What is your office chair telling you about workplace ergonomics?

February 13, 2017 11:16 pm Published by

Your office chair is fundamental to your workplace. It is a piece of equipment that gets a lot of attention when we talk about ergonomics. So what is ergonomics? The principle of ergonomics has been around for a long time. In the effort to decrease physical and emotional stress humans have done tasks in different ways. To make work easier and more efficient, shovels were made lighter, cockpit controls were made more logical and machines were made to be driven by electricity. When we discuss ergonomics in the workplace we commonly refer to posture and sitting in front of the computer.

Statistics show that on average an office worker spends 95% of their day sitting in front of the computer.1 During the 1980’s when the computer became an office staple, chairs with levers, handles, wheels and big claims emerged. The designs were based on input from ergonomists and specialists in orthopedic and vascular medicine. The technology for the Embody chair claimed that it was good for you. The chair would want you to believe that it was agile and would keep your body and brain limber all day. This chair is reporting that it actually benefits both your body and mind.

With all this technology and dedication on what we are sitting on at work, you would think that low back pain would not be so prevalent. Back pain is a problem and the second leading cause of absenteeism from work, after the common cold.2 How is it that with research better than ever we are unable to agree upon the perfect perch? The reality is the research that correlates posture to low back pain is weak.3,4 In addition, despite the popular opinion that sitting at work is associated with low back pain, the evidence does not support this.5 Yes, this all sounds counter intuitive but the fact is there is little evidence to support the idea that we can explain pain in reference to posture. So I think that I will extrapolate that knowledge and say the same can be said for your office chair. Your office chair is trying to tell you that your job or posture isn’t causing your back pain.

But what about all the influx of information and coverage by mainstream media surrounding sitting? If you Google “sitting and health” these articles will appear: “why your chair is killing you” or that “sitting is the new smoking”. But really, is sitting that bad for you? In my opinion, I don’t think your chair is telling you this and neither is the evidence.

Your chair has focused on making you comfortable, providing you with many options for adjustments so you can sit longer and be more productive. The focus has been on keeping your posture perfect and supported and keeping you seated for an extraordinary amount of time. When in actuality, your chair has gotten it all wrong. The problem is not your chair or sitting, the problem lies in the absence of movement. This is not new information. We have known for a very long time that a lack of exercise, being a couch potato, not moving often; no matter how you say it, being sedentary is not good for you.

Research studies the factors that have correlated high with low back pain –  exercise, job satisfaction, educational level, stress and smoking.6  So what your chair is saying is move often at work – 2 minutes every hour, exercise regularly – 22 minutes of brisk walking daily, manage your stress and don’t smoke. Your chair will appreciate the break as will your physical and mental health.

Contact Fifth Avenue Physiotherapy today to become our best patient and work with the city’s best Therapists to help your pain. Call us at 403.234.9004 or visit our Contact page. http://www.fifthavephysio.com/contact/

Submitted by

Kelly Barrie BHSc(PT), BPE, FCAMPT, CAFCI, Gunn IMS Cert., CPTA, MCPA


  1. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) Statistics
  2. Deyo RA. Magnetic Resonance imaging of the lumbar spine. Terrific test or tar baby? NEJM 1994:331(2):115-116
  3. Grundy, Roberts (1984) Lancet. 1984 Aug 4;2(8397):256-8.
  4. Pope, Bevins (1985) Spine (Phila Pa 1976). 1985 Sep;10(7):644-8.
  5. Hartvigsen J et al. Scand J Public Health 2000; 28: 230-239.
  6. Kwon. MA, J Korean Med Sci. 2006 Dec;21(6):1086-91.

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