How to Choose the Right Office Chair for You

Updated on May 14, 2019
Anti-Valentine profile image

As an avid gamer and blogger, I spend a lot of time on the computer, so I know just how important it is to have the right desk chair.

A typical typist's chair.
A typical typist's chair. | Source

Chairs are so underrated, aren’t they? They play such an important role in our lives and yet we don’t often think about them much. It’s just something that’s there to be used. But the truth is that a chair can make all the difference, especially if you spend all day (or night) on the computer. That's why I’m going to focus on the office chair, here.

We use office chairs every day at work, at home in the study (especially if you work from home), the internet cafe (what? people still use those?), the library . . . the list goes on.

Office chairs are great because they not only provide comfort, but they also allow for more mobility. You need never get up ever again. Moving the chair around is also a great way to exercise your legs and core, and it's fun too! And they can rotate a full 360 degrees; you do know how much fun it is to spin around for hours in an office chair, right?

But not all office chairs are the same. They come in a variety of different styles, materials, build quality, and even colours—although the majority of these seems to be different shades of black or blue. The last thing you want to do is spend a lot of money on a chair only to find out that it isn’t the right one for you.

Different Kinds of Office Chairs

Do you want to buy a typist’s chair, a midback, or a highback? these are the three main types of office chairs, but they do come in all shapes and sizes.

Typist's Chair

A typist’s chair usually has the standard five-point base with casters, and a small padded seat; usually comes with some basic features like height adjustment, and will have a small backrest.

A typist’s chair doesn’t give the back much support and it can be hell sitting on it for long periods of time. I personally have to use cushions to sit on, and pillows to lend more back support. So unless you’re small, have one of those lumbar support products, or happen to be a masochist who enjoys lower back pain, stiff shoulders, and neck tension, don’t go for one of these. Not recommended in my experience.

Midback Chair

A midback will not only have a larger backrest that will come up to about the shoulders or the neck at most, but might also have a wider base, and more sophisticated features in addition to height adjustment, like controlling whether the chair is in a fixed position or is free floating so you can recline a bit. You might also be able to control how far forward the chair’s backrest comes.

Highback Chair

A highback will have all of the above but the backrest will be higher up and support the head and neck. The backrest may be in one piece or it may have a separate but connected headrest, sort of like one of those old barber’s chairs from the mid 20th century, that can often be found in tattoo parlours nowadays instead.

Features
Typist's Chair
Midback Chair
Highback Chair
arm rests
yes, usually
yes, usually
yes, usually
spine
yes
yes, usually
yes, usually
height control
yes
yes
yes
reclining lock mechanism
no
varies
varies
position adjustment
no
varies
varies
leather material
no
varies
varies
five point base
yes
yes
yes
massage feature
no
varies
varies
Click thumbnail to view full-size
The spine or backbone of the chair I'm on about is necessary for structural integrity.Chair without a spine or backbone. You should avoid this.The locking device.
The spine or backbone of the chair I'm on about is necessary for structural integrity.
The spine or backbone of the chair I'm on about is necessary for structural integrity. | Source
Chair without a spine or backbone. You should avoid this.
Chair without a spine or backbone. You should avoid this. | Source
The locking device.
The locking device. | Source

Things to Consider Before Buying an Office Chair

A midback or a highback is probably what you want, but there are some crucial things you need to have a look at before buying.

What material is it made of?

Is it leather, imitation leather, or a fabric of some sort? Leather might seem nice, but there are some things you might want to think about. They’re generally easier to wipe down and clean, but you will boil and sweat a lot in Summer sitting in them. They don’t breathe so well. It can also be quite costly to repair leather if it tears.

I personally don’t like how you slip and slide around a lot in leather chairs. And they make embarrassing noises when you shift around in them. A bit nit-picky on the last bits, but some things to consider. Some chairs have a thin backrest with holes in it, almost like mesh, for more breathability and comfort in Summer. Just don’t buy them if you plan on using them in colder, air-conditioned environments unless you like getting a chill wind up the back of your shirt.

Does it have armrests?

This is down to personal preference. Do you want armrests or not? I tend to prefer them because it gives a chair a sense of “wholeness” or more stability. They say you shouldn’t rest your arms on the armrests while typing at a keyboard, but I’m probably guilty of this. The worst that can happen is you chafe your elbows; just wear a jersey or look out for a chair that has padded armrests. Or buy some, even.

Also check to see if the armrests are removable or fixed, because it’s nice to have a choice. But a chair must NOT rely on armrests for complete structural integrity. Don’t buy a chair that has the backrest “connected” to the base via the armrests, and not a spine, so it basically floats. That is shoddy build quality and you’ll regret making the purchase. That and if you disconnect the armrests, you lose the backrest of the chair as well, leaving you with only a seat and no back support.

Does it have a spine or backbone of some sort?

You’ll see chairs that have like a corrugated plastic looking thing, that looks like something out of an Alien or Matrix film, that goes up the back of the chair and connects the base/seat to the backrest of the chair. Some of them might have a bare metal one instead.

Always make sure the office chair you intend to buy has one of these. Some have hidden or internal spines that go on the inside of the backrest of the chair. Others will have a visible or external spine that you can see on the outside going from the seat and connecting to the backrest of the chair.

Can it shift positions?

Is there a feature that allows you to lock the chair in a forward position, and unlock the chair so that it is free to recline (likely underneath the seat)? Make sure the bolt is unlikely to jump out when sitting forward and hurl you out of your chair. If it is a bolt mechanism that moves in and out to secure the chair, see that it is long enough. If it’s too short or only just making it through to the other side, then consider another chair.

Is there a height-adjustment lever?

This is usually found underneath the seat, connected to the base. Pushing down on it will lower the chair when you are seated. Pulling it up towards you when you are out of your chair will raise the chair.

Can you control the back support?

Is there a feature which allows you to control how far forward the backrest of the seat is? It will either be a lever or a dial of some sort that when turned, the backrest of the chair comes forward, giving you proper back support. Or if you want a loose position, you turn the dial or device in the opposite direction, thereby making the distance or angle between the top of the backrest of the chair and the front edge of the seat greater.

Does it have a five-point base?

The chair should have a five-point base, each with a caster on the end, usually protected by a guard or sort, kind of like a mudflap on a car. This base can appear to be a plastic-like material, but the very expensive chairs will have metal, instead. The casters should also be big enough so they can travel across floorboards and carpets easily. Casters that are going to catch on everything, or a base that isn't stable enough—to the extent that you fall out of your chair, or worse the chair breaks—are no good.

Does it have a massage feature?

This last one is purely indulgent. Does it have a massage feature, with different settings to increase intensity? This isn't really necessary for an office chair, but you may consider it. Note, however, that it will set you back a bit more, not to mention that this would probably be the first thing on the chair to go wrong.

A midback chair with no headrest.
A midback chair with no headrest. | Source

If you’ve considered all these points and taken a good look at a chair, then you can try it out and see how comfortable it is. By having all of these features above installed, the office chair is also highly customizable—so if it isn’t comfortable when you first try it, you can fiddle around until it is comfortable for you. That’s not to say that any office chair will do. No. There’s much more to it than that.

Generally, you get what you pay for. If you pay less, you’ll get less in the way of features, and probably lower build quality and comfort. This is fine if you’re looking to stack the office cubicles with chairs for your employees, or the boardroom, which you only inhabit every now and again if you’re a top-level executive type with a penchant for golf.

If you’re a distinguished, discerning executive or manager, or even a self-employed businessperson, and you're willing to pay a higher price for a better seating experience, then do it. In the long run, it’s worth the money to ensure proper back support and good health in the years to come. You’ll save yourself back pain, tension in the shoulders and neck, and money (what with not having to visit the doctor, surgeon, chiropractor, or a masseuse—unless you want to, that is).

Which sort of office chair do your prefer?

See results

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2012 Anti-Valentine

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