If you are like the majority of Americans, you spend about eight hours a day sitting in the same office chair. While you might be all that picky in other areas of your life, you are going to want to be particular when it comes to choosing the best office chair. If you settle for any old chair, it won’t take long before you start to feel the difference. It might begin with a twinge in your lower back and lead to bad posture and spine problems that keep you awake at night. Ultimately, the often-overlooked office chair might just be the most important piece of furniture you buy.
When shopping for the perfect chair there are a lot of different features to consider. Typically, consumers will look for a chair that offers their preferred amount of cushioning and lumbar support. These are certainly important factors, but you don’t want to ignore the importance of armrests. Having your chair and armrests at the right height will put your hands and wrists at the ideal angle for typing. In addition, choosing the right armrest material and style can prolong the life of your chair and protect your investment. Before you purchase your next office chair, here are some important topics to consider:
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What are Office Chair Armrests?
Office chair armrests provide place for you to rest your forearms and relieve strain on your shoulders and wrists. Perhaps what is even more important is what armrest are not meant to be. If you are resting your elbows or forearms on the armrests while you are typing and working, then you need to adjust your chair. Armrests are not meant to prop your arms up as you work. They are simply there to provide a resting place.
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What to Consider When Shopping for Chairs with Armrests
Don’t make the mistake of overlooking armrests as you are shopping for the perfect office chair. Here are some factors to consider as you research options:
- How much time do you spend in your office chair? There are plenty of office chairs designs that don’t incorporate armrests or use fixed armrests. If you spend the majority of your day in your chair, then you will want to look for more adjustable options.
- What is your budget? Typically, the more adjustable the chair, the higher the price tag. Just keep in mind that you are investing in more than just a chair. The right choice can significantly improve and protect your health.
- Is the chair endorsed by a reputable organization? Many office chair models will prominently use the word ergonomic in their product descriptions, but chairs with an endorsement from organizations like the American Physical Therapy Association mean a lot more. These organizations thoroughly test products before offering their approval. Speaking to an expert first is always a good option.
- What types of materials were used to construct the armrests? Padded leather offers a luxurious option, but are likely to not hold up. Other synthetic materials also offer their own list of benefits. You will want to consider just how much wear and tear you might be putting your chair through on a regular basis.
What are Desk Chair Armrests Made Of?
Desk chair armrests are typically made from durable materials. Hard plastic, polyurethane, hardwoods and steel are the most common. Choosing the right option can depend on your budget and your personal comfort preferences. If you work in a demanding environment, plastic or metal might be the perfect choice to withstand some bumps and continue to look like new. Many armrests that are made with polyurethane can very in softness, creating a durable and comfortable seating option. Choosing an armrest that has leather padding will be softer to the touch, but may not hold up as long as new synthetics.
Why are Office Chair Armrests Important?
Working for hours at a time at the wrong angle could result in repetitive stress injuries such as carpal tunnel syndrome. It might be surprising, but the wrong armrests could also lead to serious neck and shoulder issues. Armrests help ensure that you are able to achieve the perfect position to prevent injuries and allow you to work comfortably for hours at a time.
One of the disadvantages of having an office chair with armrests is that they can prevent you from getting close enough to your desk. You may end up leaning forward to reach the keyboard, which can result in back pain over time. Be on the lookout for chairs that offer armrests that will go low enough to accommodate your desk height. Typically, armrests that are 10 inches or less are considered “short” and will allow you to sit closer to your desk for better posture.
Different Styles of Armrests
T-Arm: A T-arm attaches under the seat of the chair and features a post that runs perpendicular to the seat. The actual armrest sits on top of the post and forms a T shape. This style can typically be raised and lowered in order to find the ideal height for you and your workstation.
Loop Arm: Instead of an open T shape, loop armrests form a complete circle. These armrests can be fixed or adjustable. The main advantage is that they can provide additional support to rest your arm as you recline back in the chair. Although some users simply prefer the looks of a loop design.
Fixed Armrests: If you don’t spend that much time in your office chair, you may feel comfortable purchasing a model with fixed armrests. Just keep in mind that you won’t be able to make any adjustments, so try and test drive different options before you make a final purchase. Fixed armrests are usually found on budget chairs and executive style leather chairs.
Types of Arm Adjustments
Height Adjustable: At the very least, most people will want a chair that comes with height adjustable armrests. This feature will allow you to customize your chair in order to achieve the perfect position. While it might sound counter intuitive, your forearms should not actually sit on the armrests while you are typing. In addition, you want the chair at the right height so that your wrists don’t rest on the edge of the desk of the keyboard. This is essential to preventing discomfort.
Width Adjustable: Some office chairs also offer armrests that can be moved closer or further away from your body. This provide just another way to create individualized comfort that best suits your body size.
Pivot and 360 Rotation: Highly armrests will have the ability to slide forward/backward and inward/outward. The arm pads may also spin 360 degrees, or rotate slightly in or out.
How to Know if Your Armrests are at the Incorrect Height
A sure sign that your armrests are too low is if your wrists are resting on the keyboard or if your arms are actually sitting on the armrests while you work. Armrests are there for comfort and convenience, but you shouldn’t be using them all day. If you are, there is a good chance that you are also experiencing back, wrist and shoulder pain.
If you chair armrests are too high, you will begin to experience inflammation on the inner elbow. This commonly referred to as Golfer’s elbow and can become quite uncomfortable.
When your armrests are at the perfect height, you can easily reach the keyboard and your shoulders are relaxed and sitting comfortably in their sockets. None of your muscles or joints should feel tense or strained as you work.
How to Find the Perfect Chair Height
Since the ideal armrest height depends in large part on height of your chair, it is important to take a few measurements and make sure that your chair can accommodate your specific needs. To test your chair height, stand in front of the chair. The highest point of the seat cushion should fall just below your knee cap. If this isn’t the case, be sure to make adjustments.
At this height, you should be able to comfortably sit with your feet on the floor and create a 90° angle with your elbows. It is good to have enough room to move your legs around under the desk, but beware of sitting with your legs crossed. This can build pressure in your veins or weaken them, which results in spider and varicose veins.
When to Adjust Your Work Station
If you have measured your chair height, but you can’t plant your feet on the ground or your arms are at the wrong angle, you might have to make some adjustments to your desk. Typically, the problem occurs when the desk is too short and there isn’t adequate room for your legs. In this case, you can purchase some simple desk risers that can be attached to the legs of your desk.
For those who are sitting with only their toes touching the floor, the solution is a footrest. Any old box will do, but feel free to get fancy and find something a little more stylish.
Common Causes of Armrest Wear and Tear
Just like any other component of your office chair, the armrests are subject to wear and tear. The quality of the materials and craftsmanship that have gone into constructing your chair play a big role in how long it will last and continue to provide optimal performance. If your adjustable armrests have been poorly constructed, they can become loose and fail to stay in place. Having to constantly tighten and fidget with your armrests can quickly become frustrating.
Exposure To Direct Sunlight
In addition, exposure to direct sunlight can cause a variety of problems. UV rays will cause plastic, leather and other materials to fade over time. Sunlight can also cause plastic and other synthetic materials to become dry brittle and more likely to crack. To keep your chair looking like new, try to avoid placing it directly in front of a window.
Bumping Arms Into Desk
If you have a chair that isn’t the right height for your workstation, you will find that your armrests are constantly bumping into your desk. This can cause all sorts of damage. While plastic armrests may simply suffer a few scratches, leather and other upholstered models can become torn need to be replaced.
Most people tend to think about back support when it comes to office chairs, but the chair’s armrests are also an important factor to consider. In fact, your shoulder and back pain could have little to do with the lumbar support and actually be the result of armrests that are at the wrong height. In addition, while chairs with fixed armrests may be more affordable, remember to keep in mind how much time you will be spending in your office chair. For those who put in a good eight hours a day, investing in a highly adjustable chair that fits your workstation will be well worth the money.