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How to Choose an Office Chair

By David Wise ⋅ Senior Review Editor
Thursday November 29, 2018

Having a hard time picking out a new office chair? While we can't promise that a new chair will alleviate back pain, newer chairs provide much more support and adjustability, allowing you to achieve a much more comfortable and ergonomic sitting position. However, there is an enormous spread of both features and price when it comes to these products, so you may be wondering if it really is worth it to spend $1000 on a chair or if a $50 economy model is that much worse. Keep reading to find out why these expensive models may be totally worth it for you or if you are going to be more than content with a budget pick. We break down the pros and cons of the different types, as well as what steps to go through when searching for a new car. However, if you are more interested in which model we thought is the absolute best you can get, head on over to our comprehensive Office Chair Review to see which seat reigned supreme.

Step 1: How Much Do You Actually Sit?

The first question that you have to ask yourself when considering a new office chair is how much you actually are going to sit on the chair in a typical day. If you only sit down at your computer for a few minutes to a half-hour each day to catch up on your email or some other quick task, then it honestly doesn't matter all that much which chair you choose. It almost certainly doesn't make a whole lot of sense to spend hundreds of dollars on a chair, as a low-cost office chair, kitchen chair, or even a stool would probably do the job just fine.

Even if you only sit for a small portion of the day, you may want to consider upgrading to a more ergonomic chair if you already have an injury or ailment that is easily exacerbated by sitting, such as chronic back pain or if you are still in recovery/rehabilitation from a neck or back injury or surgery. If that is the case, then you should probably upgrade to at least a mid-level office chair, which unfortunately comes with a not-insignificant increase in price. You probably don't necessarily need to go for a top-of-the-line model if you aren't sitting for that long. However, you should always consult your doctor or physical therapist if you do have an existing neck or back problem, as all injuries are different and you really don't want to take the risk of impeding your recovery process by a chair that does not provide adequate support.

If you are going to be sitting at your desk for a large portion of your workday — 8-10 hours a day, 4-5 days a week — then it is practically imperative that get a dedicated office chair, preferably one of the mid to high-end models.

While you initially might be getting sticker shock at the $500+ price tags of these chairs, there are a few things to keep in mind. These higher-end models usually have a much sturdier build quality, allowing them to last for years and are much more of an investment — a $1000 chair that lasts for a decade seems much more palatable when you think of it as costing a $100 a year or less than $8.50 a month.

Spending the money for one of the chairs from the upper echelon can also be a solid investment in your overall health --preventing long-term sitting injuries — and productivity. We tested out some of the cheapest chairs you can get — ultimately cutting them from the review before we even finished, as our testers noticed significant discomfort when sitting in them for more than a few hours and a proportional drop in productivity. There also isn't a direct correlation between price and performance, but you are far more likely to find the support and necessary adjustability to match the chair to your posture with the more expensive models. While these chairs are undeniably expensive, there are some ways to reduce the cost, as you can always find a used model of these chairs in fairly good condition or a factory refurbished model at a decently discounted price.

Now that you have a good idea of what type of chair you should look at, it's time to consider the different types of support available on these products and figure out what is the most important for you.

Step 2: Superior Support?

The first thing you are going to want to do in terms of support is to look at chairs that are sized appropriately for your height and weight, especially if you are on the more extreme ends of the spectrum for either of those qualities. If that is the case, then it can limit the number of available models you have to choose from quite a bit.

Stature on the Short Side?
If you are too short for the chair, you can always compensate with a footstool if your feet aren't able to reach the ground on the chair's lowest setting. However, it is definitely easier and more convenient to get a chair that is properly sized in the first place, rather than having an additional piece of office furniture under your desk.

When it comes to office chairs, we would immediately discount any model that did not roll and swivel, as well as have a height adjustment. Additionally, we would also say it is critical for the chair to have lumbar support --preferably adjustable — and have a full backrest, at least up to your shoulders.

We found mid-back chairs to be almost universally disliked by our testers and were a sure recipe for causing most of them back pain after a few hours. We also found this to be true for chairs that didn't have adjustable lumbar support up and down, as it makes it almost impossible for your spine to maintain its proper S-curve with a one-size-fits-all design. However, we did find there to be very little difference between chairs that adjusted the lumbar support separately from the backrest and ones that moved the entire backrest up and down, proved there was an adequate range of motion to match your spine curvature.

While these types of support are the bare minimum and we would immediately skip any chair that lacked them, it is worth considering some models that have additional areas of support if you are sitting for long periods of time on a daily basis or are simply looking for the best of the best. In addition to seat height, seat pan depth adjustment can be found on many of the top models. While this setting isn't vitally important, it can be incredibly handy at preventing pressure points and maintaining proper leg circulation. A seat pan too short can create a set of pressure points underneath your thighs and induce discomfort by leaving a large portion of your legs unsupported. A seat pan too deep can apply pressure to the back of your calves, even cutting off circulation and forcing your spine into an awkward position along the backrest.

One final feature that is found on some top chairs and is worth considering is an adjustable upper back support. In addition to lumbar support, independent upper back support allows you to fully cradle your spine in the proper S-curve and maintain the correct posture on those long days in the office.

Step 3: Angling For Adjustability?

Now, it's time to think about what other adjustable features these chairs have that you may be interested in. The two big ones that are immediately worth considering are how the chair reclines and the settings around that and the adjustability of the armrests.

Starting with the armrests, we would immediately skip any chairs that don't allow you to adjust the height of the armrest up and down — usually when the armrests and backrests are a single piece.

We did find that the ability to adjust the armrests in and out or swivel them is quite nice, but definitely isn't a make-or-break feature, but is something to consider when you are narrowing down your final selection.

We also are big fans of chairs that have reclining tilt limiters, as well as chairs that can lock into the reclined position.

These are again not absolutely critical features, especially if you are not the type of person who reclines in their office chair all that often. However, they are also a good way to help you narrow down your selection at this point.

Step 4: Functional Or Fashionable Fabric?

Finally, the last thing to consider when selecting your perfect office chair is what it is upholstered with. While leather and faux leather do have a great boardroom aesthetic, they do tend to get a bit sweaty in hot climates and most offices have air conditioning anyways. Other fabric covered chairs offer a bit more ventilation but still can get quite sweaty in the hottest condition.

Mesh-backed chairs offer much ventilation, but the mesh can stretch out over time, degrading the quality of the support if it stretches to the point where you touch the plastic frame. However, clothing does tend to stick to them and can cause your shirt to ride up every time you sit down.

Rubberized mesh chairs won't stretch out as much and are actually pretty comfortable, but definitely don't look as nice as mesh, leather, or faux-leather chairs. Overall, we would recommend a light to medium-weight fabric, which offers a good mix of breathability and support.

However, this final choice is largely based on your own personal style preferences, as we have had testers use all types and be more than happy with them for an extended period of time. Additionally, there isn't really a substitute for trying out a chair before you buy, so it is always best if you can actually sit in a chair before you get it or at least pick a chair with a good return policy if you don't have the option.


At this point, you — hopefully — should feel confident in your quest to find the perfect office chair and can head on over to our side-by-side Office Chair Review to see which chairs came out on top or our How We Test article to see exactly how we tested and scored each chair.

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