How to Shop for an Ergonomic Office Chair, According to Back Experts


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Jun 10, 2023

How to Shop for an Ergonomic Office Chair, According to Back Experts

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By Lisa Lombardi

As many of us continue to work at least partly from home, we’re in need of a more supportive seat, as The Wall Street Journal newsroom reports. Pain is a driving force, no doubt: One 2021 study found 46% of people had more upper back pain working from home during the pandemic than they did pre-Covid logging their hours from their offices.

If you’ve shopped for an ergonomic desk chair, you know there's a lot to consider—and also how difficult it is to find comfortable chair that's also stylish. Here are ergonomic chairs that meet our experts’ guidelines for seat high and depth adjustability, tilt, maximum weight support and armrests. Scroll down for more details about what features are important for your back health.

$314 at Branch

$349 Save $35

If you’re trading up from a repurposed kitchen chair, you know it's all about the feel under your seat. Branch's Ergonomic takes gold in that category, thanks to a plush three-inch, high-density foam seat. You also get seven-point adjustability, which means you can change up the height, seat depth, tilt and tension, armrests and lumbar (which is removable) for a custom fit. If pale blue isn't your thing, choose from a gray or black seat and a white or black frame. Designed in Italy and under $350, it proves a key point: "You don't have to spend thousands to get something supportive," says San Diego-based designer Jamie Gold, author of "Wellness by Design: A Room-to-Room Guide for Optimizing Your Home for Health, Fitness and Happiness. "But you do want a chair that's well-made and works for you," she says. Weight limit: 300 pounds.

$1,750 at Herman Miller

$1,750 at Design Within Reach

The Aeron is an investment, for sure, but it's built to last and take a load off. Not only does it come in three sizes, but it is also exceptionally adjustable (think seat height, seat tilt, lumbar support and armrests). That comes in handy if you’re sharing your setup with a partner or the kids. If you’re having trouble choosing from the six color options, consider that the Onyx version is made from plastic waste diverted from the ocean, the manufacturer notes. As for the weight capacity, medium and large hold 350 pounds and small holds 300.

$668 at Herman Miller

$835 Save $167

This sleek chrome-and-mesh find was a back-saver for interior designer Nicole Fisher after working from her Hudson, N.Y., home perched on a dining chair. While it doesn't have all the ergonomic bells and whistles that the Aeron does, the Setu is designed to move with your body (what the company refers to as "kinematic spine"). As Fisher reports, "Getting something that has the curvature in the back and that forced me to sit upright was key for my lower back pain." The mix of polypropylene materials in this chair—which can handle 300 pounds—is easy on the back and bum too. If your desk is parked in your living room, you’ll appreciate that the Setu brings design cred. You can customize by choosing colors for the upholstery, frame and base "and have a bit of fun with it," Fisher says.

$300 at Amazon

This midcentury modern find has key comfort musts, like soft padding and back and height adjustability. While the armrests don't move up and down, they’re removable so you can ditch them if they’re not the perfect height. Plus, the company offers a 60-day trial period, so you can test out this sturdy model. It's an especially chic white ergonomic office chair option, but if you’re not loving the leatherette, spring for Italian leather instead (about $200 more). It holds up to 400 pounds.

$1204 at Amazon

In 2020, people were walking into furniture stores with a stipend in hand, hunting for a desk chair as supportive as the one they used at the office, according to Nora Fenlon, ergonomist and Via Seating's chief commercial officer. So Via, a Las Vegas-based manufacturer of commercial office furniture, introduced a handful of their made-in-the-U.S. ergonomic chairs to the home market. Fenlon works in Via's Onda, an all-mesh number made of a fabric infused with copper, which may have antimicrobial properties. "It's a self-sanitizing chair," she says. "We developed it for the healthcare industry, but since Covid, people are concerned with their health at home." A full 20 micro adjustments across the arm rest, height, seat depth, and lumbar support, plus a four-way stretch fabric and waterfall design that doesn't impede leg circulation, let you max out on comfort. Choose from white or black support bars, four shades of mesh, and a midback or highback model. The Onda holds 300 pounds and comes with a 12-year warranty.

$1,127 at Humanscale

$1,127 at Amazon

There's a reason go-to home retailers from Pottery Barn to Room & Board stock this compact, mid-priced ergo classic: It blends an industrial minimalist design by famed designer Niels Diffrient with a slew of feel-good features. They include a stretch mesh panel that conforms to your back, no-fuss lumbar support that's part of the chair's form and a frameless seat front engineered not to cut off circulation to your thighs. And, bonus, Diffrient World reclines without a mechanism (it works by body weight and physics). It holds up to 300 pounds.

$1,107+ at Steelcase

"You want a chair that moves with you," advises Carisa Harris Adamson, Ph.D., director of the Ergonomics Graduate Training Program at the University of California, Berkeley's School of Public Health. This ergonomic workhorse does just that. Not only can you adjust almost everything, including seat height, seat depth, arm height and lumbar support, but it also gives you three reclining options. Wait, we can recline? Isn't that bad for the spine? No, it's actually important, says Harris Adamson (she likes to do it on Zooms). "It changes the force of gravity through your spine and reduces the muscle activity required to keep you upright, so it gives your back a break." The Gesture holds up to 400 pounds.

Sitting in the wrong chair for eight (or, let's be real, 10) hours a day can cause "a cascade of problems for your back," says Rahul Shah, M.D., a spine and neck surgeon in Vineland, N.J.

Call it a vibe shift in how we sit. It's part of a whole "well home" movement, says designer Gold. "Before the pandemic, people said, ‘What is wellness design and why should I care about it?’ Now it's, ‘My house is just not working for me!’"

Subpar chairs not only put extra pressure on our vertebrae and discs, Dr. Shah says, but they can also cause us to slump, throwing our spine out of the ideal neutral spine position, where your back isn't hunched forward or back and maintains its ideal S shape. "The fundamental rule is your head should be over your pelvis," he says. If it's not, your muscles have to work overtime to get your head back in line.

This is where ergonomic home office chairs can be game-changers, according to Harris Adamson, the ergonomics training program director. "Research shows features like the forearm support or a seat tilt can be instrumental in reducing low back pain," she says.

One thing the best ergonomic chairs do is adapt to your body. You’ll know you found a winner if you can sit upright against the back with your pelvis, hips and knees flexed at a 90-degree angle and your feet flat on the ground so you have a solid base, Dr. Shah explains. He's not a fan of kneeling chairs because they don't have back support, throw your pelvis too far forward, and over time put pressure on your knees and shins.

Early in the pandemic, interior designer Fisher and her husband were in the same mode as many of us: working from home seated awkwardly on dining room chairs. Six months in, their lower backs screamed, "Enough!"

So Fisher's husband suggested they buy ergonomic desk chairs, and at first, Fisher resisted. "They’re aesthetically not my favorite," she admits, but she was in so much discomfort, she agreed. And then she saw the light. Or rather, she felt the light, in the form of no more lower back pain. "It has been the greatest decision," the designer says of her Herman Miller ergonomic chair.

Here are things to consider before you click "add to cart."

Most, including popular picks like Branch Ergonomic Chair, let you adjust from around 17 inches to 21 inches (and some, like the Herman Miller Aeron and Humanscale Diffrient World, adjust even more). This ensures your feet sit flat on the floor. "If your feet are dangling or out in front of you, it's a lot harder for your back muscles to keep you upright," Harris Adamson says.

Some models like Via Seating's Onda Chair and the Branch Ergonomic Chair offer adjustable depths, which is helpful if you’re on the petite or tall side. To test if a chair is the right depth for you, sit against the backrest and see if you can fit two or three fingers between the front of the seat and back of your knee. If so, it's a perfect fit. No room for two fingers? That means the chair is too deep and can compress your veins and reduce circulation to your lower legs—or cause you to scoot forward and not get back support, Harris Adamson explains. If the seat's too shallow (more than three fingers fit), you’ll have extra pressure on your femur.

If you don't know how to use it, you’re not the only one. "We have to teach people how to use their tilt a lot," Harris Adamson says, with a laugh. The key points: "You don't want to be forward. If you’re doing precision work, you want to be upright." Go ahead and tilt back now and then when you’re reading or on a Zoom to give your back a break.

This is especially important to consider if multiple members of your family will be using the chair. Most chairs hold 200 to 400 pounds, but some are less. If you don't see a weight capacity listed on the specs, that's a red flag.

When you’re working on your computer or doing other precision work, your arms should rest at a 90-degree angle to avoid shoulder, arm or wrist pain. In a perfect world, you’ll find an ergonomic chair with adjustable armrests, but your desk can provide that arm support too. "Your arms are about 15% of your body weight," Harris Adamson says. "If you don't have armrests and are working to keep the arms upright, it's more weight adding to the compression on your cervical discs. And the muscles in your neck have to work to keep your arms in that position."