mesh back. It has an adjustable lumbar pad with a side knob which can be customized to support different spine shapes.
Expert view: Its features accommodate a range of users. Its adjustable lumbar pad is a big advantage, says Das. Go for chairs with adjustable armrests.
Price: Rs7,800 upwards
Order: Log on to www.monarchergonomics.com
Designed with a 3D contoured backrest with lumbar support, it keeps the upper back straight while providing extra support to the lower back. It maintains the “S” curve of the spine and maximizes the area of contact with the back, giving it support.
Expert view: Das says that it has a high back adjustable headrest. He cautions, however, against the absence of neck support.
Price: Rs4,000 onwards
Order: (011) 41708123
The PU-Kidney series is a high back chair with adjustable headrest and a centre tilt mechanism that helps stretch back muscles to avoid stiffness. The adjustable headrest relaxes the neck.
Expert view: It is perfect for long-duration sitting, says Das. Ensure that the back and seat-pan contours work for people of different sizes.
Price: Rs11,980 + 12.5% VAT
Order: All Durian Furniture stores across India
Godrej Interio’s Gallop chair has a gliding seat that helps maintain full contact and supports the lumbar area at all tilt positions. It can be configured in more than 300,000 unique settings.
Expert view: It maintains the spine’s neutral position in different postures, says Das. Easy access to the different controls by all sizes of users, while seated, is essential.
Price: Rs7,900 + 12.5% VAT
Order: Godrej stores and retailers
How to find the perfect match
Lumbar support: A well-supported lumbar region (lower back) can avoid strain for up to 7–8 hours. Support for the lower back ensures the maintenance of the natural S-shaped curve of your spine. Look for chairs that protrude slightly towards the front in the lower back region.
Height adjustability: The height of the chair you are sitting on should allow your feet to make complete contact with the floor. If your feet are dangling, you will move your hips forward and slouch, disturbing the S-curve in the lower lumbar. Your hamstrings should ideally be parallel to the floor.
Back incline: The back incline indicates the angle of back rest. An adjustable back incline allows the seat back to support your body as you move forward or backward.
Armrest: While chairs without armrests might allow free hand movement, the shoulders may be strained if the activity of the hands is at a higher level, causing the shoulders to be raised. Armrests help decrease the pressure on shoulders in such cases. Flexible armrests help determine the span of the seat according to individual size and keep the arms at a comfortable distance from the body.
Seat span: Adjustment of the seat depth to the length of your thigh bone ensures that the back of the chair supports your back. The seat breadth should be adjustable for people of all sizes.