Saturday, March 10, 2012

The Joy of Picking My Seat

I bought a new office chair today. It was a totally spontaneous purchase, but probably long overdue. My previous office chair was about ten years old and getting a bit ratty (and squeaky). The mechanism for changing the chair’s height hadn’t worked in quite a while, so I’d been stuck on the lowest setting for who knows how long. I don’t think I realized how bad things were until I stumbled upon a chair sale at Office Depot and decided to try out a few, several of which felt much more luxurious than I am used to. And now, as I write this, I am seated happily in one of these chairs—one that is much nicer than my previous chair ever was.

Though the purchase of a new chair was unplanned, I have been thinking lately about getting a new chair. My primary motivation has been to get myself a bit higher off the ground and thereby improve my wrist comfort. Sitting low to the ground, I’ve always had to reach slightly upward in order to type. My arms were never bent at an ergonomically endorsed 90-degree angle. It was more like 75 or 80. Recently, my wrists (and palms) started to ache a bit whenever I was working, and I believed it had at least a little bit to do with my arm positioning. But my new chair rectifies that, and I’ve already noticed that my arms feel a lot more relaxed as I type. It may not prevent carpal tunnel, but I assume it will help.

The benefits of the new chair will, I believe, go beyond my original expectations concerning wrist comfort. Seven years ago, I blogged about “pain in my left leg, reaching all the way up into my lower back.” I blogged about it again a few months later. The truth is, I still have that pain. It’s permanent, apparently. (I haven’t sought much medical attention for it, but the couple of times I’ve mentioned it to doctors, they haven’t been very helpful.) I no longer think of this ailment as leg pain, but as back pain. Reaching back with my hands, I can feel what seems to be a knotted muscle in the lower left quadrant of my back, where it aches basically 24-7. I don’t dwell on it much anymore, but I have to be somewhat particular about how I sit or lie. It especially affects me in bed. I can’t lie on my left side for long without the pain getting worse. It goes all the way down my leg, along the sciatic nerve, which is why I originally identified it as leg pain. But nowadays the really noticeable pain is mostly in my back.

Looking at office chairs today, it occurred to me that my chronic back pain might have developed from my prolonged use of the previous chair. It was a fairly cheap chair, and the cheaper chairs I saw at the store today all recommended sitting in them for no more than 3 hours per day. I didn’t think about or notice any recommendations like that when I bought my original chair. I simply bought it, all because I had started working from home and was going to be sitting in a chair for several hours a day. It seemed much better than a kitchen chair (as I’m sure it was). Anyway, perhaps I screwed up my back by sitting in it so much. I didn’t know the particular model of chair you sit in could make such a long-term difference, and yet as I tried out different chairs at the store today, as I moved from one chair to the next, I could feel my back pain becoming more or less pronounced. It donned on me then that, at the very least, my ten-year-old chair hasn’t been doing me any favors. Hence, the purchase.

Now that I’ve got the new chair in our home office, I am even more aware of the differences between it and my old chair. At the store, I was consciously assessing the chair I ended up buying. I was trying to think about how it felt and how much better it would be. But now that I’m home and into my normal routines, those differences are even more obvious to me, precisely because I’m not trying to notice them. I plop down into this new chair, and my body says, “Hey, what the—?! That’s now how it’s supposed to feel!” My spine doesn’t settle in the way that it expects to, my back feels all cushy and supported, etc. I’m realizing now that it’s an even more exquisite upgrade than I’d expected. Aside from my back and wrists, I’m finding that being higher off the ground is beneficial to my knees. Like my arms, my legs were never bent at a 90-degree angle when I sat in the old chair. I either had to stretch them out a little bit in front of me, or I had to bend them slightly under myself. Sometimes my knees would get achy after a long period of time in the chair. The new chair should help immensely, an unforeseen but very welcome benefit.

To wrap this post up, I want to give a shout-out to Eddie and Peter, both of whom helped me put this new chair together. I think it was the most helpful assistance I’ve ever had from my sons while building something. It was fun.


  1. Yay! I'm glad you could do something nice for yourself. I sometimes notice how small changes like that make such a big difference and it makes me wonder just how beat up we get without realizing it. I really hope it helps you and sounds like it will! And that's neat about Eddie and Peter too.

  2. Give a shout out to yourself for building the chair yourself. I think that is just marvelous. All of this sounds like you should be feeling better quite soon and I hope you do. Small things do make big differences. I've found sometimes it's my shoes, or even driving in a car for too long that makes my knees hurt. glad to hear things are getting better.