Ergonomics is the combination of two words ergon (work) and nomos (natural law). It refers to the study of workers’ relationship to their environment, especially to their office equipment and even more especially to their furniture. It’s something that most people have heard of, but which few people actually seriously consider. Until they’re almost crippled by neck and back pain, that is.
Those weird looking chairs
Ergonomic furniture is designed to support workers’ bodies properly so that they maintain good posture and don’t put undue stress on their joints or strain ligaments and muscles. As a result, the furniture looks weird compared to the traditional desks and chairs that we’ve used for decades.
Two of the strangest are perhaps the kneeling chair and the saddle chair.
There’s a little seat and some pads on which you kneel. There is no backrest and no armrests. According to Spine-Health, the modified kneeling position, which slides the hips forward, ensures that your back, neck and shoulder are in alignment. Your knees aren’t supposed to support your weight; that task is still the responsibility of your butt, aided by your shins. It’s just made easier by even distribution of your weight.
It’s not for everyone. In fact, Back Designs Inc. says that very few people actually benefit fully from kneeling chairs. This may be because they try to completely replace their traditional chairs with the kneeling chairs. Kneeling chairs provide the best results when they are used for relatively brief periods of time, such as eating or sewing. They also need to be fitted properly or they can do more harm than good.
Saddle chairs look like bicycle seats and work along the same principles as horse riding saddles. You sit astride the saddle and your feet rest naturally on the floor. The position is designed to stabilise your body while you are sitting, and is particularly good for people with existing back problems. The position also strengthens you core muscles, as well as you butt and back. However, this means that you’ll feel like you’re getting a bit of a work out for the first few weeks. In some cases it can even take months to get used to saddle chairs (Back Designs Inc.).
Unlike the kneeling chair, the saddle actually improves circulation, and it can be used for longer periods of time.
Saddle chairs also look more familiar because for years we’ve seen hairdressers and dentists rolling around on them.
Another alternative with which you may be familiar is the exercise ball. Google employees can probably be credited with bringing exercise-balls-as-chairs to our attention. Now, you’ll find them in offices all over the world. They are great for improving balance and building core strength and they naturally encourage near-constant movement; after all, who can resist bouncing on a ball. The obvious danger is the people fall off, but this can be remedied with specially designed stands.
Next time you feel your back giving notice at work, or you can’t get rid of a niggling twinge in your neck, talk to your boss about getting back in the saddle or reconnecting with your bouncy inner child.
Sandy Cosser writes for a South African-based custom furniture company, which offers a range of indoor and outdoor furniture.