Our lives are becoming more and more sedentary; we spend hours sitting crouched over computer desks (as you probably are now) and our posture and our backs suffer. Back problems are notoriously difficult to overcome and many people are turning to kneeling or posture chairs.
Do kneeling or posture chairs really work?
A kneeling chair is one where the body is held in a half kneeling position, supported under the buttocks and at the front of the knees/shins. Despite the name the main weight of the seated person does not bear down on the knees (like when you’re kneeling). The knees/shins bear some weight but this is mainly for balance and stability, the main weight remains on the buttocks and upper thighs.
When you sit in a normal chair your thighs jut out at about 90 degrees to your torso; as you then reach forward (such as towards a computer keyboard) your upper body then crouches forward, reducing the angle to less than 90 degrees and putting strain on your back.
With a posture chair the angle between your thighs and torso is opened up to about 135 degrees and this naturally causes you to sit straighter and aligns your spine to a more upright position. Even if you do lean forward it means that the angle between thighs and torso still remains more than 90 degrees.
Do kneeling and posture chairs work?
These designs have been around since the 1970s when Peter Opsvik did the early work on his Balans chair designs (which is still one of the most popular manufacturers). Their longevity in the market indicates a degree of popularity if nothing else.
However, as with may health ideas and inventions, the jury is still out on these chairs. Early studies indicated that kneeling chairs were no better or worse than normal chairs. Other studies have found that they do have benefits to supporting the back – particularly the lower back – and the most recent studies say that provided they are used properly then they are better than normal chairs.
One thing that did come out of the studies is that posture chairs mounted on rollers are better than static ones. The reason seems to be that by having them on rollers the user regularly takes a leg off the kneepad to move the chair back and forth thus flexing and exercising the leg, promoting increased circulation and small, controlled movement of the core muscles. Being able to adjust the chair to your own dimensions is also important as this stops you adopting a position that is unnatural for your size.
What to look for in an ergonomic posture chair
There are a number of things you should look for when buying your kneeling chair:
Rollers – make sure it has rollers that allow you to move it back and forth and side to side easily while you use it. This will encourage you to rock back and forth and relieve pressure on the knees/shins regularly.
Frame – look for a frame that is adjustable. You need to be able to adjust the height to fit your frame otherwise you lose much of the benefit of the chair. The adjustment can be manual or – in some modern, trendy designs – by use of a gas strut. The gas strut won’t make any health difference but it will look trendy and cost you more money! Whether your posture chair is made of chromed steel or wood will really depend on your aesthetic rather than health requirements. Some might argue that there is some natural movement in wood but it’s unlikely to make a difference to the chair’s ergonomic benefits.
Knee pads – as with many products beware the cheap versions. Look for designs that use high density or memory foam and a suitable, hard wearing covering material. Cheaper designs tend to have low density foam which is soft but not as supportive and you may find they become uncomfortable quite quickly.
As with many ideas some people swear by these chairs and others find they make no difference whatsoever. My recommendation – see if you can beg or borrow one from a friend (or a friendly local store) to try out for a week or two to see how you get on with it.