How to Buy an Office Chair That Doesn’t Suck

There have been many ergonomics studies done and it has been shown that a supportive office chair increases productivity and maximizes the efficiency of the person sitting in it. A bad office chair, on the other hand, can lead to back strain, leg problems, and carpal tunnel, all of which cause lost time at work and send turn send productivity spiraling. Most of us spend more time in our office chair than we do sleeping in our beds, lounging on the sofa — heck more time than most of us spend with our significant others and/or family!

Yet the decision about what office chair to buy often ends up being far too easy a decision. We head into the office supply or furniture store (note: Walmart is NOT a furniture store), buy whatever looks good — or whatever’s the cheapest, then spend the rest of that particular chair’s life regretting that uneducated purchase.

Though it’s sad to say it, we spend a large portion of our life in that office chair. Most wouldn’t dare buy a crappy bed — we know how important sleep quality is. The office chair, on the other hand, just doesn’t get the love it deserves. At least not until a person has numerous back, neck, wrist, shoulder, hip and/or knee problems from sitting in a piece of junk chair all day long for years on end.

How to Buy an Office Chair

If you’re in the market for a chair right now, or you’re sick of heading to the chiropractor twice a week ($$$), here’s the features you need to look for when making that next purchase:

*Note: If you’re an employer, don’t think you can just skip over this advice. Cheaping out on a chair, or forcing an under-paid, under-appreciated employee to buy their own chair isn’t doing you any favors. Absenteeism due to illness or injury isn’t making your company any money.

Lumbar Support:

A good office chair supports the lower lumbar region of the back, to keep it in its natural curve while seated for long periods. Some of the better ones will even have an adjustable lumbar support that allows the user to fit the chair to their lower back’s unique curve. The back strain caused by poor lumbar support can lead to a debilitating condition known as sciatica.

Adjustment Options:

Obviously, you’ll want the standard chair and armrest height adjustments. However, this usually isn’t enough flexibility to ensure all-day comfort. Look for chairs with multiple adjustment options including tilt adjustments, swivel lock, neck rest height, lumbar cushion adjustment, and even seat firmness adjustment. Such options are available as you creep past the cheap $100 or less chairs and move up into the big boy ranks. Most adjustments will be dial controlled, while lumbar and seat cushion adjustments will be controlled by a hand pump similar to that found on a traditional blood pressure measuring device.

Wheel Base and Wheel Design:

A wider wheel base equals more stability, which leads to more comfort. Go for a narrow wheel base and you simply cannot move around as comfortably without worry of tipping, nor can you lean back and recline the chair as needed. Last, most people fail to account for the surface they’ll be seated on when buying a chair. Most common office chairs are designed for hard surfaces, while a great many offices have carpeted flooring. You can actually buy a chair, and/or replacement wheels for a chair, that are designed specifically for carpets. The harder you have to push yourself around while seated, the more potential for knee, hip and even shoulder strain.

Swivel Base:

An office chair without a swivel will literally break your back if you have to reach for anything that isn’t located directly in front of you. Unnatural twisting will wreck the back, no matter how great the lumbar support and can also lead to neck, arm and shoulder strain. However, a swivel base with swivel lock is a nice feature if you’re the fidgety type, as the ability to lock the swivel from moving helps reduce fatigue in your core muscles.


This is a decision that comes down more to personal choice than ergonomics or value. Some like leather or pleather, while others prefer the breathability of fabric (leather isn’t so fun if the office isn’t air conditioned in the summer time, or if you like to wear shorts and/or work shirtless).

I hope this short little guide has been helpful to those of you who’re reading this.

Remember that you get what you pay for, though I’m not saying to go out and spend a thousand bucks on a chair, unless you really want to. Chairs in the $100 – $300 range generally have all or most of the features I’ve mentioned above; though you may find something that costs a little more that tickles your fancy.

I’d also recommend avoiding big box stores like Walmart, etc., that don’t have display models you can “test sit” in. Buying a chair before trying it on for size is like grabbing a pair of shoes off the shelf without reading the size!


Main Image Credit: moominsean/Flickr