Bad desk posture is unfortunately quite common, and this applies to not only ergonomics for office workers, but also all those who work in the home office.
Anyone wanting to purchase a new office chair will find countless, varied options and offers. But what should be focused on to ensure ergonomic sitting?
There are not only different adjustment options and all imaginable variations of armrests, headrests, fabrics, casters, and so on, but also a wide range of different upholstery.
In this article, I’ll explain the characteristics of un-upholstered and upholstered office chairs and what is important for good ergonomics of a seat and back cushion.
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What are the different types of upholstery for office chairs?
One can find the most diverse types of upholstery in office chairs, consisting of five different categories:
- Hard upholstery (hard core only).
- Textile-covered upholstery (without soft additional material)
- Mesh upholstery
- Cut foam upholstery
- Molded foam upholstery
Hard upholstery (hard core only)
This design of chairs is mainly intended for the kitchen or canteen. The “upholstery” consists only of plastic, wood, metal or other hard material. In the case of office chairs, these are usually shell chairs, which cannot be adjusted, since the shell of the seat and back are often made of one piece.
- Hassle-free maintenance, can be cleaned easily
- Long life, because the material used is hard and durable
- In terms of price, very cheap
- Hard seat feeling, even after a short time
- Blood circulation is hindered
- Often unergonomic shapes, which do not promote a healthy posture and good ergonomics
Textile covered cushions (without soft additional material)
Here, a fabric, imitation leather, leather or other textile material is additionally processed over the hard core. The office chairs thus get a nicer look, better design and become higher quality. However, the limitations are very similar to the hard-core upholstered office chairs and the risk of bad desk posture and poor ergonomics for office workers is high.
- Nicer design
- Easy to maintain, as they are usually artificial materials that can be cleaned easily
- Usually durable, as there is hardly any vulnerable material on the chair
- The hard seat feeling remains
- Blood circulation is impaired
- The shapes are usually not very ergonomically designed, as the chairs are designed to be more fashion oriented
This type of upholstery gives the office chair a modern look and makes it especially air permeable. Mesh upholstery is relatively inexpensive to produce and therefore widely found. Mesh comes in all variations, from completely simple mesh upholstery, to design-oriented mesh upholstered office chairs in the upper price range. The appearance of mesh upholstery is modern and also somewhat futuristic. However, since mesh upholstery does not provide optimal support, some mesh chairs offer options such as built-in lumbar support so that bad desk posture can be prevented.
- Air-permeable cushions, which can be especially beneficial in a warm environment
- Certain variations can be produced inexpensively
- Attractive design
- Additional support features can be built into the mesh back, which promotes good ergonomics
- Air permeability means you can catch a cold quickly and sometimes freeze in the chair
- Each mesh is quite flexible and needs to be stretched a lot, which eventually leads to a feeling of hardness
- If there is too little tension in the mesh (very often the case with inexpensive chairs), sagging occurs, and an unhealthy posture result
- Edges and frame are easily felt through the thin mesh
- The blood circulation on a mesh net is not optimal
- Dust quickly accumulates in the mesh
- Integrated lumbar or lordosis supports on mesh backs are also hard and easily felt
Cut foam upholstery
Most office chairs have cushions made of cut foam, which are soft and durable. These foams are cut from a block of foam. There are different qualities that can be distinguished by their density and compression hardness. The higher the density, the higher the strength, which ultimately means less wear. The compression hardness shows the percentage by which a foam can be compressed. The higher the compression hardness, the better the quality of the foam.
Cut foam is easy to work with, offers good comfort and is therefore often used to make desk chairs. The selection of different foam qualities is quite large, varies in price and has a significant impact on the seating comfort of an ergonomic upholstered office chair.
- Increased seating comfort is noticeable with just a bit of foam thickness
- Cut foam is easy to process and can be used in a variety of ways
- Depending on the compression hardness, cushions offer good comfort
- Foam is permeable to air
- The fabric’s elasticity has a positive effect
- Cut foam is also available in lower quality which limits durability and comfort
- If the compression hardness is too low, the foam has little effect, and you feel the hard surface anyway
- Cut foam loses its compression hardness over time, which negatively affects comfort and ergonomics
- Cut foam can decompose after intensive use and become powdery
Molded foam upholstery
Molded foam is a high-quality product and has many unique properties which can increase the ergonomics and comfort of an office chair many times over.
The molded foam is produced by pouring the initially liquid material into a mold and then foaming and baking it.
This creates an outer skin that increases dimensional stability. This process generates a very uniform cell structure which achieves a much higher density, resulting in greater longevity.
With molded foams, the liquid material can be mixed so that an optimal combination of softness and strength can be achieved for each thickness.
Another decisive advantage of molded foam is the capability of individual shaping. Perfect anatomical shapes can be created, providing good ergonomics in office chairs.
Another unique property of molded foam is the possibility of incorporating so-called inserts before baking. For example, by inserting a load-bearing structure made of a solid material, the desired shape with great stability can be achieved. Such a chair positively affects the ergonomics for office workers.
- Individual shaping is guaranteed and even complex ergonomic shapes can be produced
- Uniform cell structure increases durability
- Higher density brings better quality
- The outer skin improves dimensional stability
- Good breathability due to the circulation of air in the molded foam
- Better support than other foams and consistent quality over the years
- High restorative force
- Adaptability to the body
- Greater pressure relief thanks to good elasticity, which in turn is better for blood circulation.
- So-called inserts can be inserted into the molded foam, e.g., a supporting core made of wood or another hard material
- Hygienic, as the material is not sensitive to mites or mold growth
- Production is costly and requires individual tools (molds)
- Since molded foam usually results in a thicker end product, this can cause greater heat retention and adversely affect the design
In order to ensure sufficient blood circulation and good ergonomics, office chairs should avoid hard or thin cushioning materials.
It is crucial that an ergonomic office chair offers an anatomically correct support function and has no hard spots, so that the user does not assume bad desk posture. Meeting these requirements is simply not possible with hard and thin materials. Although these chairs are sometimes really beautiful to the eye, perhaps even of a special design, they almost completely disregard the health aspect.
It is not by chance that in cars, airplanes or trains, where one sometimes remains seated for many hours, no hard shell or net cushions are found. After all, it is precisely here that functioning blood circulation and ergonomic support over a long period of time is crucial, and only foams can achieve this satisfactorily.
An ergonomic upholstered office chair will ensure health and comfort for a long time, much more than a hard seat.
You will find many more tips about well-being in the office in my book “Wellness in the Office”.