Cynical click-bait headline aside, I'll cut to the chase, they don't work. There, I said it.
Used with permission Baloo -Rex May
But let's look at why that is, there are 3 main reasons:
1. You will think that it's supposed to take responsibility for you. This is a commonly held view, and it seems the more expensive the chair is, the more likely you will fall into this trap. Harking back to my first ever blog, you have to remember that a chair is an inanimate object, it is incapable of "doing" anything, let alone taking responsibility for you. For sure, a good ergonomic chair will provide what we call in the Alexander Technique a "mechanical advantage", but it wont be providing any guarantees. You need to provide your own guarantees.
2. There's a strong chance that you will adjust it to your current conception of comfort or habitual use, i.e. to support your current levels of collapse and effectively ingraining them further.
3. This is probably the most pernicious of the three, you'll bring your old habits to it. Even if the chair is set up perfectly to offer you the greatest mechanical advantage, the habitual way you use yourself will fight against this advantage. Have you ever felt that a well set up ergonomic chair leaves you feeling more tired than a regular chair?
Let's face it, if ergonomic chairs were the answer no one would have back pain, and only ergonomic chairs would exist. And if you can make good use of an ergonomic chair, you probably don't need one!
It may seem a little unfair to single out one particular chair , but I do so partly from my personal experience and partly because it coincidently exhibits a point I've made a few times previously. They're also extremely common, certainly across the Square Mile (London's financial district) where I worked for many years as an IT consultant for a number of investment banks. For me, the "Aeron" style chair fails simply because the surface on which you sit is unstable. To repeat my mantra, "if you can stand on it, you can sit on it", this is clearly not a surface on which you could stably stand, being a stretchy woven fabric. It's like trying to stand on a trampoline, it provides little more support for your sit bones than a sofa. Maybe it's my narrow definition of what sitting is, standing on your sit bones, but I found that the Aeron strongly encourages a collapse into the back rest. That might be fine for resting/reclining, but aren't these supposed to be work chairs? As a reminder, the roots of your arms are in your back, you don't want to loose that support when you are typing away at your keyboard, it invariably leads to tense shoulders and potential repetitive strain injury.
For the sake of fairness I'll mention another ergonomic chair that I've had plenty of experience with in the past. Kneel on chairs do encourage an alignment of the spine, but they leave you somewhat immobile, and freedom to move is an essential aspect of using yourself well. I find that after a few minutes I feel locked in place and rigid, and that always leads to tension and feels more tiring in the long run than sitting on a simple flat surface. I also found it reduced the blood flow through my legs, causing discomfort.
Although it should be obvious by now that any flat surface will suffice for standing on your bottom (yes I will keep hammering home my definition of sitting), there is actually one style of ergonomic chair that I do quite like. Under the assumption that you are not expecting it to take responsibility for you, I find saddle chairs to be very comfortable, and ironically, it's not a surface you can stand on easily! It looks like there's an exception to every rule, but the sit bones are still well supported.
When you consider the cost of ergonomic chairs, and they don't come cheap, it is far better value, and cheaper than many ergonomic chairs, to learn to how to use a simple chair,
freeing you to sit anywhere with ease and poise.
"No, what we need to do is not to educate our school furniture, but to educate our children. Give a child the ability to adapt himself within reasonable limits to his environment, and he will not suffer discomfort, nor develop bad physical habits, whatever chair or form you give him to sit upon" - F.M. Alexander, Man's Supreme Inheritance.
Come and find out if the Alexander Technique is the solution you were looking for. You've got nothing to lose but your pain!
Please feel free to contact me for a no obligation chat to see how the Alexander Technique can help you too.
Write a comment
Imogen Ragone (Thursday, 05 February 2015 13:58)
Adrian, I couldn't agree more. I'm curious about the saddle chair - I've never tried that.
I wonder what you think about chairs (or stools) that slant slightly forwards, rather than the typical slope that tilts backwards and encourages more of a slump. I've currently been exploring a very basic stool that is a little higher than a normal chair and has a slight slant forward and down. It seems to help me allow space in my hip joints, and encourages bending from there, and it is relatively easy to be upright without strain. It does not, however, conform to your "if you can stand on it, you can sit on it" rule - though as with the saddle chair, maybe it's another exception.
Wendy Coblentz (Thursday, 05 February 2015 22:55)
Adrian, I have the Freedom stool by Humanscale (I don't know if mine is made anymore) and I like it a lot. I alternate this with the infamous Aeron chair, knowing it's limitations, but using the Alexander Tru Comfort back support without the seat part. I'm not sure this is available anymore.
adrianfarrell (Friday, 06 February 2015 14:33)
Freedom Stools look quite good Wendy, I just looked them up, I think I'd be happy with one of those. I'm typing this sat on an old dining room chair that has seen better days, I'd gladly replace it with A Freedom Stool.
adrianfarrell (Friday, 06 February 2015 17:52)
After reading the blog a friend sent me a link to this:
It does look like it will support the sit bones well, I like it.
But for less than the price of this chair I can teach you to sit well on any chair and improve your general well being.
Which do you think is a better investment?
Karen (Monday, 09 February 2015 18:40)
Hi Adrian.....Have you heard of the "Wave Stool" I believe it's inspired by the Alexander Technique. I would be interested to know your thoughts, the website is posture-chair.co.uk I've been a pupil for many years and enjoy reading your blogs, thanks for taking the time to write them.
Claire Coveney (Wednesday, 11 February 2015 10:59)
Great article Adrian. I have found that I have stolen your phrase "standing on your sit bones" a few times (hope you don't mind).
I like the wave stool, we had one on our teacher training course and I found it very useful to let go of my legs in sitting. Something that at the time I believed was necessary to hold me up and I see this often in my pupils. Now my favoured chair is a plain old wooden flat seated chair or stool that can be picked up from a secondhand shop or even Ikea for a fraction of the cost. Alexander lessons are by far a better investment.
adrianfarrell (Wednesday, 11 February 2015 21:37)
Karen, yes, I have tried a Wave stool, I found it very comfortable. But then again, I find a simple stool comfortable. I think you can tell from my blogs I'm not so interested in the furniture as long as it doesn't encourage poor use of ourselves, it's really what we bring to it that matters.
Thank you for reading, I'm glad you enjoy my blogs, it means a lot.
adrianfarrell (Wednesday, 11 February 2015 21:40)
Hi Claire, feel free to steal, we all do from each other :)
Sometimes I wonder if my AT training was all about sitting on Ikea stools ;)
Anne Wrigley (Thursday, 07 July 2016)
I bought a wave stool which as you probably know, is made to suit your individual height. This was recommended by my Alexander teacher. I'd tried a wave stool in her practice room and liked it. Whilst it does keep your back constantly mobile, automatically making all those minor adjustments according to changing posture, the seat itself is very hard. It seems to be nothing more than a flat disc of wood (not moulded to the shape of the bottom) covered by a thin layer of foam and then lined with the covering material. It also slopes forward. I found that the forward slope of the seat and the gravity that constantly being on a slope applies (even with your feet resting on the floor), combined with the slightly wider leg gait necessary because the rocker comes to a point in the front with your feet either side, together with the hardness of the seat, put constant pressure on the inner side of the front of my ischal tuborosities (sit bones). As a result I developed Ischial bursitis (one of the causes of which is regular or prolonged sitting on a hard surface - I used it as a computer chair). Now I can't sit down on any chair without pain and wish I'd never bought the wave stool!!! I did at one point try putting one or two cushions on it to make the seat softer but of course this ajusted the height so that my feet no longer comfortably rested on the floor. This stool, in my opinion, seems to focus on the health of the back whilst ignoring possible effects on other parts of the body. I also expierienced neck pain whilst using it at a computer. Now that I'm obliged to use a standing work station, the neck pain has completely gone.
Stephen (Thursday, 28 July 2016 10:01)
The problem in many work places these days is that health and safety often makes it impossible (or very difficult) to get anything other than the officially approved chair. Luckily I don't work in such environments any more. Most coffee shops have stools or old fashioned wooden chairs so they're a great place to work
Lorenzo Harper (Saturday, 17 December 2016 12:37)
I love all your posts, definitely this post too. You are coming out with different posts day by day. The way of endeavoring the info is really interesting and cool. I would say health and safety plays an important role in our life. It's good to choose best bungee chairs and other top chairs for everyone.
Fernando R. (Wednesday, 28 December 2016 18:16)
Not completely agree with your version about the Aeron. As everything, if you use on the right way it will work. I use for long periods that chair (sometimes many hours without standing 5-8) and no problems on my back. I have to say that I corrected myself seating on that chair by always keeping my back on the backrest and for that it's important to have the screen in a good high level to keep your position and also found essential to have one of the feet support to keep moving your legs and uncles. The Aeron is great, to say that it was a time that the Pneumatic Cylinder was badly designed but I think they fixed after few years not to be wobbly and if you want to make it more stable simply use a little flat cushion (maybe latex one) to have little more support. Even days of 18 hours retouching pictures I can stand and walk without pain, not a thing that will happened if I do that on a hard surface, stable or not. Also, Aeron chair versions have the one that you can move the armrest and adjust in order to rest properly while you are typing and another essential is the common bad habit of just not increasing font size on the screen that it's so easy so people tend to force the eyes and position forward to reed. Got more points but good enough for now.
Adrian Farrell MSTAT (Friday, 06 January 2017 16:04)
Fernando, maybe it's my narrow definition of what sitting actually is which you can read about in this post:
What you're doing in the Aeron chair is reclining, not sitting, and comes with other issues around being sedentry. And I don't doubt that you don't have the skill to sit well at present, but that's another issue. 18 hours is a long time to be sedentary, I would need to get up and walk around periodically to cope with that, even if reclining! Good to hear you're pain free all the same.
Allan (Monday, 15 May 2017 03:31)
Hi Adrian. I need something to sit in order to work for 8 hours daily in my computer desk. It's a regular desk, around 75 cm high. I put my monitor on its edge and the keyboard in front of me, on top of the same surface. Monitor height is adjustable and I have space before the keyboard to rest my forearms. The only thing missing is the sitting really. Should I go with a saddle chair/stool? Won't I be tired after 1 hour, maybe start to losing focus on my work? Thanks!
Adrian Farrell MSTAT (Monday, 15 May 2017 15:41)
Thanks for your question.
I'd question the wisdom of sitting for so long without breaks even if you have mastered the art of sitting well. You'll probably lose focus after an hour of mental activity anyway regardless of the chair.
See if you can find ways to take natural breaks like going to get a drink (hydration is important in our ability to focus after all), or make any phone calls standing up, preferably with a hands free kit so you can pace around your desk.
I do like the saddle chair but I'd recommend trying one in a shop to see how you like it. You can also get them with back rests so you can recline a bit to give yourself a rest from time to time.
niloy (Friday, 15 December 2017 17:37)
When you drive or sit all day, lower lumbar cushions, or pillows are excellent for having you sit straight with better posture to eliminate pain.this is a wonderful article about kneeling chair. hope it will very much helpful for viewers.
Wish you good luck. We hope you will find the right device specific to your pain needs by reading more here: http://www.furnishingsgear.com/best-kneeling-chair-review-in-2017/ . Live healthy and be pain free.
John J Millis (Saturday, 24 March 2018 14:32)
Thanks for your great review. This post may help you - http://hqchairs.com/useful-guide-fix-loose-chair-legs/
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Jason Sanders (Tuesday, 28 August 2018 10:22)
My favourite chair to sit on of all time would be a mahogany chair made by my grandfather, which had a flat seat carved a bit to mould to the buttocks, horizontally aligned (no forward or backward slope), with a nice upright hooped back, with spindles. The back was almost sloping inwards. It was probably a copy of some old fashioned chair, and it's firmness was so good...I feel sure my pelvic muscles can relax better on a hard surface.
Matija (Tuesday, 18 December 2018 12:31)
When speaking about comfort in the workplace, ergonomic designs must be considered. With right chair we can help mitigate health risks such as carpal tunnel syndrome; lower back pain; muscle tension and fatigue.
Alice (Tuesday, 03 September 2019 12:29)
I sit on those flat balance discs at work for a change in pace. Can't have a stability ball in my staid office, but the disc causes the same improvement in posture.
Jon Muller (Wednesday, 15 January 2020 23:12)
To me, everything starts with the proper posture. An ergo chair or an ergo desk can be great attributes to your office space. These can represent truly valuable assets to your office and greatly improve your life. I highly recommend talking to an expert about introducing these simple changes to your current life/work habits. http://ergonomictrends.com/bad-computer-posture-mistakes/
Lisa (Monday, 23 March 2020 04:02)
I have developed ischial bursitis in the past year and cannot sit in my “ergonomic “ chair any longer, not even for a short time. I am scouting for a good chair that will position me well that I can tolerate sitting in. In addition to the IB, I have sciatica, “swayback”, and an L5-S1 disc bulge. What’s more, I am very short, and I cannot find a chair that has a short enough seat that my back reaches the lumbar supports while my feet are on the ground properly. If you have a suggestion, I’m all ears. My job is very demanding and I often sit for long periods before I realize I haven’t gotten up. Thanks for the article.
Elena Gavriilidou (Thursday, 16 April 2020 15:56)
Which chair is the best for my 7 year old, should I invest in a moll ergonomic chair? https://moll-funktion.com/en/products/maximo/
Any suggestions for kids chairs?
Thank you for your help!
Adrian Farrell MSTAT (Thursday, 16 April 2020 16:19)
There's certainly nothing wrong with Moll Maximo, and given that it can be adjusted as your child grows you'll get years of use out of it.
Kostas (Sunday, 22 November 2020 23:48)
This was an interesting and thought-provoking article.
I was thinking about the sit bones too lately, related to office chairs and bicycle chairs.
Honestly, I think the entire seat industry has those bones ignored.
I would expect all seats to not hug your entire bottom, but rather focus on these bones only.
I am spending whole days lately, thinking which chair I should buy for my 8-hour work as a programmer.
I started from gaming chairs because the where cheaper.
One brand specifically (anda seat) was getting tons of great user comments about comfort and quality and seemed to provide a somewhat satisfying amount of ergonomic features.
Some fanatic coworkers of mine pushed me towards office and ergonomic chairs, but I found out that most of there chairs didn't even have adjustable armrests and, when they did, the price was astronomical.
After a lot of searching and torture, the best options I could find where these:
Anda Seat Bat Black (the back and neck support are height-adjustable pillows, but I am afraid that the material will be hot during the summer and I am a bit picky about that):
Anda Seat Chair Ad18 T Pro (same as the above, but non-adjustable back pillow, which is pretty scary, and better seat material that doesn't trigger sweating):
This ergonomic chair (pretty adjustable in most aspects, but not so much on the head-rest. Also the price is higher and I have no user reviews to evaluate the chair):
So, my questions (IF you care to help me out a bit) are:
Can a gaming chair like the above be good for my body? I certainly don't see anyone complaing about them. On the contrary. It seems that the company tried to make their gaming chairs somewhat ergonomic. Also, I am not sure how hard their surface is. I am not sure if they are like a sofa, but one overweight user was nagging about the first chair being too hard, so probably it is not sucking you in it. Other than that, I am a bit split between the "fabric without adjustable back pillow" and the "PVC leather with adjustable back pillow".
Do you think the ergonomic one (#3) can have more value? It is certainly more adjustable in some aspects, but I have doubts about the quality, the looks (based on the photos), the price, and the comfort.
Would you like the tell me which of the three you would choose? Probably this is a tough choice (it is certainly more for me - I am a very indecisive person when it comes to shopping and I cannot even test the chairs myself to get a better idea), but I am hoping for some input that might help me decide. Most likely, it would be almost the same with any of those, although the non-adjustable back-pillow of the #2 kinda scares me. But maybe that can be fixed somehow too, with some MacGuver trick...
Of course, one correct view on the matter is that the seat should be a bit tough, in order to make you stand up once in a while, but I doubt any of the above chairs try to do that anyway. The most probable thing is that they try to be soft and comfortable but they fail, especially the 3rd one (I have some suspicions about this but not anything solid).
And I could, in theory, take short breaks away from the chair with either of those chairs, so maybe either of them would do?
You can remove the brand names and the links if you don't want them published.
And sorry for the tough and probably objective questions.
Kostas (Monday, 23 November 2020 23:38)
Correction: At the end I meant:
"And sorry for the tough questions that require subjective answers."
Certainly, sitting on the chair would give me a better idea, but we are on a somewhat-full lockdown here and that seems impossible to happen.
Adrian Farrell MSTAT (Tuesday, 24 November 2020 12:42)
Given that the article is ultimately about the chair not being the most relevant factor in your relationship with it (you are!), I'm concerned you may have missed the point in asking for my preferred chair.
That said, all 3 chairs you've highlighted are perfectly adequate, what you do with them is another matter �
Kostas (Tuesday, 24 November 2020 18:25)
Thanks for the answer.
No, I don't think I've missed the point. I think I am just being desperate when it comes to choosing things... :D
I was aware of this, just I was hoping you might have some info related to the "if you can stand on it, you can sit on it" part, or something similar. I cannot try the chairs before buying them and this is my first chair purchase (I've recently started working from home), so I am a bit clueless on how soft they are. I am afraid that the gaming chairs might be so soft that you cannot stand on them, but probably that is not the case, as you imply too. I was hoping someone might have some experience with them.
I already have a chair with 100% solid surface, no armrests, a short back support surface (it only supports my lower back area), and no wheels, and I was considering using that, but it is not adjustable at all and it didn't seem to fit my comfort requirements so perfectly. But I think I will give it a try, since I don't expect me to be using the armrests and the wheels so much anyway... Despite its lack of features, I feel that its hard surface helps my blood circulation too. And it will certainly make me want to stand up more frequently, which is also good. For my health at least... not sure for the work that I do... :D
At work, I have a quite OK, non-adjustable chair (or I think that only its height can be adjusted), and I tend to switch my sitting posture from good, to bad, to terrible, and back to good again (and all of this without much thinking). Maybe my hard chair at home can eliminate some on my bad postures, by inflicting immediate pain to me when I try to slip into "jelly mode" of "sitting". I will try to experiment on that.
Based on this idea, I was considering the possibility that some chairs might enforce some attitudes or prevent others, without wanting to disagree on the general principle that you mention here, about you being in control of how well the entire thing plays out.
I am also thinking of creating a computer program to notify me when to leave the chair for a short walk, since my work gets me extremely focused. Plus some body exercise, and I think I will be OK.
Thank you for your time and sorry for the headache I might have caused. :)
Feel free to not respond to this message.
I was just sharing my thoughts. ;)
Bob (Thursday, 28 January 2021 08:30)
If ergonomic chairs don’t work how do you explain the thousands upon thousands of people who have purchased the aeron for example and swear by it, citing their previous back pain from sitting in standard chairs is eliminated?? Bit simplistic and sweeping to just say ‘they dont work’ when clearly they do for the majority of people who use them.
Adrian Farrell MSTAT (Thursday, 28 January 2021 10:18)
Can you provide evidence of the thousands who "swear by" their Aeron chair? I've never personally met anyone who does. I accept it is possible that their Aeron chair was less harmful than their previous chair, and that was enough, or that they've just managed not to harm themselves with one, but that's not a claim that the chair "worked".
I stand by all the points I've made in the article.
There's actually no evidence in science for ergonomic furniture, which comes as a surprise to many:
Bon (Friday, 29 January 2021 00:15)
Don’t need to provide evidence. The fact people buy the chair and post on numerous sites how much more comfortable their aeron is compared to other chairs they have tried is evidence enough. The fact they had back pain on non ergonomic chairs that went away when switching to an aeron is proof enough. Especially when your argument is your own word and opinion vs thousands of individuals. Thanks but I’ll go with the ‘evidence’ of those people over your alexander technique any day.
sabrina (Sunday, 28 February 2021 15:14)
when i began working from home almost a year ago, i came home to my lovely wooden table that i use as a desk — a nice flat surface with no intrusive drawers etc to keep me confined to a small space — and one of the wooden chairs it came with (it came with a set of four). there i worked for 8 months focusing on supporting myself and my own posture.
As time went on I developed pains, that surely are from the immense time sitting and likely not “doing the work” but giving into the chair, but my back muscles felt rock hard, very sore, and I was “doing the work” keeping my abs engaged etc to some degree. I had folded up a fabric and sat in it as a cushion and that felt good. Sitting on a more forgiving chair with a proper cushion and a full back rest (not wooden bars) felt luxurious and soothing.
I guess I feel it’s unrealistic to work a job and engage the body’s muscles all the time. Maybe that’s ignorant of me and I had other alignment issues at play (I’m on the shorter side 5’ 2’’ and the table is tall for me as it causes a bend in my wrist (which is very painful overtime!) when typing and if I had a chair that lifted and lowered positioned at a higher setting my feet would not touch the ground. And surely, sitting statically for long periods of time (over 1.5 hrs, I’d say) is not healthy long or short term, or at least not for me. Anddd, if doing so is needed there are adjustments to not only the body but the furniture that can support a more comfortable / engaging situation, I believe.
I’d love a desk that is for both for sitting and standing and that lowers to a less than conventional low to accommodate my relatively smaller frame, a chair that does the same with supportive (not flimsy) seat and back that also have cushions (because bones), a laptop holder that slants the keyboard downward to bring the angle of the wrist closer to 180, and a small ottoman / stool to put my feet on if desired to change my back and leg position and lift my legs a bit to shift blood flow.
In theory, I agree with you (see beginning of my reply and how I entered into this pandemic work from home life at my wooden desk and table), and in experience — working a full-time computer job where I don’t yet have the habits (it takes too much of my bandwidth to focus on my posture and work, as crazy as that may sound) and where I’m sitting for longer than reasonable (my standards), I’ll take the some of the adjustable cushioned chairs, the ergonomic ones, that are supportive while I also working on my own posture.
Leo (Thursday, 25 March 2021 08:47)
For me this article is more opinion based than fact based.
“Let's face it, if ergonomic chairs were the answer no one would have back pain, and only ergonomic chairs would exist.” Ergonomic chairs are quite expensive. Also there is free market where we have a lot of furniture companies with a huge range of prices. So there will never be that only ergonomic chair would rule the market. Basically not everyone can afford it. And if some people can, they still might choose some more fancy looking chair and they have design priorities. Also back pain might be caused not only because of sitting. There is also physical work in this world, there are sport injuries and there are other health issues.
So if saddle chair works for the author of this article, there is no need to say that other chairs are just a crap.
This article like watching trough the key hole and thinking that now I’m so smart because I see everything.
Adrian Farrell MSTAT (Thursday, 25 March 2021)
To a degree you're right, it is an opinion piece, but, I also have some science on my side.
“Ergonomics does not have a firm basis in science”, says Sydney University professor Chris Maher, a leading authority on back pain.
Maeve (Wednesday, 22 March 2023 22:35)
This was in interesting article and I am bumping it as I am taking lessons in the Alexander Technique at present and have bad hip arthritis. Well I purchased the saddle chair and I must have bursitis in my ischial tuberosities also because they ache like mad after a few minutes on the saddle chair. Now I am trying a wedge cushion on a hard chair - still painful but better than the ergonomic office chair I was using.