Your Life Depends on Your Chair

Get off your butt and purchase the right one.

By Kevin RR Williams

HEALTH At least two things are certain when your work involves a lot of sitting: (1) People will say you shouldn’t, and (2) you will long for the most comfortable chair. The title-holding furniture wins the highest price tag.

With its breathable fabric, Aeron was the coolest reigning king for many years. It boasts the ability, with infinite adjustments and three sizes, to fit 99% of the population. It’s pressureless mesh seat is a favorite of those with coccydynia. Now the Leap chair is giving Aeron some ergonomic competition. Herman Miller has refined and extended the line beyond the original Aeron. Of course others have jumped into the foray. In fact, the office chair space has become so crowded with attractive though useless models that many consumers are either servicing their premium chairs themselves or purchasing refurbished models.

It’s time for the obligatory health warnings: Sedentary jobs can cause blood pooling and clotting in the lower extremities. Such can lead to pulmonary embolisms. Aging, decreasing exercise, and gaining weight all increase your chance of developing colorectal or anorectal polyps. Lack of an ergonomic workstation can cause backaches, coccydynia, and wrist strain. Your life dangles in the balance of how you sit.

Extended sitting and improper ergonomics lead to health problems.

Keep Your Wallet From Your Back Pocket

Sitting down with a wallet in your back pocket can misalign your sacrum and vertebrae. When shopping for an office chair, consider the value of lower-extremity circulation and your personal back preservation. Also estimate the chair’s expected lifespan to calculate the price per year. A $1200 chair that lasts 12 years has an annual operating cost of $100. A $300 chair that lasts two years has a 50 percent higher annual cost. A $99 chair that destroys your back is the most expensive one you can buy.

Read: Successfully Treating Sciatic Pain

Avoid discount office chairs made from bonded leather. It sounds good but is actually glued-together leather dust. Hence, bonded leather is less durable than good vinyl or cow hide. When purchasing chairs for others, vegans will prefer non-animal compositions.

Don't expect “deluxe” office chairs from Staples or Office Depot to last more than three years. Get the extended warranty for the inevitable meltdown if you go that route. It seems that chairs lasting the longest have the least amount of features. They usually just go up and down and rarely include ergonomic back support.

Musical Chairs

I wish someone had told me that my C‑model Aeron chair purchased in 2003 included a 12 year warranty. Now I am telling you. Your refurbishing effort can be cost-free. By lightly rubbing your finger beneath lip of back of the chair you can feel one or more raised bumps. Two bumps identify B‑model. Three forming a triangle identifies the tallest and widest chair available, the C‑model. Over years of use, the pneumatic lift cylinder runs out of gas. My seat fabric tore and then the seat frame cracked. Later the lumbar support broke. It is difficult to trash such an expensive investment so about five years ago, I put the Aeron chair aside.

Cracked Aeron seat can be more durable by reinforcing edge with center wire

Buying an ergonomic chair online is like purchasing a pair of shoes in the dark.

In a moment of weakness, I purchased an Office Depot special. Though comfortable, by the third year the bonded leather was rubbing off on my clothes and the floor (delaminating). The shaft gave out and parts began popping off in every direction. Within 3 years it was in worst shape than the 10-year-old Aeron. I was very happy the sales person strongly recommended the extended warranty. Purchase price refunded.

Feeling the sting of my short-lived chair and not wanting to overcrowd landfills with more cheap chairs, I vacillated. An unused basic but durable chair sans lumbar support was put into production. After six months (mistake number 1), my back could no longer take it. I set a budget of half the cost of a new Aeron (mistake number 2). I then bought my chair online without ever sitting in it (mistake number 3). Buying an expensive ergonomic chair online is like purchasing a pair of shoes in the dark.

California Ergonomics Standard: Every employer subject to this section shall establish and implement a program designed to minimize repetitive motion injury. —§5110

After a few days, I realized that my Valo Magnum Mesh Back 24/7 Intensive Use Chair is nowhere near as uncomfortable as the original Aeron. For about $650 the Valo Magnum has a lumbar pad and many adjustments. It supports twice the weight (400 lbs) of a standard chair (200 lbs) and 160% more than Aeron (250 lbs). I even purchased the optional headrest, which I love. Unfortunately, the Valo Magnum chair feels like someone has their knee in my back and the firm Valo seat puts pressure on my type-II coccyx. The Valo Magnum seat also lacks the tilt adjustment of the Aeron.

Aeron Chair by Herman Miller

You’ll Want to Sit Down For This

While visiting a Relax The Back showroom, the salesperson sat me in a hand-stitched tan leather chair that transported my back into the cockpit of the ultimate driving machine. This is hands-down the most comfortable office chair that has and ever will cradle my tush. Before you say “box it up,” the sticker price north of $3200 might give you and your credit card whiplash. This renews appreciation for my Aeron chair.

I end up with two ergonomic chairs averaging $500.

It costs about $430 to refurbish the sure-thing Aeron chair. This includes a C-size mesh seat pan (limited to graphite color), a wishbone PostureFit lumbar support, and the universal Oasis replacement gas cylinder (1000 lb). Adding an ENgage H4 headrest increases the price another $200 with tax. Less expensive options are available if you are under 6-feet tall. A refurbished Aeron B-chair can cost close to the price of the Valo Magnum chair that fits me so badly. Since I am over $1000 in to this effort of ‘not buying a new Aeron,’ I will exclude the headrest (for now).

My wife appreciates the Valo Magnum chair since her prior chair offers no back support. I end up with two ergonomic chairs averaging $500. Not bad. Consider that tremendous savings when comparing the leather chair from Relax The Back. The $270 tax and delivery fees alone exceed most chair budgets.

A personal chair can have many adjustments. Following initial tweaking, you will thereafter use a few settings. Shared chairs with many adjustments can frustrate users and decrease productivity. Each person must figure out how to readjust settings. Steelcase sells a line of stationary and self-adjusting collaborative chairs.

Running Out of Gas

How to refurbish an Aeron chair: It may come as a shock to you (pun intended) that it is easy to tell when the pneumatic gas cylinder needs replacement. Lean forward to remove pressure as you pull the lever to raise the seat. When this action gets sluggish or does not work at all, it is time for a new cylinder. The hardest part of refurbishing a chair can be removing the old pneumatic cylinder. It is wedged into the seat with friction and possible rust. YouTube videos guide you through several removal methods.

Old cylinder, 4 lb mallet, Oasis Office Chair Gas Lift Cylinder, Lift Off tool

Pull method: Some struggle to remove the cylinder with a pipe wrench. Renting a professional Lift Off removal tool is the route I recommend. Net cost is about $18 with 2x shipping ($60 deposit) if you have a mallet. After spraying joints with WD-40, waiting, and unsuccessfully swinging away in the Lift Off removal tool with a 1-pound hammer, it’s time to stop messing around.

The Oasis provides an inch more clearance.

I bought a 4-pound mallet ($22). Ten taps onto the Lift Off removal tool and the rusted-tip pole pops out (video). A single tap on the bottom of cylinder frees it from the base. (If your chair is showing no love with any method, Swivel Chair Parts charges $15 to remove it for you. Send them the seat and pole minus the base and any other extraneous attachments. Depending upon your location, two-way shipping could add another $40.) Slide in the Oasis cylinder and you will see an immediate advantage. The Oasis provides an inch more clearance from the floor and extends nearly an inch higher than the OEM cylinder.

Push method: You can pound the cylinder out through the top (video). This option requires a Phillips head screwdriver, an 11/16" socket, mallet, and small block of wood. The wood protects the socket. But if the cylinder is tightly jammed in there, the wood absorbs the strikes, acquiring debossed impressions and no release. You can then opt to obliterate the socket or try using a wooden dowel with the same diameter.

Disassembled Aeron Chair by Herman Miller (left). The Oasis Office Chair Gas Lift Cylinder Replacement includes two rings (right). While one ring remains fixed, the other should push the seat off the end as you tighten screws with included hex wrench. After screws extended and reseated several times, the seat remained in the same position. Force yields to least resistance. The rings slid.

Now that my Aeron chair is refurbished, it feels like home. If you do not own one, you owe it to yourself to sit in a properly adjusted Aeron chair. If you have one, it is worth maintaining and repairing for many years of pleasure. I may wind up getting that headrest after all.

Refurbished Aeron Chair by Herman Miller (left). Valo Magnum Mesh Back 24/7 Intensive Use Chair with optional headrest (right).

Have you gleaned any practical advice? How much would you spend for a good chair? Purchasing the correct chair from the start will have you sitting taller longer. Not sitting as much will help you feel A Bit More Healthy.

This 1682 word article passes with good readability by the Hemingway Editor.

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Tags: backache, coccydynia, lumbar support, sciatica, sedentary occupation