If your office chair is causing discomfort, don’t worry — you’re not alone. According to a survey referenced in EHS Today, up to 74% of office workers experience regular pain and discomfort while sitting at their desks.
The good news is that there’s a simple remedy, and it doesn’t require buying all new furniture. Learning how to make your office chair more comfortable is often all it takes to lighten the load.
In this guide, I share comfort-enhancing tips garnered from personal experience, in-depth ergonomics research, and interviews with medical professionals. By the time you’re done reading, you’ll understand how to make office chairs more comfortable and enjoy a healthier, more productive work environment.
How To Make Your Office Chair More Comfortable
To begin learning how to make your office chair more comfortable, let’s take a look at the most common issue and its solution.
1. Fix Your Posture
Sometimes it’s not your chair that’s the issue — it’s you (no offense).
Instead of kicking back or bending forward like the Hunchback of Notre Dame, try adjusting your body to meet an ergonomist-recommended sitting position.
What does proper posture look like?
In general, you want to sit up straight with your shoulders back and centered over your pelvis. Eyes should look forward and sit level with the top of your monitor. Meanwhile, your lower arms and upper legs should sit roughly 90° horizontal with the desk, with your feet planted firmly on the floor.
Pro Tip: You may think you’re sitting up straight even when you’re not. Ask a friend or co-worker to snap a picture of you while seated for an objective view of your sitting habits.
If you’re not used to using proper posture, you may feel minor strain on your muscles as they adjust to their new position. The good news is that other pain and discomfort should ease up immediately, and any new strain should begin to lessen after a day or two.
Frequently, adjusting your posture is the only step you need to take when learning how to make an office chair more comfortable. But, it’s not the only tool in your arsenal.
2. Set the Right Height
If you’re still uncomfortable or unable to assume proper posture due to the settings on your chair, it’s time to make some ergonomic adjustments. The best place to start is with height settings.
Most seat height mechanisms take the form of a lever, which you’ll find underneath the right side of your seat. Pull it up to move up, push it down to move down, and play with this range of motion until your lower arms sit horizontally with your desk and your feet touch the floor.
Depending on the model, your office chair may also feature a height mechanism for your backrest and/or armrests. If that’s the case, adjust the backrest height mechanism until you feel moderate pressure on your lumbar region (lower back). Adjust the armrest height until you can rest your elbows atop them and set your forearms flush with the desk.
If you’re unable to adjust your chair into a more ergonomic position, don’t panic. It may be impossible to attain proper posture with your current setup. You may have a body type outside the average. Your chair may be abnormally small or large. Or, your display and desktop may sit too high or too low.
To counter these common issues, try using one or more of the following accessories:
- Use a footrest. If your chair is too tall, use a footrest to increase the height at which you rest your feet while sitting.
- Attach a keyboard tray. If your desk is too tall, you may want to invest in an under-desk keyboard tray. These attach to your existing desktop and lower the height of your mouse and keyboard.
- Mount your monitor. To ensure the top of your monitor rests at eye level while sitting, consider a shelf or mount that lets you adjust the height of your display.
- Search for a new desk. If your chair and desk are simply incompatible, it may be time for a new work surface. I recommend adjustable desks for their versatility, but you can also find high-quality static desks for users of varying heights.
Finding the right height for your office chair and its components is one of the most effective ways to relieve pain and discomfort. In most circumstances, that’s all it takes to achieve a more ergonomic setup. However, there are other settings worth experimenting with.
3. Adjust the angles
Alongside height settings, all modern office chairs come with tilt settings. An office chair’s tilt functionality incorporates at least one mechanism, though usually two (and sometimes more).
The first tilt mechanism affects tilt tension. This cylindrical mechanism sits under your office chair, towards the front. You twist it left and right to adjust how much force it takes to rock your chair front to back.
There’s also the tilt lock mechanism. You’ll usually find this lever next to the height lever. Push it forward to give your seat free-flowing movement akin to a gliding motion. Or, pull it back so your seat and backrest remain static at an immobile angle.
The tilt setting serves two purposes. One, it allows you to add some movement to your sitting experience. This gets your blood circulating and can help reduce pain and discomfort throughout the day. Two, you can tilt your seat to a comfortable angle, then lock it into place to maintain that position.
I find that switching between static and free-flowing tilt once or twice per day provides the best of both worlds.
Many office chairs also come with a recline mechanism. Since your spine is a continually flexing set of vertebrae that don’t stack completely vertically, the trick here is setting the backrest at a slight backward angle (just a few degrees). This ensures that the backrest contours with the shape of your spine, providing a little extra support in the lumbar region and lower back.
Of course, some office chairs go beyond tilt and recline, with dedicated seat depth settings, lumbar settings, and even headrest settings. I encourage you to experiment with these to find a position that feels comfortable and supportive for your body and workflow.
4. Add some cushioning
Sometimes, there’s no amount of adjusting that can help you learn how to make a chair more comfortable. It may just feature the wrong type of material.
Take mesh chairs, for example. Although supportive, I don’t find them exceptionally comfortable. I enjoy a little more plushness in my life, and the taut mesh is too firm for my tastes. That said, I’ve met plenty of ergonomic enthusiasts who can’t stand a fabric- or leather-wrapped foam office chair, feeling like it envelops them like quicksand.
Fortunately, you can supplement your office chair with cushions (and not necessarily soft ones, either). You can purchase cushions with varying degrees of firmness, personalizing the support based on your personal preferences.
These are the most common areas to add extra cushioning:
- Headrest – Add a dedicated headrest to your existing office chair, or supplement with a neck pillow for better upper-body support.
- Armrests – Many chairs come with hard plastic armrests. Cover them up and give your elbows a break with armrest wraps.
- Lumbar (lower back) region – Lower back pain is among the most common office-related ailments. Add firm support with a mesh cushion, or use something like a memory foam pillow for cloud-like comfort.
- Seat – If your seat is hard or wearing out, consider a new cushion to enhance its feel and look.
Try mixing and matching these cushions, covering the areas where you’re experiencing the most discomfort.
5. Take regular breaks.
Okay, you caught me. This next solution is less about how to make your office chair more comfortable and more about how you use it. But I’ve included it in this guide because it’s often the reason behind complaints about uncomfortable seating.
Simply put, you’re not supposed to sit for eight hours a day.
Our bodies weren’t designed for this, and it will rebel if you put it through that kind of abuse.
The good news is that there’s an easy remedy. Take a five-minute break every half hour to hour, and you’ll be surprised by how much more comfortable your chair starts to feel.
Time To Buy a New Chair?
If you’ve tried to learn how to make your office chair more comfortable and nothing seems to help, it may be time to bite the bullet and buy a new chair.
The best office chairs range from a hundred dollars to well into the thousands. While you don’t have to splurge on the higher-end options, these typically afford the most adjustability, highest-quality materials, and — by extension — comfort.
That said, the team at SitWorkPlay has put together a comprehensive list of options in every price range, ensuring a suitable model that fits your budget.
If you want to save time and jump right to the top picks, I have a few recommendations.
If you have the money to shell out, you can’t go wrong with the Steelcase Leap, which costs around $1,000 and is among the comfiest and most adjustable chairs I’ve ever tried.
Lastly, there’s the Branch Daily for those on a budget. This chair costs just over $200, and it comes with everything you need to start creating a more supportive, ergonomic work environment.