The Ergonomic Office Chair My Back Can’t Live Without

Treat your back (and behind) well while you work with this ergonomic office chair.

office chair back pain

Photo: istockphoto.com


Since making the transition to working at home full time less than a year ago, I’ve spent more time sitting in front of a computer than ever before. While I was enjoying the flexible hours (and working in my pajamas), my back was suffering from the long hours of sitting. The bargain-priced office chair that had sufficed prior to my occupational change was no longer cutting it. It was time to upgrade to a more ergonomic chair.

The Problems with a Bargain-Priced Office Chair

The office chair that I was suffering with wasn’t old—I bought it about a year prior—but it also wasn’t particularly expensive either, coming in at the bottom of the office chair market at about $50. When I bought it, I hadn’t transitioned to full-time desk work at home yet, so a cheap home office chair seemed like a suitable choice. While it was passable for the hour or two spent tallying the monthly bills or a few hours of work here and there, the flaws in its design became apparent once I put it into service full time.

It didn’t take long for the thin padding on the seat to compress, leaving my poor sit bones to contend with the rock-hard piece of plywood that made up the seat base. The plastic panel designed to provide lumbar support in the seat back was woefully ineffective, and the chair also suffered a critical design flaw. Over the course of a few hours, the metal pin that held the chair in upright mode would work itself free, causing the chair to recline violently and without warning.

Even though the unexpected feeling of suddenly falling backward kept me on my toes during the workday, it was clear the chair had to go. My wife, who also works from home full-time, was facing similar struggles in her relationship with her own $50 office chair. We both decided we needed new chairs.

 Serta Smart Layers Arlington

Photo: Tony Carrick

The Search for Ergonomics

While we were accustomed to making most purchases online, we quickly came to the conclusion that conducting research solely on the Internet wouldn’t be enough. Online reviews were helpful in determining durability and build quality, but people have a broad range of body types, so what one person might find comfortable could be uncomfortable for another. We needed to know how the chairs would feel and the only way to do that was by seeing them in person.

Related: 18 Home Office Items for Optimal Ergonomics and Productivity

What We Learned

As we sat in chair after chair after chair, we learned a lot about the ergonomics of sitting. Sure, we knew we needed lumbar support for the back and that the seat cushion needed to have enough padding so our keisters would not be subjected to the chair’s hard internal frame, but there was more. It was critical that the seat drop low enough so our feet could rest flat on the floor to provide adequate support. While this wasn’t an issue for me at 5-foot 11-inches, it was for my wife who is 5-foot 2-inches. Her legs would dangle off some taller chairs.

We also found that most chairs made lumbar support a priority, but it was not an adjustable feature. Some chairs offered moderate support, and others were designed with more pronounced undulations in the lower back cushion.

Most office chairs, we learned, were not one-size-fits-all.

Our First Choice

For our first choice, we splurged, spending $350 for a couple of high-end chairs produced by a major mattress manufacturer. They boasted ample padding, plenty of lumbar support, and reliable controls that wouldn’t give me the roller coaster ride of my old chair. After a couple of hours assembling one of the chairs, I road-tested it. It was a huge improvement, providing support and cushioning in all the right places. All was right with the world, until about Day 3 when the noises began.

I’m not sure what was causing it, but every slight shimmy or shift in the seat created an audible squeak. When it became clear that I couldn’t just ignore the noise or the voice in my head telling me that a $350 chair shouldn’t squeak, I disassembled it, put it back in the box, and headed back to the store.

 Serta Smart Layers Arlington

Photo: Tony Carrick

Third Time’s a Charm

After striking out at the low end and high end with the $50 chair and the $350 chair, we found a winner that sat squarely in the middle at $200 with the Serta Smart Layers Arlington Air model. Serta is also well known for its memory foam cushioning, and the company uses it liberally with this chair. It has a thicker layer in the seat and overlapping layers in the back.

This chair may not be for all people, but I love the lumbar support, which might best be described as aggressive. Think of the max lumbar support an adjustable driver’s seat in a car offers and add a few notches to that. While the seat material is bonded leather as opposed to genuine leather and the handles and base are plastic as opposed to metal, it has a sturdy feel to it that’s similar to higher-priced chairs with genuine leather and metal construction.

Get the Serta Smart Layers Arlington Air Chair Amazon for $217.93.

Serta Smart Layers Arlington

Photo: Tony Carrick

Shopping Considerations 

Reading user reviews can be helpful when buying nearly anything, but the fact is that all of our bodies are different. What is comfortable to one person may be a backbreaker to another. With that in mind, being able to test drive an office chair before making a purchase was integral to finding the right chair. And, as our $350 squeaky chair told us, sometimes you don’t really get to know a chair until you’ve spent a couple of working days sitting in it.

Related: The Best Ergonomic Chairs for the Office