Seating Solutions   19 comments

A little over a year ago I asked for some advice on purchasing a new desk chair.  Several folks responded and offered feedback, and I took all of it under consideration.  However, when push came to shove, I couldn’t decide what I wanted and ultimately chickened out at the costs.  I ended up purchasing a back support for my current chair and went along my happy way.

Then one day Brade commented on how the cushioning in his chair (which was identical to mine, only about a year newer) was gone, and he thought he needed a new chair.  Of course, at that point it made me realize that the cushioning in my chair was also long gone and I could probably use a new one as well.  However, we happily sat in these chairs for another few months until one night on a chance trip to Costco we happened across some office chairs.  We each happily plopped our tired butts into different chairs, and went “ahhhhhh”.  And hey, the one that I had picked was supposedly all ergonomical and promoted for good posture by all these different medical people.  What could go wrong?!

The Old and Busted
The Nefarious Costco Chair

We made our respective purchases, and brought them home.  And everything was good – for a time.  But (there is always a but!) about a month after I started using this new chair, I started to experience pain in my right hand.  More specifically my right pointer finger.  I used my Googlefu and WebMDfu to try and figure out what could be the cause – and just so you know, Dr. House ain’t got nothin’ on my self-diagnosing abilities.  Just sayin’.  Time after time, when I put my symptoms in, I came up with the same result: Repetitive Strain Injury.  And one of the key contributors was consistently listed as poor posture with long hours on a computer.

The pain started to increase, and I started to have pain in more than just my index finger, with a burning sensation spreading across the top of my right hand and swelling occurring in the tissue between my knuckles on the top of my hand, as well as some swelling in the knuckles.  I continued to read everything I could devour on the internet about the issue – but I finally made an appointment to see my doctor.  Except my doctor couldn’t get me in, so I saw another doctor in the practice.  And to say that this particular doctor didn’t exactly exude a lot of confidence in my is an understatement.

He spent about 5 minutes with me, barely listened to what I had to convey regarding my symptoms, spent about 60 seconds “examining” me and went “tendonitis”.  Except, you see, I was a music performance major – and one of the deciding factors in a change of career for me was that I has Carpel Tunnel and was pretty much living with severe pain in my hands day in and day out.  But it didn’t start that way, it started as tendonitis, progressing to acute tendonitis and then eventually to Carpel Tunnel that required regular treatment.  So I know what that kind of pain feels like – and what I’m experiencing now is quite different.

Shortly after my visit to the doctor the pain started spreading to my left hand in addition to my right.  Not quite as badly, my knuckles aren’t swelling, but I started getting some burning across the top of my hand.  This is not good.  It started to affect my play, as my hands just down right hurt as I was raiding.  It pretty much meant that outside of raids I needed to get off of the computer as soon as possible, just to give my hands some reprieve.  I started taking advil just before raids as it is an anti-inflamatory and should help with some of the swelling – and when it started getting bad, I’d apply a cream called Topricin (a natural version of Bengay pretty much) to my hands.

But seriously, something had to give.

I continued to do more research on what could be causing the issue, did some serious reading into ergonomics and talked to a number of people.  I purchased a foot rest for my chair as our desk sits a touch high because it’s set to Brade’s height, and not mine, and one of the things I’d read with regard to hand pain was to make sure you had proper foot/leg positioning if you spent a lot of time at the computer.  While I was at the store, I asked the lady if she had any advice or thoughts on my hand pain – and I had indicated that I’d not changed the time I’d spent at the computer at all.  And she asked “well, what did you change that coincides with your hand pain”.  At first I thought “nothing” – but as I thought on it some more, that wasn’t entirely true.  I’d changed my chair.  And the pain started shortly after the purchase of the new chair. The devil chair.

Foot Rest
My Foot Rest

The pain in my hands were the pushing point I needed to make the jump and invest in a good chair.  I mean, I’m not sure why it took serious pain to make this decision, I spend a very large amount of my time at home with my butt parked in my desk chair.  Why shouldn’t I invest in it?  And once again, I was on the hunt for a new chair.  One that was going to do good things for me, and maybe, mercifully, help my hands.

I again flexed my Googlefu and started reading more about what I need to have in an office chair if I’m going to be spending hours on end in my chair.  There are many different resources of varying dubiousness offering advice, tips and feedback.  However, almost all of them give the same guidelines for things to look for in a chair:

  1. The seat height of the ergonomic desk chair should be easily adjustable.
  2. The seat height should be 16 to 21 inches from the floor. This allows the user to have his feet flat on the floor, with arms thighs horizontal and arms even to the height of the desk.
  3. The armrest of the ergonomic desk chair should allow the user to rest his arms comfortably and allow relaxed shoulders.
  4. The material of the ergonomic desk chair should be having enough padding allowing the user to sit comfortably for extended periods of time.
  5. Back Seat of the ergonomic desk chair should be 12 to 19 inches wide. The ergonomic desk chair should support the natural curve of the spine. A special attention should be given to the lumbar region of the ergonomic desk chair.
  6. If the ergonomic desk chair has the backrest and the seat as single piece, then it should be forward and backward adjustable and if the ergonomic desk chair has separate seat and backrest, then it should be height and angle adjustable.
  7. Lumbar support i.e. the lower back of the ergonomic desk chair is very important. An ergonomic desk chair should have a both height and depth adjustments, so that each user can get a good support to the inward curve of the back.
  8. The seat width and depth of the ergonomic desk chair should support every user comfortably.
  9. The seat should have enough width and depth to support any user comfortably. Usually 17-20 inches wide is the standard. The depth (from front to back of the seat) needs to be enough so that the user can sit with his or her back against the backrest of the ergonomic office chair while leaving approximately 2 to 4 inches between the back of the knees and the seat of the chair. The forward or backward tilt of the seat should be adjustable.

(source)

After doing some research, I went back to some of the recommendations that others had offered me when I had asked for chair suggestions and looked to see what chairs fit all of these criteria.  I then read just about everything google had to offer on the different types of chairs I was considering.  No really, I could probably sell you any of the chairs I researched.  Ultimately I decided to see if I could find a local dealer for a Steelcase Leap

I did, and the sales man (who does huge corporate projects) spent over two hours seating me (keep in mind I was going to buy one chair, not one hundred) in different chairs at differing price ranges – including the Leap.  He further educated me on office ergonomics, walking me through making proper adjustments – and when I explained why I was looking for a new chair, he indicated a bad chair set up could very well be contributing to my hand pain.  If I hadn’t already made up my mind on making a purchase, he would have sold me on it.  If you are ever looking for one of these chairs and are in the Seattle area, I’d absolutely recommend this dealer (just note that you have to call in advance to make an appointment).

Anyhow, my chair finally arrived yesterday and I was able to go down and pick it up.  I took it home, lugged it upstairs (no easy feat, mind you!) and worked to get it adjusted before the raid.  The gentleman did tell me that it may take a couple of weeks to tweak it juuuust right, and to keep working with it until I got the settings optimized for me.  However, I did use it for last night’s raid, and I will say that my hands did not ache nearly as bad.  Of course, that could be purely psychological and my hands could have hurt and I had convinced myself they didn’t because of said new chair goodness.  I suppose that only time will tell if the expenditure on the chair was worth it.  I’m hoping that it was!

The New Hotness
The New Hotness

What have I learned from this experience?  That if you spend a significant amount of time at the computer, your seating is extremely important.  Even the smallest of changes can make a huge difference in your level of comfort, and some of the changes that you think would have no impact can have huge impacts.  Listen to your body.  If it’s telling you something isn’t right, try to figure out what it is and fix it.  Do your research.  Know what you need out of a chair, and don’t shy away from cost.  Only time will tell if my own actions (however delayed they may have been) will get me straightened out.

Posted May 19, 2011 by Beruthiel in Computer Setup, Medic!

19 responses to “Seating Solutions

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  1. Exceptionally true. We used to have personnel in our HR dedicated to ergonomics, but they’ve sadly been let go. It’s a shame, too; I had no idea how much of an effect my crummy office chair was having on my health. On a whim I traded it in for a balance ball, and miraculously my headaches, backaches, and my TMJ issues largely vanished. I even lost weight.

    I still need to tackle the issue of the hand/wrist strain and pick out a better chair for the home office. Let me (or everyone, I suppose) know how your new chair works out. (Obviously you managed to fit it in your car!)

    • One of the guys in the office across the way has one of the balls, I’ve often wondered if they were comfy! I will certainly let you know how my chair works out :)

  2. I’ve been through the same thing… being a programmer I sit at a desk all day, being a Warcraft player I spend quite a bit of time in the evenings at my desk as well.

    I’ve heard a lot of good things about stand up desks, but haven’t tried it… there are a number of studies that have been done on the subject. I’m guessing you would need some pretty good and comfortable shoes to do that though :)

    • Brade has been talking about those stand up desks for a while. Apparently some of the guys at his office have them, and he’s thought about trying one out. There were some where I got my chair that I looked around at, but I’m not sure I’d be comfy standing for extended periods of time while I game :)

  3. Yay I’m glad the Leap ended up working out for you!

    Make sure to keep your paperwork in a safe place because the Steelcase warranty is stellar. And don’t remove the sticker that’s on the underneath of the seat because it voids the warranty.

    • Yes! The Leap did win out :) I got a bit cheap and went for the cloth cover instead of the leather, but the salesman told me if I eventually wanted the leather they could recover it for me. I had wanted to go with pink for my cover…but Brade veto’d it. He’s such a meanie that way!

  4. How to know when you take your gaming seriously … (heh)

    I shelled out for a Herman Miller Aeron chair 4 years ago when I seriously increased my gaming hours, and it’s been amazing. No aches, no pains, and it’s floated me easily through multiple 16+ hour sessions. (Which is quite an accomplishment given that I have a herniated disc left over from my days in the PAC10). I tell you, it’s a wonderful thing that I was able to silence my back pain and my internal furniture snob in one fell swoop. ^_+

    • We have the Aeron chairs at work, and I just can’t get past the mesh. I just don’t really care for it and it gives me waffle legs if I wear a skirt :( I know a lot of people love them though! I’m apparently a minority!

      I’m hoping that the investment of a good chair at home really pays off – and your comfort stories give me hope! Now to get all these fandangled knobs adjusted…. ;)

  5. Holy crap! You might have shed some light on the exact problem I have been experiencing! I have had hand pain about the same as you described for about 4 months now and had decided that it was related to diabetes or a side effect of some of the medicine I am on. Of course my doctor does not believe this to be the case, but I find myself wondering about my chair now seeing as how my wife bought me a new one for my birthday a month or so before the pain started; I had never put the 2 together before (heck, would never have though a computer chair would ever affect hands one way or another). I will definitely be checking into a different computer chair to see if that might make a difference.

    Thank you!

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  7. I had this happen too. I believe my desk chair was a bit to low and started causing me back pain. Then, I had an “ah-ha” moment as I looked at my unadjustable desk chair, then my laptop, then a fateful glance at my recliner.
    I sit in that recliner now with a laptop table to set my laptop on. My husband is sad.

  8. Great article…I just moved into a new apartment and am typing this from the floor :(

    I have not been playing much WoW as a result…it is too uncomfortable.

    I will be purchasing a desk and chair soon though! I will definitely keep your article in mind.

    However the price of the Steelcase chairs……is definitely not for a fledgling career girl aiming to own her own house in the next five years :( /sigh IKEA it is!

  9. Ok, I feel really dumb because I can’t find the button to reply to a specific comment….coffee! Work faster!

    Anyway, yeah Beru, the nice thing with the STC chairs (and I’m sure other high end chairs) is that all the pieces can be replaced *mostly* independent of the others. The sucky thing is that the discount for parts is terrible compared to the discount you can get for a brand new chair, BUT! it’s nice when you want to swap something out (like a new seat & back). I too have cloth and figure that the cloth will wear out before the chair actually does – I’ve never heard of them actually recovering it without going to an outside vendor that recovers all kinds of furniture.

    @ Eden – Before you write off a nice ergonomic chair as out of your price range, talk to a sales person at the dealership. The big furniture mfgs have a huge price range for their various lines (the list price is mostly irrelevant since, at least at my old dealership, we passed along some variety of discount to every customer), and even if new prices are too much, they will usually have pre-owned chairs available for sale that are less than what you would pay for new and they’re still in good condition.

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  12. Hello,

    I too am having physical side effects from long hours in front of a computer. I sit in front of a computer at work for 8 hours a day. Then I go home to my addiction (World of Warcraft) and play about 4 hours a night (after work). I play anywhere from 12-16 hours a day on the weekends and on my days off.

    My problem is a little different however; my problem is in my feet. For about a year now, my feet have been swelling. At the end of the day when I am all said and done with work and gaming, and ready for bed, my feet are the size of watermelons. I found out (or at least I think I found out) it is due to the cutting off of circulation in my legs. When I sit in a chair I noticed there is a lot of pressure on the back of my legs where my butt and legs sit in the chair. And I believe that it is this pressure that is preventing the smooth flow of circulation through my legs down to my feet. I came to this conclusion because when I was on a 2 week vacation, my feet went back to normal size and they felt good. I wasn’t at a computer for 2 weeks. I’ve tried different chairs and what not but nothing seems to help. I figured it’s got to be the ergonomics of the chairs I’ve been sitting in. I was wondering if anybody out there has experienced this and maybe a recommendation of a good chair? I hope this makes sense to somebody. I am not Dr. House or anything but I hope someone out there knows what I’m talking about. -Josh

  13. My major tip is to forgo armrests on your chair, they are considered a major factor in causing arm and hand pain.

    As for Joshua, you need to walk more and sit less. Sitting for long periods is seriously bad for your overall health and will push you into an early grave.

    Cheers!

  14. “As for Joshua, you need to walk more and sit less. Sitting for long periods is seriously bad for your overall health and will push you into an early grave.”

    -What does that mean? How can sitting push me to an early grave? Can you tell me why? What about people in wheelchairs? They can’t “walk more” and “sit less”.

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