- Correct postures
- Improvised gymnastics
- The function of breathing
- Definition of ergonomics
Updated: November 10th 2016
I did this review during 5 years of extensive testing of ergonomic chairs for work, my idea is to examine what kind of alternatives are available for reducing backache and the contractures that often occur in sedentary jobs: office chairs more comfortable and economical, ergonomic Varier chairs (ex stokke) expensive, or other options?
Computer Work Seats: the 2 correct postures
Above you can see both of the correct positions you should have when sitting at a computer. In the first case we can see a standard static position: the pelvis is at 90° and the back is parallel to the monitor and perpendicular to the keyboard. In the second example we can see the dynamic position of an ergonomic seat that shows the more than 100° angle between hips and legs with a pivoting seat and support for the lumbar region and knees. Besides postural problems during office working hours or at a VDU, there are also postural problems caused by rigidity and tension characteristic of occupational or emotional stress.
Articular rigidity becomes combined with a series of uncorrect postures and improvised gymnastics to give temporary relief to the effects of the rigidity we accumulate all year round. These three primary factors (rigidity, misaligned posture and improvised gymnastics), can lead to critical situations for both the back and articulations, leading to the need for rehabilitation specialists or help from a professional masseur (physiotherapy, rehabilitation massage such as Rolfing or gymnastics like Pilates followed by a therapist).
Note for those that wish to gift a posture chair for Christmas: make sure you ask them first if they’ve ever tried one!
How to choose the correct ergonomic chair
To the article on how to choose the ergonomic chair that best suits your needs, in some cases the cheaper brands are not worth it.
Komfort ergonomic chair
price: around 650 Euro (flexible price if you buy more chairs)
weight: 25 Kg
where to buy this ergonomic chair: official manufacturer (Italy)
This is the most flexible ergonomic chair around. I find it quite ugly, but I can change various positions and sit like on a normal chair. If I want I can rotate the kneeling support and use it like an ergonomic chair with adjustable tilt. These chairs are made in Italy and I have 2 of them, one at home and one in the office (where everyone is making fun of me since it’s really strange).
Economic Kneeling chairs & Stools
Model: Metal stool with knee rests and stool with knee rest on casters
price: around 80 dollars
This is an ergonomic office chair similar to a stool with knee (or leg) support. This kind of stool has casters and allows full movement of feet and ankles… so you can roll and lol around while still sitting! According to my tests, the use of these kneeling stools can reduce the need for interruptions up to 20% compared to a normal chair, but it will however still be necessary to get up and move every so often. While having the benefit of being extremely economical, this kind of stool, although called ergonomic, doesn’t resolve problems tied to backache (often caused by prolonged static positions), and need a phase of ‘training’ because at first they seem pretty uncomfortable. It must also be noted that they are deliberately without arm rests (in a correct position, the arms should lie along the sides of the body, and the shoulders relax when the position of the keyboard is just above the level of the hips). Tha absence of a backrest will be felt after a few of the many hours we pass at the monitor. These models of chairs for desks with kneerests are an economical alternative and very similar to the pointlessly expensive Varier Multi Balans, and even though they’re often called orthopaedic stools, they don’t really have much to do with the concept of orthopaedia.
Ergonomic Aeron Chairs and Mesh Chairs
Model: Aeron office chair
price: from 800 dollars
where to buy: Amazon, ventilated versions (low cost)
Cheaper Mesh chairs: Lexmod chairs for around 150$
size: more bulky than a standard chair
This is an Aeron chair(designer Herman Miller) with backrest and seat in mesh. It’s a kind of office chair with an elastica backrest that allows the back a larger surface without sweating or pressing on the same spots. The Aeron office chair was designed to not havr any rigid parts in contact with the body that could influence posture. The seat is adjustable and can be inclined forwards to increase the angle between back and legs. Having the pelvis with a vertical aperture larger than 90° can be useful to prevent lordosis. However it’s too comfortable an office chair to use for long periods because the mobility of hips and legs is the only way to avoid damage from too much immobility.
Review ergonomic swivel stool Grima Twinny
price: from 70$ to 120$
The ergonomic seat Twinny is a strange hybrid that offers an economical alternative to the expensive Varier Wing stool. It offers backrest and kneerest, plus the possibility to regulate in hight (it fits all sizes of desks). Although the casters tend to make you lose balance while using the kneerest, you soon get used to it.
In my opinion, the Grima Twinny ergonomic chair’s main flaw is it’s size, along with the fact that it doesn’t allow complete hip movement. On the positive side, it has a well inclined seat, with the lumbar support that adapts well and sustains. It’s surely a good project, with many interesting characteristics, but the price is high for the type of materials used and the typology of chair (maybe forced by the scarce number of copies in circulation?)
Varier Variable Ergo Stool (ex Stokke)
Model: Stokke Ergonomic Chair Variable Balans by Varier
price: around 300 Euro (new) available in Stokke ergonomic chair shop
cost Backrest (optional): around 150 Euro.
On offer: Stokke Variable is on offer in the shop Ausilium at 290
Euro (second hand ones can be found slightly cheaper on eBay)
size: more bulky than a normal chair (needs room behind for swinging)
Varier chairs are comfortable and especially versatile. This is an ergonomic Stokke Variable studio seat in wood with kneerest, costs around 300$ and has a 20year old design (Opsvik again). It’s pretty cumbersome for any small office but among the office chairs that help back problems it’s one of the best solutions because it has a tilt back mecchanism (like a granny’s rocking chair). The two runners in vapour pressed wood offer suspensions that make the seat ergonomicalelastic whan you sit on it. The arch at the base doesn’t allow you to remain still, you find yourself rocking all day: this means constant movement of the pelvis and movements of the superior articulations that allow to restore balance whan relaxing. The two knee stools are for alternating the kind of seating (standard, and kneeling as in praying).
With this chair it’s possible to reduce pauses during work of 40%-50% without evident pain or imbalance. A period of adaption of about fifteen days is necessary, during which time you find yourself wondering about life and the sense of things. The lack of a backrest lowers (mysteriously) the cost of the Stokke Variable on the catalogue “office chairs” up to 50% compared to a Stokke Thatsit. It’s also possible to buy the backrest separately to assemble in a further moment.
Although the Stokke Variable is a postural computer chair where you rest on the knees, it’s also possible using it as a “normal” chair opening the legs to avoid the nearest. Changing to the classic seating on an ergonomic chair is a way to move now and then during the hours working or studying, but it’s a habit we should try to get used to because using the “praying position” it’s easy to lose the necessity for normal seating.
Note on the size of the Varier Variable
We have tried the Varier in the whole office and Thomas who is 1.85cm tall fits to the limit. The Variable is certainly not suitable for anyone over 1.90cm (he wouldn’t know where to put his feet). For my hight (1.70), the Varier is a perfect ergonomic solution and should be fine for people up to 1.50cm. Shorter personswould have problems because the Varier doesn’t have adjustable knee rests and the distance between the seat and the supports is fixed. In order to use this Stokke as an ergonomic computer chair it’s necessary to own a desk that is hight adjustable, because in a correct posture your arms should lie alongside the bodywithout bringing tension to the shoulders; of all the computer chairs examined, the Variable Varier is the one with the best value for money. This Stokke chair is the only one I have found cheap imitations for. The Stokke patent and the wood vapour bending tecnique used for the lower runners make all Stokke products difficult to copy.
Imitation Stokke Varier Balans ergo chairs
available prior to importation from America the YogaChair, very similar to the Stokke Varier both in size and weight. Seeing as the ergonomic YogaChair is a non ufficial replica, it costs a lot less: 99 dollars (to which have to be added the shipment costs of 50/80$ and the customs clearance of another 50/100euro). We contacted the YogaChair firm about importation to Europe of their office chairs but they don’t ship to Europe (probably for patent problems), but only to Switzerland.
external supports (POSTURAL seats and kneeling chairs)
Practically all the projects that you’ll see in the following reviews come from the immense work of the designer Peter Opsvik. Every chair studied for those that work in front of a computer all day have pros (for example the possibility to change position by kneeling), and cons (some chairs need some ‘’running in” time to get used to the strange seating method). Here are various solutions of normal chairs and ergonomical office seats.
Office chair with arm rests and and casters
This is a very normal office chair with casters: the most economical solution ( they are sometimes called operative chairs). In order to use this classic typing seat with casters and arms it’s necessary to regulate perfectly the chair hight in order to achieve a 90° angle between legs and back (which should be vertical and slightly leaning back). It’s also useful to have a well toned body, as is standing up often and walking around the office, getting some coffee. The fact is, after ten years or so we will end up giving all the money we didn’t invest in a chair to a physiotherapist who will try to get rid of the pain caused by the bad posture we’ve had for years.
In this case it’s possible to find triangular footrests (here are some economical footrests), often in plastic, that are no more than wedge shaped platforms. They can be combined with this kind of office chairs to slightly alleviate the burden of tension that accumulates in the higher part of the back.
How to choose a traditional office chair
This kind of common office chair has no particular design so you might as well get a cheap one. Some aspects to consider are:
- The possibility to regulate in hight (useful to adapt the chair to any workspace without having to use platforms
- The possibility to incline the chair downwards in the front part
- The possibility to incline downwards the front of the chair is an important adjustment.
Inclining the seat has the scope of enlarging the angle between pelvis and back, an action that counterbalances the tendency many have to “stoop forward” while working at a desk. The position resembles the one used with Stokke type kneeling chairs. It’s also important to remember that too much comfort in an intensively used
working seat can be an impediment.
Note on abdominal breathing
It must be mentioned that if the need for an ergonomical chair derives from the tension caused by working many hours in the same position, it can also be useful being aware of the kind of breathing we use while working. Insufficient abdominal breathing may cause the pelvis to contract upon itself, leading to the conseguent
eccesive curving forward of the shoulders.
Taking a 5 minute break every 2 or 3 hours to breath with your abdomen is also a good way to relax your spinal column (warning… if you smoke it may not work very well).
Ergonomic Chair Stokke Varier Thatsit
Model: Ergonomic Chair Stokke Thatsit Varier
size: fairly bulky
price: and where to find it:
- around 1200$ (new)
- Varier Shop
This is the ergonomic chair Thatsit Balans by Varier, which is basically the evolution of the ergonomic seat Oposit (a Stokke Variable with backrest) and it includes the lumber support (or kidney friend) which just happens to be my favourite of all the seats for correct posture. After having tried so many, I think that the Variable model by Stokke is the best computer seat for intensive work (practically it’s the only real ergonomic computer chair and has three strong points:
- rocking chair’s curved runners
- knee stool
practically 4 different kinds of seating, constant movement, relax for shoulders. Around 15 days are needed for this chair too, after which the pauses at work will reduce to around 60%-70%. Unfortunately it’s not easy to find at a reasonable price. At the end of the trials in the office, Stokke Thatsit was considered by everyone the best postural ergonomic chair with backrest in circulation, besides being an ergonomic chair with certification VDU (certification for visual display unit). This model of ergonomic chair offers the most complete help to posture offering both alignment of the pelvis and the lumbar support to keep the spine straight. Backrest and knee rests are padded and comfortable (I find them ideal for intensive computer work). After various months of testing the Stokke Thatsit Varier I noticed with pleasure that when I’m on a normal seat I still keep the correct acquired position. This was my first ergonomic chair and I must say that it did my back good, especially in the periods of intense use. Note on the stature needed for optimal chair use The Thatsit has adjustable knee rests and also the lumbar support can be moved back and forward. This allows an ergonomically correct seating to people of every hight (Andrea is 1,92 and he was fine with it). I’m using a Stokke Thatsit since 2006 (that I preferred to the Variable for the presence of the backrest, and every so often I use different measurements for the knees according to how straight I want my back to be, I’m 1,70) and I still think it’s one of the best kind of chairs for bad backs.
Note on studies about spinal deformity
Due of note is the fact that Stokke in 1996 during the International Congress of Spinal Deformity presented a study on the prevention of scoliosis throught the use of ergonomic chairs with special seats that has resulted in decisive improvements in over 50% of the cases examined (here you can download the complete study with referral to the congress ).
Note for trasport: this model of Stokke has been carried in my small ultility car (I have a city car) the only removable parts are the kneerests. In order to understand the size and the kind of seating offered, here is a list of the authorized Stokke shops where it’s possible to try them. This is the old model of Stokke Oposit ergonomic chair that I have.
Balt Chair for spinal alignment
price: around 700 dollars
This is a Balt Spine Align chair, it has an ergonomic BIFMA certification (that is given by producers and not medical or orthopaedic institutions) and we considered it in the review because it is actually an office chair. This Balt model office chair offers a particular support for the neck, has hight adjustment and little more. (it doesn’t have the variable inclination that the model Aeron has). Balt Spine Align takes it’s name from a central groove (visible in this photo) on the backrest, that leaves space for the backbone and should avoid nerve compression on the vertebra. What’s more, the Balt offers an unreachable dentist chair feeling. Considering the cost for the quality offered (quite comfortable but static large seat), I would say it’s not worth it.
Stokke Gravity Varier Balancing Chair of my dreams
Model: Stokke Varier Gravity Balans Chair
price: obscene e prohibitive (over 1500 dollars) Varier Shop
size: huge (it’s seriously very big and cumbersome once assembled)
Here we have a Stokke Gravity, the most expensive and versatile ergonomic chair on the Stokke catalogue. Besides being over the top it allows you to tip it right back, it needs a lot of space and for a graphic or web designer it’s not humanly possible buying it without taking out a mortgage. This is the chair that the review is intitled to, because when I have the money and an office as big as a NASA hangar, I will definitely buy it for myself. The reclined position of the Stokke Gravity is more comfortable than any sofa in circulation and recalls the kind of seating offered by the Chaise Lounge by Le Corbusier. Note for transport: the Stokke Gravity is assembled, so it’s easy to take it apart to fit in a medium size car boot.
Ergo Hag Capisco Chair Review
Model: Ergo Hag Capisco Chair
price: 2000 dollars
size: bigger than a standard chair
I do understand that the Capisco designers aren’t guilty for the choice of the chair name (it means ‘understand’ in Italian), but it can bring about some funny misunderstandings. In the same price range of the della Stokke Gravity there is the Ergonomic chair Hag, model Capisco. Decidedly less bulky than the Gravity, the Capisco has an approach to ergonomics totally opposite to the Stokke Variable chairs. This Hag chair model allows various types of posture, some quite creative with the chair back to front and the backrest used to rest on leaning forward.
The fact of not having a unique sitting method makes the Hag chair a dynamic posture seat and adaptable to our every need. (watch the video on the ufficial HAG site ). I must precise that not always comfort is equivalent to a correct posture, because too much comfort always brings the risk of static positions, or even worse, static positions stratifying over time. In the Hag chair, the angle of the hips between back and seat is enlarged to about 100° having the legs pass in two grooves similar to that of a motorbiker (and in fact Opsvik was inspired by the posture of jockeys during a horse race). The inclination of the horizontal support can be increased at will and it’s almost possible to reach the the same angulation as a Stokke chair.
The Hag Capisco chair has also got a neck support and an interesting version of the supports for shoulders and arms that can be used when the chair is used back to front or sideways. The movement of trunk and lateral abdominals is guaranteed using leverage with the feet while leaning on the footring supports on casters that make the chair spin on it’s vertical axis. The HAG chairs have hight regulation, so allowing their use with all standard office desks and work tables.
Pendulum and Actulum Review
Model: ergo Varier Actulum reception chair
price: Varier Shop
The ergonomic chair Actulum has the single merit of having limited rocking, that allows hip mobility and the dynamic position we have already described in the “how to choose an ergonomic chair” section. TheActulum’s construction form makes it ideal for reception work (hotels, client assistance and help desks) bacause it allows you to stand up very easily like a normal chair but it’s also comfortable for many hours of seated work. During the review, we noted that it needed a small period of adaptation compared to the ergonomic Varier chairs with curved runners . Unfortunately it’s not adjustable, so in this case too you’ll have to make sure the work top hight is variable or at least not too high. For particularly high help desks or assistance booths the solution could be the extremely expensive Hag Capisco, that costs more than double than the Actulum and has hight adjustment. Seeing as the shape is not so strange or different to traditional chairs, the Actulum seats are also suitable as dinner table or living room chairs.
Model stroller ergo Stokke Xplory
price: Varier Shop
positive points: higher than normal stroller, more secure, resistant materials and adjustable by age
negative: above average price.
I received an eccellent review of the Stokke strollers from Francesco, who spent a few months looking for a secure solution for his future child while he was waiting to become a father. Living in the city, he was worried about the frequent crossing of roads that often put normal low strollers at risk. Francesco tried the Stokke Xplory Stroller and was pleased at the hight that positions the baby higher than a car bumper and also a little farther away from the pollution of car exhausts (he is a little paranoic about air pollution, but we are too and appreciate his idea). PS. I know that it has nothing to do with office chairs! But the children are in an ergonomic position (never as much as having them walk though), and so I published the review anyway!
The concept of ergonomics
Starting with the definition of ergonomics it is the science that deals with the interactions between the elements of a system and the function for which they are designed for the purpose of improving user well-being and overall system performance. (def. I.E.A. from wikipedia)
With improvised gymnastics it is intended the whole series of movements that we voluntarily start using and that little by little become part of our habitual movements: finger cracking, neck cracking, suddenly turning backwards, eye rubbing, disharmonic shoulder stretching etc. Looking for immediate relief for contractures stratified through years of sedentary work is one of the main reasons we start doing improvised gymnastics. Even though making these series of movements every day may seem to temporarily resolve stress and tension, in fact we are causing them by stratifying more unnatural movements (here can be found the study of body and movement from which these observations have been taken. Be careful not to confuse instinctive yawning or stretching (when not done following a conscious thought), they’re very positive for the body, giving instant relaxation.
The function of breathing
It may seem incredible but any tension can dissolve with a deep breath. Any external support we offer our body, including ergonomic seats, can be no more that a palliative treatment compared to the effects of physical, emotional or psychic training that all have correct breathing as a basic requirement.
Problems of constipation can be relieved with a correct ergonomic posture. La position of the spine properly aligned between shoulders and pelvis provides the intestines with the right position for normal fecal flow. Obviously this is the case when the constipation is caused by postural problems and not uncorrect eating habits, stress from hectic lifestyle etc. In these cases no chair will be of help. In my own case however, during the first month of use of my, kneeling chair I noticed an increase in the need to go to the bathroom, especially in the morning.