Research by Matt Rowan, B.S.
Updated January 1, 2021
A New Office Chair Makes a Difference
While we advocate the benefits of standing, the time you spend sitting in an office chair is equally important, especially due to the increased strain on your back and lack of movement sitting causes. Finding the right chair for your home or work office can dramatically reduce the side effects of your extended sitting time, help you maintain better posture and generally increase comfort. Lower back pain is one of the highest complaints and ailments suffered by office workers or professions that involve a lot of time spent sitting. Make sure your chair is great if you spend any extended period of time sitting.
Reasons to Get a New Chair
- You’re Simply Uncomfortable Sitting - comfort is key when you’re trying to work and be productive at your desk. If you’re experiencing a lot of discomfort and pain when you sit, your chair can be part of the cause and part of the solution...
- Current Chair has a Deflated Or Unsupportive Seat Cushion - a common sign of a poor quality chair or a chair that is simply worn out. A deflated seat cushion can cause incredible discomfort and lead to a lot of lower back pain. As your hips rotate forward from the lack of support your spine forms an even more acute angle compared to a supported chair with good posture.
- Your Chair is Generally Worn Out - with heavy daily use your chair can develop rips and tears, especially in padded armrests. It is also common for the gas strut for height adjustment to lose force and the backrest tension can also lose its resistance as well.
- Broken Adjustment Controls - especially common on cheap chairs seeing heavy use is height, tilt, and tension control breaking. This can obviously be problematic and frustrating to deal with on a daily basis.
- You Want Better Features - there is an incredible variety of features available in today’s office chairs and many important ergonomic features are missing even from top-selling highly reviewed chairs. Once you've learned about these ergonomic features you may be thinking you need a new chair. We don't blame you.
- Worn out Support Post - nearly every chair will develop some play stemming from the support post, the metal rod that connects the base to the seat and also allows the vertical height adjustment. while not super critical to being comfortable it can be annoying as it creates a slight rocking effect.
Office Chair Features
Office chairs are available at nearly any price but there are some key features to look for when shopping for a new office chair that you should be aware off. The essential features listed below are just that, essential. If you’re looking for a quality office chair that you’ll be comfortable sitting in, you need these things. Nice-to-haves are extra features that can make a difference but aren’t totally necessary to have when buying a new chair.
- Adjustable Armrests - one of the most commonly missed features on office chairs today and one of the most important to have. Many chairs come with armrests but aren’t adjustable. Being able to adjust your armrests is essential in supporting your arms for typing or writing. Without them, it makes it very easy to develop shoulder pain.
- Adjustable Lumbar Support or Pressure Sensing Lumbar - many chair designs feature lumbar support but seek out chairs with either adjustable lumbar position or designs that sense pressure and automatically support your lower back. A chair with good lumbar support makes it much easier to maintain good posture and helps prevent your spine from arcing.
- Soft Front Seat Edge - It’s important that the front edge of the seat is rounded off and well padded. This prevents pain. numbness and blood flow issues on the underside of your thighs.
- Adjustable Lean - Many chairs have some lean allowed but it is especially nice to a few settings to choose from. Depending on your weight or height you may want a different amount of lean.
- Adjustable Seat Position (forward and back) - Everyone’s body is different so having the ability to slide your seat forward and back is great for fine tuning your seat position relative to the backrest as well as allowing you to have good support the full length of your thighs. Chairs without this feature can, for some people cause discomfort underneath your thigh and make it feel like you’re constantly slipping forward out of your chair.
- Side to Side or Forward and Back Armrest Adjustment - this is a rare feature most commonly found on high-end Herman Miller or Steelcase chairs but once you’ve used them you come to appreciate this feature a lot. Depending on the broadness of your shoulders you may want to bring your armrests closer or further away to allow your elbows and forearms to lie in a natural position.
- Headrests and Tall Seat Backs - these can be great features if you’re trying to focus on good posture as they will help stabilize your shoulders and neck and give your upper body something to register against while sitting.
- Ventilated Design - the vast majority of office chairs have ventilated backrests and seats but isn’t a requirement unless you have had experience overheating in a traditional leather or non-ventilated chair design.
- A Large Height Adjustment Range - this is great to consider if you plan to have more than one person using the chair. Some chairs struggle to go low enough or high enough for some people.
For this review, we have considered all the major bestselling, highest reviewed chairs available at both physical and online retailers as well as new up and coming chairs that have yet to see popularity. We have also included established high-end brands as well as newcomers focused on saving you money. We then thin out this group based our the presence of key ergonomic features we listed above that help your time spent sitting as comfortable and as pain-free as possible. We then consider value for money each chair, further refine the group and develop categories spanning different budgets, feature sets, and chair designs. While we tend to like chairs that maximize value for money without missing any key ergonomic features but we will also suggest a variety of alternatives.
The Modway Articulate is quite possibly the best office chair for the money due to the inclusion of all the features we look for in an office chair, regardless of price point. For the price, nothing we've seen includes so much adjustment. We frequently praise Modway chairs for their high value for money.
As mentioned above height adjustable armrests are essential in an office chair. The Articulate has rounded height adjustable armrests that allow your forearms and elbows a nice range of motion while resting. This coupled with the innovate height adjustable backrest and seat cushion means finding a comfortable and supportive seating position is a breeze.
One rather piratical feature of the Articulate is the clearly labeled controls. Often you find yourself feeling around beneath your seat trying every lever to see what it does. The Articulate levers and knobs are labeled making operating this chair as straightforward as possible.
While many budget-friendly office chairs are available only in a generic black color the Articulate is sold in 7 colors.
Poly and Bark are known for their mid-century design but they can also do minimalist. The Tremaine chair has a truly innovative design (especially when viewed from the side) that is focused on lower, upper and neck support.
Rather than a abs plastic base like other chairs in this price-point, the Simmons has a higher end steel based that has been chromed.
The Tremaine offers a unique combination of value for money, ergonomic comforts, and style typically found in much more expensive chairs
Designed in Europe the Futu is a different take on a higher end office chair that has many unique features and patents associated with its design. From the innovate hidden seat controls to textured foot rests on the base you can tell this a chair about the details.
The clutter-free seat bottom separates it from many other office chairs with no levels, knobs, and mechanicals exposed. It's often that you see levers, knobs and seat structure protruding from the bottom of the chair.
In terms of adjustment, The Futu features adjustable forward and back seat position as well as height adjustable armrests (a must) and adjustable lumbar support.
Best Design Runner Up
The Herman Miller Sayl is an extremely unique office chair available with great ergonomic features and groundbreaking design.
The highlight of the chair is the rubberized mesh backrest which conforms to your back in a very supportive and satisfying way.
While the base Sayl chair starts around $500, we are referencing the version that includes adjustable armrests, lumbar and seat position adjustment. The way we see it, if you're spending over $500 on an office chair, it needs to have basic ergonomic features. This version at over $800 has limited value for money but chairs with this level of quality tend to last decades and provide a true statement piece for your home or work office - not many people can say that about their office chair.
The Steelcase leap is a very high-end office that offers the highest level of adjustment of any office chair we've ever reviewed. Everything your body comes into contact with is adjustable and can be adjusted to perfection.
The Armrests alone are adjustable in 4 independent ways: height, forward and back, side to side and pivot. The adjustable backrest lumbar allows pinpointing support to your lower back. The Adjustable seat can move forward and back as well as tilt.
Overall the leap is among the highest quality you can expect in an office chair.
Herman Miller Embody
Best High-End Runner Up
The Embody is an office chair for those of us without a budget and looking to make a truly long term investment in their health and comfort.
The Embody has become a truly iconic office chair and sought after for its ultimate combination of unique design, operation, and comfort. The design is functional and beautiful without any compromises to speak of.
The adjustable seat depth allows you to extend or shorten the seat with a cool feature. The Armrests are height adjustable and can pivot inwards or outwards depending on the broadness of your shoulders. The backrest has tension to increase or decreased lumbar support with a turning of a knob
This is about as good as it gets.
Best Drafting Chair
The Modway Veer One of the most popular and affordable drafting chairs. Drafting chairs make for a very versatile office chair allowing you to sit at a higher than average workspace. They pair well with a standing desk or a fixed height standing desk like the one pictured above.
The Veer has adjustable flip-up armrests that offer great for support when you need it and can disappear when you need space to move (think of an architect drawing up some plans)
The Veer does not have the level of adjustment as other chairs on our list but there aren't really many drafting chair options with the ergonomic features we look for.
As you can see from the table below, office chairs vary quite a lot when it comes to general specifications. If you have a chair in mind, consider the height range, seat and backrest dimensions and how they relate to your body and the height of your existing desk.
Getting Started With Your New Chair
So you've got a new chair, don't make the mistake of using it improperly! Especially when buying a chair with many available adjustments, it can be easy to form bad habits with your new chair. Follow these best practices for adjusting your chair.
- Setting Your Chair Height - You should adjust the height of your chair so that your thighs are close to parallel with the floor. This will allow your body to be in a neutral position and minimize the effect of sliding forward out of the chair.
- Setting Your Armrest Position - This comes down to personal preference and comfort but a good starting point is having your forearms parallel to the floor and ideally in line with the surface of your desk.
- Backrest Tilt - Setting this feature is mostly personal preference but remember backrest tilt is a great feature to add extra movement to your time spent sitting. Occasionally leaning backward can help get your blood flowing. Don't overlook this feature and try to form a habit of using it.
- Follow Adjustment Instructions - most of the chairs on our list have been painstakingly designed with ergonomics in mind and include instructions on how to adjust your chair for maximum comfort. Don't skip reading this.
- Typing Position and Relation to Your Desk - when switching out your chair make sure your new seating position gives you good ergonomics for typing and viewing your monitor. Depending on the geometry of the chair you may need to fine tune all the above to match the height of your desk and monitors.
- Read our guide on Workplace Ergonomics - Get more information on finding an ideal seating position with your new chair.
Office Chair Companies
When researching the chairs to include in our best office chairs guide we invested time learning about the companies designing and building these chairs.
Manufactures on this list have been around for a while, have established brands, and offer completely original high-quality furniture designs that are often patented. Items sold by these companies are purchased as investments and intended to last decades. For these reasons, high-end manufacturers like these often cater to businesses looking to invest in their staff's comfort but are also sold through a dealership network and can be available on Amazon and other retailers as well.
- Steelcase - headquartered in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Steelcase has been a huge maker of office furniture and has been in business for well over 100 years. Steelcase invests time and money into researching ergonomics and applying their learning to their chairs and other products. Steelcase products are painstakingly designed and every detail has been thought through and considered. We generally love Steelcase office chairs for their armrests, which often have an incredible amount of adjustment.
- Herman Miller - headquartered in Zeeland, MI, between Holland and Grand Rapids, Herman Miller produces some of the most high end and iconic office furniture around and has been in business since 1905. Their bold but functional designs are often the choice for businesses looking for stylish, modern standing desks, cabinets, chairs and other furniture. The closest competitor to Steelcase, Herman Miller also invests in ergonomics studies and designs their office furniture to be as comfortable as possible for a wide range of body types and sizes. We praise Herman Miller chairs for their extremely unique modern chairs and materials and constantly pushing the design envelope without much compromise to comfort.
- Haworth - Headquartered in Holland, MI Haworth is a high-quality maker of office furniture that has been in business since 1948. Most often their products are sold to businesses as part of contracts to redo or furniture an office space. You can, however, buy their chairs directly from them through their online store.
- håg - is a Norway based furniture company now part of Flokk that has been making innovate chairs and seating since 1943. Also known for iconic chair designs like Capisco and the Futu, you can expect their chairs to last but are often slightly less expensive than other office chairs on this list.
Budget and Value Focused
Most of us are looking for value for money when shopping for an office chair. The brands below offer light duty but quality office chair designs that won't break the bank.
- Poly & Bark - possibly one of our favorite manufacturers of chairs Poly & Bark brings great design and budget prices together. While they sell nearly anything you could need for your home, their chairs are what we like the best. They're chairs simply look much more expensive than they are and the chair's like the Simmons and Valencia are super ergonomic focused and comfortable.
- Modway - Similar to Poly & Bark, Modway Furniture offers a wide variety of home and office furnishings. While most of their office chairs are not very adjustable, their most popular one, the Articulate is. It frequently ranks high on our lists due to a great combination of adjustment and low price. Modway also offers affordable drafting chairs which can pair well with a standing desk.
- Amazonbasics - We're all quite familiar with Amazon Basics products, whether we've bought phone chargers, keyboards or pens if you're looking for something that is somewhat of a commodity AmazonBasics can be a great choice. While we do recommend investing in your office chair, AmazonBasics chairs bring you in under budget.
Office Chair FAQs
What does the round knob on my office chair do?
While chair design and functionality differ from chair to chair something resembling a knob is mostly used to adjust the tension of something, most commonly the tension associated with tilting back your chair. For some, it may seem like the knob does nothing but this is likely because the tilting feature of your chair hasn't been activated or the tension adjustment is broken. Enabling or setting the tilt of your chair's backrest is usually a lever separate from the tension knob itself.
What is the best chair for smaller people?
If you're shorter than average, young or have a short lower body you may find most office chairs do not cater to your body type. What we recommend is researching chairs that have a lower than average minimum height. This will enable you to position your thighs parallel with the floor. We also recommend looking for chairs that have inward adjustable armrests that allow you to bring them in closer to your body.
What is the best height for my office chair?
When setting the height of your office chair you should ensure your thighs are parallel to the floor as a starting point. If this leaves the rest of your body too high or too low relative to your workspace it is okay to go slightly above or below the parallel starting point.
Do you need armrests on an office chair?
Armrests, ideally adjustable armrests are essential on an office chair. Armrests serve an important function of positioning your forearms and minimizing strain on your shoulders and neck. Using a chair without forearms presents a few ergonomic issues and may end up leading to pain and discomfort if you use the chair for an extended period of time.
What are the best office chair for lower back pain/sciatica?
If you're seeking a new chair to help your back pain you should limit your search to chairs that have an adjustable and strong lumbar support feature, adjustable armrests and a deep seat that prevents you from sliding forward away from the backrest.