Ergonomic chairs make long office hours bearable

It's a scenario that many of us have had the misfortune of experiencing: lower back pain, shoulder strain, a cramped neck and a general sense of malaise that stems from spending an average of 8.9 hours per day sitting in an office chair that offers little or no support to the parts of our body that need it most. No, it's not necessarily those five doughnuts that you scarfed down during that 9 a.m. staff meeting that will kill you (although they certainly don't help), it's that shoddy, ill-fitting office chair.

Ergonomic desk chairs help keep you comfortable while preventing you from turning into a headache- and back spasm-prone office drone with bad posture and a worse attitude.

We've rounded up five exceptional ergonomic desk chairs that go above and beyond providing a comfortable place to sit for a few hours. Boasting various features that help support key areas of the body and boost productivity, these chairs not only support spine health, they also keep you and those around you healthy by not emitting any air-quality-compromising toxins. Because really, what's more nightmarish than squirming in a poorly designed chair that also stinks?

These chairs qualify as high-end when it comes to pricing, with some costing upwards of $1,000. An investment, yes, but wouldn't you rather spend your hard-earned money on a well-designed, long-lasting piece of furniture than on countless trips to the chiropractor or physical therapist to correct the damage caused by a non-ergonomic chair?

-Embody by Herman Miller: Although Michigan-based furniture-maker Herman Miller is perhaps best known for producing iconic modernist pieces like the Noguchi accent table and the Eames rocker, the sustainability obsessed company is also a well-regarded player in the back-friendly work chair market. The Embody is the healthiest Herman Miller work chair of them all.

The world's first "health-positive chair" was designed specifically for creative types who spend long hours sitting in front of computers. With its spine-like back, four-layer seat and host of knobs and levers for optimum adjustment, Embody conforms to its user's every movement to increase blood circulation, which, of course, keeps oxygen flowing to the brain and decreases the heart rate. And because this is Herman Miller that we're dealing with, Embody is massively green. Starting at $1,199.

-Life by Formway Design for Knoll: A sexy, streamlined alternative to heavy, "all eyes on me" ergonomic office chairs like Embody is Knoll's award-winning Life task chair (2002). In addition to its sleek good looks, Life allows office drones of all shapes and sizes to sit comfortably - and healthily - for extended periods, thanks to seat and back designs that respond to shifts in body weight so that no manual adjustments are needed.

In addition to providing superior pelvic, lumbar and shoulder support, this minimalist mesh masterpiece boasts some serious green cred: Life is Greenguard Indoor Air Quality Certified and assembled at Knoll's wind-powered, LEED Gold certified Lubin Manufacturing Facility in East Greenville, Penn., Life also is the first product in the furnishings industry to achieve SMaRT (Sustainable Materials Rating Technology) certification. Starting at $1,281.

-Diffrient World by Humanscale Healthcare: When you're sitting in an office chair designed by Niels Diffrient, the man known as the "granddaddy of the ergonomic revolution," you just know it has to be good for you. With only two adjustment knobs (one for seat depth and one for seat height) and eight major parts, Diffrient World (2009) from Humanscale is a pared-down, environmentally friendly ergonomic task seat that provides excellent lumbar support without the need for external components or controls. The mesh design extends from the tri-panel backrest to the seat where the frameless front edge eliminates contact stress behind the thighs. And then there's the true show-stopping feature of Diffrient World: mechanism-free, self-adjusting recline technology that uses two frame components, the user's body weight and the laws of physics.

This award-winning lightweight beauty (only 25 pounds) is made from 97 percent recyclable content. The absence of extraneous bells and whistles means that less raw materials and energy went into the manufacture of Diffrient World. Starting at $820.

-Leap by Steelcase: The Leap chair may not win awards in the innovative appearance department (it looks like your standard office chair) but Michigan-based office furniture manufacturer Steelcase spent four years studying how the human body, specifically the back, is affected by extended sitting. Partnering with four universities and 27 scientists, Steelcase studied over 700 participants to see how they moved - or squirmed - throughout the day while sitting. They readed four key conclusions:

-The spine doesn't move as a single unit.

-Each individual's spinal motion is unique.

-The upper and lower back require different amounts and types of support.

-Vision and reach impact your posture.

The wellness-focused Leap design team developed a slouch-reducing, productivity-boosting office chair that can actually be good for you.

Ninety-eight percent recyclable by weight and made from 30 percent recycled content, the Leap is Cradle to Cradle Silver rated and is blanket-wrapped for domestic delivery instead of boxed, to reduce packaging waste. Starting at $879.

-Zody by Haworth: The Zody is the first task chair to secure an endorsement from the American Physical Therapy Association; the first and only chair to feature PAL, a "patent-pending user selected asymmetrical lumbar support system and a passive pelvic support" developed in collaboration with the Human Performance Institute at Western Michigan University; and it's the first task chair to score Cradle to Cradle Gold certification due to its high levels of recyclable and recycled materials.

And did we mention the optional "4-D armrests that can be adjusted up/down, side to side, forward/rearward, and at an in/out rotation? Nifty. Starting at $803.

More information: © 2012, Mother Nature Network
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