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Your Office Chair Is Killing You (businessweek.com)
188 points by genieyclo on May 2, 2010 | hide | past | favorite | 85 comments

I am going to share my experience, hopefully this will help someone: about 3 1/2 years ago, I went through a brief period of long hours at my desk (I had just previously had a hiking accident, dislocated shoulder, broke bones, and found that a period of long-hours and hard work took my mind off of recovering from shoulder surgery).

During this brief period I developed blood clots in one leg from sitting too long, and was really lucky to survive two large pulmonary embolisms. I often share this story as a warning to others. BTW, I average wilderness hiking for about ten hours a week (gentler walks when recovering from surgery) and that was not enough to prevent the blood clots.

Now, I use a 20 minute timer to get me up and walking around for a few minutes, 3 times an hour. Frequently standing and walking around is a recommended habit! Bad sitting habits almost killed me, and I needed over two years to mostly recover, so please take this seriously.

My timer is set to a 10min break every hour. I think 3 times an hours is too frequent for me to concentrate on anything. Every time I get off from my computer it takes some time to regroup my thoughts and concentrate on my work and reach a state of "flow"

Good advice in general about mobility, but I think that your PEs were more likely to have been the result of an underlying clotting problem that you might have rather than solely from sitting too long.(also, thrombosis after surgery, injury is more likely)

I wish I have your discipline to take frequent breaks though.

My brother got a blood clot in his leg a few years ago at age 26. He was exceptionally fit, and did a lot of research into blood clots. At the time, it was considered a problem of old, overweight people, or those recovering from surgery. But they've become a lot more common in young people in the last few years, even occurring disproportionately in athletes. It's been nicknamed Economy Class Syndrome, since the cramped seating on planes is particularly conducive to clot formation.

I also recommend a timer. I use water for my timer - drink lots and keeps you going to the bathroom often. Unfortunately, this isn't good for solving hard problems that involve much concentration, but my back often needs a break.

I find using water works really well. Plus it can put you well over your recommended '8 glasses a day'. So its a double win.

I use Gnome built-in timer (see keyboard options). You can use WorkRave.org, or similar program (google for "RSI break program").

Xwrits is good, too.

Older people who move around have half the mortality rate of their peers. Well that proves something. No chance of mixing up causation there.

I assume that's sarcasm?

If you are healthy enough that you can more easily move around, you may also live longer.

If you have assorted health issues you may also not be inclined to move around much. The "not moving much" may be the result of other health issues, not the cause of them.

I've tried sitting on the Salli Twin (http://salli.com/eu/Frontpage) for a few minutes and am seriously contemplating buying one soon. It made me sit proper and comfortable from get-go. On normal (even expensive) office chairs I tend to numb my lowerback/legs at some point of the day.

Bonus: It's also been built with men's genitals in mind (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_HIt3D7Ivfc).

Hi, I created an account just to respond to your post. I used a Salli MultiAdjuster for a couple of months. I'm a guy, and my genitals couldn't tolerate it for more than half an hour or so. Fortunately, I didn't pay to use the chair. A local high-end office furniture store let me borrow it. I'd recommend looking for a similar store in your area. I still haven't found a good chair.

On a non-chair related note, to those of you who take breaks, I strongly recommend that you consider taking exercise breaks rather than simply walking around or stretching. Google "grease the groove". I'm currently GTGing pull-ups and overhead kettlebell presses.

Salli also appeared in The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien. I vividly remember Andy Richter proofing one... and the genital jokes.

These originate from Rautalampi, Finland. Just over 40 miles from where I live.

I'd also recommend trying before buying.

I'm awaiting the arrival of a Herman-Miller Embody, which is my engagement present! It's very expensive, but...er...'worth it'. Meaning I've trialed it for a week and loved the feel and the way it subtly encourages movement while sitting. It simply blows away anything I've sat on, including the Aeron they loaned me until it arrives. The fiancee got a ring - but surely a really good chair is much more worthwhile for a developer who works from home a lot?!


I was excited about the Embody, but when I tried it for a couple of hours I found that the whiffle-tree structure, which equalizes the pressure across the back, allowed my lumbar spine to collapse into C-shape. I was so disappointed...

I don't know why every chair has wheels. I hate chairs with wheels. Every office I've been to, I end up sitting on one leg, the other stretched out. And I can't push my feet against the wall and lean back because of the blasted wheels! But when I go home to my beloved $20 chair with no wheels, no armrests, and only lower back support, I feel great.

It's too bad they don't have locking wheels like on some pieces of wheeled furniture. Also, many times the wheels are removable, though I don't know if such chairs are meant to be used without the wheels.

Chairs with wheels make it easier for me to lose any ergonomic positions I had found, because of the wheels.

What chair do you use at home?

I mentioned this in another thread, but I got this stool: http://www.amazon.com/Safco-3442BL-Extended-Height-Swivel/dp...

I'll switch between reclining with it(I have a multi-level home desk setup and can stretch my legs out), sitting at the edge of the seat with the legs on the ground, sitting using the footrest, or standing.

I bought a standing desk couple weeks ago. http://www.amazon.com/Euroflex-Stand-2dUp-Mobile-Workstation... So far I feel much better when I work standing, but my body still needs to get used to it. So I sometimes work sitting at the regular desk.

How feasible is this? Can anyone share their experiences?

I am going to use a "Twist Board" at one of my desks, and a compace elliptical at the other. Both desks are going to be converted to standing desks.

It's very feasible. I've been using mine for the past 2+ years. I also have a stool for when I get tired of walking.

Does that have a vertically oriented split keyboard?!?

Yes, it's the safetype (http://safetype.com). Much less wrist strain than normal pronating keyboards.

Sit in any any regular chair, and don't lean back. Simple, similar to the "stool perch" recommendation, free and universally available.

This is something I'm skeptical about in this article. I know that I can sit in such a way as to give my spine an S curve. However, I also know that I inevitably curve my back if I am sitting down for long stretches of time.

I bought a Swopper chair to use at home. I would say it definitely helped me sit up straight at home.

Your core muscles are fatiguing. Practice,practice. No chair can help with that - it can let you rest in a s-shape, but that's not the point - you want to be using muscles while sitting.

I see your point, but I personally use a regular wooden dining chair with the back removed, and I find it very easy to slouch into a "C" shape anyway. I have to continually remind myself to sit up.

Good, now you just need to consistently remind yourself long enough that sitting properly (with an "S curve") becomes a natural habit.

I can't believe that some ergonomics researchers are actually endorsing my crazy idea of setting up a treadmill and walking while working.

Maybe I have to try that now. It's a pity that treadmills are so pricey.

Incidentally, the ability to move around in different positions while reading is a major reason I bought the iPad.

Incidentally, the ability to move around in different positions while reading is a major reason I bought the iPad.

I find my spine tends to be in a C shape more while using the iPad, unless I am lying down.

I am going to experiment with a twist board and an elliptical trainer with standing desks. Starting today, with the desks.

You can often find great bargains on used exercise equipment, as it's often bought and then rarely used. Check craigslist.

What about one of these instead of a treadmill?


The same company also makes a compact elliptical.

its impossible to cheat while standing on a treadmill, but those things you can just stop.

I'd call the ability to "cheat" a plus.

Anyone have a good chair recommendation that doesn't cost $500? The stool concept struck me as a great idea, until I saw the price. (Maybe I should be in chairs?)

Here's the thing. Don't be put off by the expensive price of ergonomic chairs. I bought my Aeron chair in 2002 and have used it every day since. It's made a huge difference in my back and neck.

The chair cost be around $700 at the time, so that's <$100 per year or <$0.50 per day.

Also the chair came with a 12 year warranty. A couple months ago the pneumatic cylinder went out. I called a local Aeron deal and since I bought the chair from a authorized dealer, they sent somebody to my house and fixed it for free.

Yes. If you have the money, and you've already been to the dentist [1], spend the money on a chair. Either you will (god forbid) not live to be forty years old -- in which case you won't miss the money -- or your forty-year-old self will thank you. So will your fifty, sixty, seventy, eighty and ninety-year-old selves.

(This is not to say, by the way, that you might not experience chair-related pain in your thirties, or even earlier. But the odds do seem to go up in middle age.)

My only concern -- highlighted in the article -- is that my Aeron isn't enough. I'm amused to find that experts think the thing is too low -- it is too low. But maybe that was partly because my pneumatic cylinder was about to go out -- mine just went. Fortunately my chair is also under warranty!

I'll look into these wacky standing chairs.


[1] Slightly off topic, but: I wish, when I was in my twenties, poorly paid, and absent-minded, I'd gotten email every six months saying "the dental checkup you're about to skip will eventually cost you something like $10k or $15k in root canals and crowns. Or, alternatively, you could lose your teeth and spend forty years cursing your bridgework and dentures."

I regularly see gently used Aeron chairs on CL bay area for $400-450. Those of us who spend significant computer time every day really need to take care of our bodies. Prevention is much easier than repair. Consider upgrading your work environment before upgrading your box or getting an iPad...

And to the parent: If you like your Aeron, you should seriously consider the Embody - lots of time and money went into making it a significant upgrade worthy (imho) of the premium price.

"Also the chair came with a 12 year warranty. A couple months ago the pneumatic cylinder went out. I called a local Aeron deal and since I bought the chair from a authorized dealer, they sent somebody to my house and fixed it for free."

The seat pan on my Dad's chair (which he bought around 1997) broke a couple of times, at which point they simply replaced the entire chair.

He's been using it without complaint ever since.

This came up on HN a while back: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=585693 .

The short answer: no. Chairs appear to be one of these products in which you get what you pay for.

I took my cheap office chair and remove the back and the arms. It forces me to sit straight. I usually have these extreme back muscle pains. I still need another 2 weeks to really tell if it helps.

There was a pertinent discussion about height adjustable desks few days ago, see here:


I highly recommend them, if you can get one for your home office (or if you work in a office that allows desk of your preference). Some people go even further and get a treadmill underneath the desk, but I like to switch between sitting & standing personally. Standing up while working gives me an active feel to it, and I find myself avoiding procrastination since my legs would get tired if I were to spend hours surfing the Web (sure, I could adjust the height so that I can comfortably sit again, but the decision becomes more 'conscious' in a sense).

I don't think chairs are the biggest problem facing office workers. Desks and monitors that don't adjust well are.

I have a Stokke Balans chair (e.g. http://www.ergodepot.com/Variable_balans_by_Varier_p/v100.ht...) which works really nicely to align your spine and allow you to move around. Unfortunately the pressure on your shins becomes uncomfortable after a while, and if your back muscles are weak it takes a while to be able to use it for a while without fatigue.

I use a big inflated ball that sits on a base with coasters. I've seen some with back support, but mine doesn't. It forces you to keep some weight on your legs, like the perching mentioned in the article. But it has an additional benefit: you can't help but bounce a little bit. You're body's not designed to remain static for long. Overall, I feel less lethargic and less prone to neck and shoulder pain.

Most people have weak core muscles due to chairs with backs, so if you're going to try out this kind of chair, don't be surprised if you can't do it for more than an hour a day at first. Also, it may not be a good idea if you're tall, since the ball can only inflate so much. If the angle between your upper legs and your body isn't greater than 90 degrees it probably won't work for you.

I still have a normal chair. If you're working crazy hours, you need to give your supporting muscles a break sometimes.

Oh, and it's really cheap: mine was about $60 if I convert from my local currency.

EDIT: here's an example, but don't buy it online if you haven't tried it: http://www.opentip.com/Sporting-Goods/Dynaflex-Fit-Chair-p-1...

"here's an example, but don't buy it online if you haven't tried it:"

That's my problem with all these chair discussions. I don't have a problem buying a chair that works great, or a chair that doesn't "look like a chair" (as the article mentions), but I do have a problem dropping $800 on a chair sight unseen.

I'd have that problem no matter what, but being 6 foot 4 inches (aka "99th percentile height", or at least I've seen one source place that as the 99th percentile cutoff) really doesn't help. The probability of spending $800 on a chair that simply doesn't go high enough is too large. But I have no idea how to try a wide variety of chairs out for any reasonable period of time.

"Standing desks and chaise longues are good options. Ball chairs, which bounce your spine into a C-shape, are not."


A ball chair is not an exercise ball chair. Looking at the illustration on Wikipedia, it's clear that a ball chair forces a C-shaped spine. Your spine will stay in an S-shape if you sit upright on the "chair" I'm referring to.

Seeing as that design is never mentioned in respects to ergonomics and certainly wouldn't "bounce" anything, I strongly suspect the quoted passage was referring to the inflated balls you sit on.

You're right. That's one of the disadvantages of linking to the printer friendly version of an article. You miss out on those "link" things that made this "interweb" thing famous:


I'm just going to continue as usual, using the ball chair and alternating with a normal chair if needed. My spine feels great and definitely has a more natural shape when sitting on the ball vs. a normal chair.

1.5 months ago I got rid of my chair and made my desk work at standing level. I love it. My body feels better. I can't ever foresee myself going back. I was originally going to buy a good chair but I didn't see the point when it seemed that standing would be better, cheaper, and allow me to be more flexible with my space.

What kind of work do you do?

A cheap standing desk option:


This can be setup with the desk surface at standing height. The smaller shelves become under-desk storage or monitor stands.

There is also a wider model of the same desk that currently goes for $159.

Okay, how about sitting down on the floor with legs crossed and a small portable desk for your computer? This is exactly how I'm sitting now, and it's less painful than sitting on the cheap $20 plastic chair I own.

I'm curious about this too. Many Buddhist monks sit cross-legged (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sitting#Cross-legged) for long periods of the day, and I haven't heard of them having any health problems due to this.

There's also a PDF accompanying the article, with pictures of some of the chairs:


Rant (stop reading if you're not interested): Posting it here, since we're all so obsessed with printer friendly versions of articles, because we can't stand clicking to view the second half of an article. Unfortunately, the printer friendly version doesn't contain links like this one.

After so many articles and discussions like this one here and reading about iclubby and emperor workstation, I took the task to my hands. Couple of days back, I hacked together a good reclining chair that is a lot comfortable then sitting. I wrote a quick mail with images here.


As someone who used a setup like this (Perfect Chair + Ergoquest reclining workstation) at work for several years, allow me to share my experience:

One's head and neck are pushed slightly more forward than normal and don't have their normal degrees of freedom; this causes some stiffness over time.

One can sometimes "flip up" one's elbows to rest on the armrests, as when reading, or resting. Over time, this tends to "bang" them against the armrests, which can really hurt the ulnar nerve, which is unprotected on the "backside" (upper portion) of the elbow.

If the chair has a fixed angle at the knees, you'll need to get up from time to time and walk around--or at least, I did. The fixed angle prevents the lower back from moving around much and doesn't allow one to "stretch" out.

It's tough to keyboard comfortably in a reclining chair. One ends up disproportionally compensating for poor ergonomics with one's chest muscles. In addition, your shoulders tend to roll forward. Either of these can cause thoracic outlet syndrome over time, which is like carpal tunnel syndrome, only it affects your entire arm.

It is for these reasons that I switched to a standing desk, where my body can move the way it was designed to. Keyboarding is still an issue, but if you buy a split keyboard Datahand you can mount each half near your hips and keep your shoulders back.

Your images try to pull from gmail, thus don't load.

Added the images now. Thanks for pointing that out.

Chaise longues? That'll work. I sit in a sort of feet-up semi-recline as it is.

Maybe I just need to bring the patio furniture into the office.

Mark Pilgrim, IIRC, uses a Poäng chair. I thought this was a bad idea at first, but if you can get the keyboard and monitor adjusted right, it could be quite comfortable.

Interesting. Had no idea what a Poäng chair was, but when I Googled I saw that the tilt of the seat and back is pretty much how I set my chair.

I've been thinking of setting up a standing work environment. Anyone have articles or recommendations for setting one up?

After estimating the height I needed to raise my desk, I bought some cinder blocks and pavers from Home Depot for about $10 and just put them under my desk legs. I used some old books to prop up my monitors, but blocks of printer paper work well too.

An anti-fatigue mat is an excellent investment, but even with that be prepared for a few weeks of achy feet/legs. You get used to it eventually, but man, it feels nice to crash on the couch in the evening.

That sounds like a solution but I like elegance. Hah.

I wish the article had given an explanation for their claim that lumbar support doesn't help anything. They say the spine needs to stay S-shaped, and that's exactly what lumbar support is designed to promote, so what's the problem?

I think the point is that postural support muscles have special metabolism that does good things when they're active (generating force) for extended periods of time. A chair that molds you into the shape doesn't make the muscles work.

I understood that it wasn't that lumbar support isn't good, it's that a normal chair with lumbar support is still just a normal chair, and thus too low; you're still sitting on your butt instead of letting your legs support you.

what about sitting on a big bouncy ball?


From the article Standing desks and chaise longues are good options. Ball chairs, which bounce your spine into a C-shape, are not.

I'm not sure if "ball chairs" are the same as you mean, but I guess they're.

I've been sitting on a medicine ball for a while, and I agree that there's a big tendency to slouch into a C-shaped back. However, if you are conscious of your posture, it is possible to sit with an S-shaped back. At least, that's my subjective, anecdotal experience.

A side effect of sitting with good S-shaped posture on a medicine ball is that I don't really "sit" any more. Instead, I straddle the ball as if I were riding a horse.

However, for me the reason I switched to sitting on a medicine ball has nothing to do with back posture and everything to do with preventing a recurring pilonidal abscess.

I alternate between sitting on a normal chair and kneeling on the (carpeted) floor and sometimes kneeling on a bean bag chair. Kneeling is also nice because its easier to randomly stretch.

I would be interested to know if sports like cycling also have some kind of the negative health impact caused by the long periods of "sitting down".

yes and no.

Cycling puts an unnatural curve in our lower back, very similar to sitting in a chair, and due to the way the muscles work, cyclist end up with tight hip flexors and hamstrings and stretched spinal erectors (sorry, I've been out of Physiology for a while so can't remember the exact names of the muscles) which can further exacerbate the problem. Compare a cyclist with a runner, and you can see a noticeable difference in posture.

However, I wouldn't call it a 'negative health impact', as the activity is improving your health. Just be sure to stretch, and counter the muscle imbalances that the sport produces.

Many sports have similar results because they are unnatural. For example, snowboarders in big mountain areas end up with a unnaturally strong/tight oblique muscle on one side and one stronger leg. Surfers likely don't have this issue because the majority of their exertion occurs during the paddling phase and the length of time actually spent riding the wave is quite short.

any studies on the kneeling stools?

"Ericson and Goldie studied spinal shrinkage of three different types of chairs while performing video display unit work and found that subjects shrank more when sitting on a forward sloping chair with knee support than on a conventional chair.[3]

Drury and Francher studied the original Balans kneeling chair in 1985, concluding that overall it was "no better than conventional chairs and could be worse than well-designed conventional office chairs."[4] Lander et al. conducted another experiment in 1987 comparing the kneeling chair with a conventional chair and concluded that their experimental data "do not support the manufacturer's claim that the Balans chair is likely to decrease complaints of [lower-back pain]".[5] A 1989 study on a sample of 20 subjects concluded that the Balans chair promoted greater lumbar curvature than the "straight back chair" during relaxed sitting, typing and writing and that it could contribute to treatment of lower back injuries.[6] A more recent study from 2008 confirms that "ergonomically designed kneeling chairs set at +20 degrees inclination do maintain standing lumbar curvature to a greater extent than sitting on a standard computer chair" and suggests that "Further research with a greater number of subjects and on different chair designs is warranted."[7]"

Links to references on the Wikipedia page: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kneeling_chair

I created kneeling stool for myself using bicycle seat and two strips, but found that regular flat stool is much better. When sitting, I stretch my legs and lower my knees as wide and as low as I can, so my back is flat.

(Sorry for my English).

All the advice like standing, breaks, etc., is very important. Productive, too!

But you can ALSO help by investing in a chair specifically designed to prevent the pressure on your leg veins. The only one I know of is the HAG Capisco, and we have had them for two years now.

They are worth every penny.

The only downside is that, because your weight is all on your feet and ass -- not your thighs -- if you sit with poor posture, your ass will fall asleep.

But this is really a feature, since it reminds you you're not sitting right and should stand up.

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