Workplace injuries are costly to employers and painful for employees. But one type of injury, in particular, is entirely avoidable.

Office workers, call center employees, and others are expected to sit for hours at their desks. The injuries caused by uncomfortable chairs that offer poor support can last a lifetime for these workers. Additionally, it isn’t just the threat of injury that makes these desk chairs an issue. They can also affect worker productivity.

An ergonomic chair can prevent both injuries and this lack of productivity. In fact, studies suggest that a properly adjusted ergonomic chair fitted correctly to your workers can increase productivity by as much as 17.5%. Discomfort and the back pain that is often the result of sitting in an uncomfortable chair for long periods make it difficult to focus on anything else, especially work.

Investing in a well-made, ergonomically sound chair is a positive move for both employers and workers. Here are some things you need to consider before you buy.

Adjustability

A good ergonomic chair should be adjustable in several key areas. You should be able to slide the backrest up or down to allow the lumbar curve on the chair’s backrest to fit correctly against the curve of your lower back. Occasionally chairs will offer adjustable lumbar support instead of a moveable backrest.

You should also be able to recline your chair to allow you to shift positions for comfort occasionally. This also better supports your upper body and relieves the pressure on your lower back. Ideally, the chair should have a supported recline angle of 110 to 130 degrees, as this decreases the stress on your discs.

Finally, a back-tilt tension adjustment knob on a chair allows you to change the amount of force required to recline a chair.

Height

The height of an ergonomic chair is also critical to its usefulness in preventing discomfort and injury. When you are sitting in the chair, your feet should be flat to the floor or on a footrest, and your thighs should be parallel to the ground. A chair that is too low, meaning that your knees are higher than your hips when you sit on it, can result in your weight shifting back and on to the bones where you sit. A chair that is too high puts pressure on the knees and can affect blood circulation.

Seat Pan

The seat pan should be slightly wider than the user and deep enough to support most of the upper leg. It should not be so long that it touches the back of the knees or prevents you from reaching the lumbar support. Many well-made ergonomic chairs allow you to adjust both the seat pan depth and height to suit you.

Lumbar Support

We have a natural tendency to want to slouch or lean in office chairs which can contribute to back problems. Lumbar supports help prevent this and the damage it can do to our spines. They fill in the gap between our lumbar spine and the seat and keep the ears, shoulders and hips in alignment.

The best kind of lumbar support is fully adjustable as it allows chairs to be fit to individual users. However, if you find a chair that fits the curve of your lower back correctly, and you are the only one likely to use the chair, then fixed lumbar support is fine.

Lumbar rolls or cushions can also provide some support for chairs that lack any fixed or moveable accommodation for the lumbar spine.

Seat Back

Ideally, the back of the seat should fit you perfectly, ending just above the shoulders. Some chairs offer the option of an adjustable seat back height. However, this option is still relatively rare. Instead, many seats have an oversized chair back that will accommodate the majority of people. To ensure it will work for you, test it out to confirm that it provides the right support in the places where you need support.

Armrests

Armrests serve an essential role in reducing the load on our backs when we sit by supporting our arms. On an ergonomic desk chair, armrests should be height adjustable to between 7” and just over 10”. This allows you to move your elbows freely, but also support your forearms when you are working. Some armrests can pivot when not in use so you can move them out of the way.

Armrests should also be the proper width and allow you to rest your forearms easily on them without bending your shoulders inward or your arms outward to reach them.

Material

Hard surface seats can quickly become uncomfortable, particularly for workers tied to desks for long periods. Instead, consider seats with enough padding to be comfortable, and seats that are made with a breathable fabric. While vinyl coverings are easier to clean, they tend to be less breathable, and moisture can quickly accumulate. Cloth coverings are more breathable, however they too can collect some moisture and should be regularly cleaned.

Mobility

Ideally, your seat should allow you to easily swivel to different positions at your workstation without having to get up or change position. It should also have casters, wheels or slides that allow you to glide to different areas in your workstation easily. Look for chairs that have a five-spoke base, as the standard four-spoke bases tend to tip over more easily.

Headrest

A headrest provides support for your head and can reduce the weight your neck must support. If you have neck issues, you should strongly consider buying a chair with a headrest, but ensure it is at the right height. If it sits too high and bends your neck forward or too low so that it is of little use, it can cause additional problems.

Work In Comfort

Selecting the best ergonomic chair for you requires a bit of an investment of time, but the payoff can be enormous in terms of your health and productivity.