THE BLOG

The Shocking Truth About Ergonomic Chairs

30/07/2015 20:35 BST | Updated 30/07/2016 10:59 BST

Cynical click-bait headline aside, I'll cut to the chase, they don't work. There, I said it.

But let's look at why that is, there are three main reasons:

  1. You'll 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 previous 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?

Alexander Technique and ergonomic chairs

              Image used with permission Baloo, Rex May

Frankly, a piano stool is as ergonomic as a chair needs to be. You don't see piano players on stage, or at home, with fancy ergonomic chairs. In fact, I'm sat on a piano stool as I'm writing this! Yes a piano player tends to be more dynamic in their movement, but it's their mental engagement rather than the physicality you could learn a little something from.

If you redefine sitting as standing on your bottom then you can see why a firm flat surface is all that is required, and I promise to write more on the specifics of sitting in a later blog post.

When you consider the cost of ergonomic chairs, and they don't come cheap, it seems strange to me to want to spend all that money when an Alexander Technique teacher can teach you to sit well in any chair, freeing you to sit anywhere with ease and poise, for less! But that's just me. I guess it's usually employers who are forking out for expensive furniture, but given my points above, if you are an employer, it might be more cost effective to educate your staff rather than the furniture.

I was talking to a client the other day who has back pain issues, and she was telling me a story of how when a friend had offered her a chair and asked which one she'd like. She replied "It's not the chair, but how you sit in it". Couldn't have put it better myself!

Getting slightly away from my above points, have you noticed that schools don't have ergonomic chairs? Well, this is actually a very sorry state of affairs, because children are not at "work" they're not covered by Occupational Health and Safety rules. School chairs are frequently designed to slope backwards so that they stack more easily. What's so bad about this? If the surface you're sat on slopes backwards, your pelvis will naturally want to tilt back, causing your lower back to round resulting in slouching. I'll leave the rest to your imagination. It's actually an anti-ergonomic chair! So much so that teachers, who are at work, are advised not to sit on them by Occupational Health and Safety.

Alexander Technique teacher Richard Brennan has started a petition to ban backwards sloping chairs, please sign it if you are concerned about your child's welfare. With more and more careers being sedentary our kids need all the help they can get before they reach the workplace with all the demands on the body that creates.

"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.

This blog was originally posted here, where I also talk about my personal experience of some well known ergonomic chairs, and surprisingly, find one I actually like!

The Alexander Technique has been clinically proven for back pain via an NHS funded, gold standard randomised trial. It was performed by Southampton University and their results were published in the British Medical Journal.

World wide resource for the Society of Teachers of The Alexander Technique: www.stat.org.uk