Orthopedic Chair vs Ergonomic Chair

What is an orthopedic chair?

Do you find that after a day’s work your back aches and your neck and shoulders are stiff and sore?

People may tell you that you need an ergonomic or orthopedic chair to deal with these challenges.

What are orthopedic chairs and how do they differ from their ergonomic counterparts? What is the best chair for medical conditions like sciatica?  

Is there really a difference between an ergonomic and orthopedic chair? The answer is YES. Unfortunately, many companies use these terms interchangeably to describe their products, thereby creating confusion among consumers.

In this article, we will define both chair types and highlight their differences. Finally, we will provide some guidelines to assist you in selecting the right office chair and deciding which is best for you.

1. What is an ergonomic office chair?

An ergonomic chair is designed to optimise support for your body while you sit. The key feature of every good ergonomic chair is that it is highly adjustable. What is an Ergonomic Chair & what makes it special?

Your sitting posture changes throughout the day, and a good chair needs to accommodate these changes by continually supporting your body. Your traditional typist chair with limited adjustability, often resulted in back and other health related problems caused by sitting on a bad chair. Good ergonomic chairs can prevent back, neck and shoulder pain caused by incorrect sitting. 

Good ergonomic chairs can prevent back, neck and shoulder pain caused by incorrect sitting.

To achieve this, they should have the following design features:

The Leila is a fully adjustable ergonomic chair

Design features of ergonomic chairs

Ergonomic chairs typically have either of the following swivel mechanisms:

  • Synchronous swivel mechanism. Here the movement of the seat and backrest is mechanically linked. In other words, when the backrest moves, the seat will move with it, and in the same direction. A synchronous swivel mechanism will not allow you to adjust the backrest angle without simultaneously adjusting the seat angle.
  • Permanent Contact swivel mechanism. With these mechanisms, only the angle of the backrest can be changed. The inclination of the seat remains fixed and cannot be adjusted.
desk chair
Synchronous swivel mechanism

2. What is an orthopedic chair?

Orthopedic chairs include all of the above design features of ergonomic chairs. These chairs will therefore also prevent back, neck and shoulder pain caused by incorrect sitting. 

However, there are two crucial differences between orthopedic and ergonomic chairs: Orthopedic chairs have a Free-Float Swivel Mechanism and Dual Density Seat Foam.

While ergonomic chairs can prevent back ailments, orthopedic chairs can alleviate the impact of sitting on existing medical preconditions of the lower back.

a. Free-Float Swivel Mechanism

Orthopedic chairs use a free-float swivel mechanism that allows separate, or independent control of the seat and backrest.
This is not possible on a chair fitted with a synchronous swivel mechanism.

Orthopedic chairs have an independent or free-float mechanism that allows the movement of the seat and backrest to be controlled independently.

By independently controlling the angles between the backrest and the seat, orthopedic chairs may alleviate, and even rehabilitate, certain medical preconditions, specifically musculoskeletal issues of the spine. Medical professionals often endorse orthopedic office chairs.

All orthopedic office chairs are also ergonomic chairs, but ergonomic chairs are not necessarily orthopedic chairs!

The free-float mechanism on orthopedic chairs allows the seat to be adjusted to a forward sloping position. This reduces the disc pressure in the lumbar region of the back. The forward slope, or negative tilt, is typically limited to a maximum of 5 degrees. 

By independently controlling the angles between the backrest and the seat, orthopedic chairs may alleviate, and even rehabilitate certain medical preconditions, specifically musculoskeletal issues of the spine. What actually happens when you sit?

Medical professionals often endorse orthopedic chairs!

Wellback-300-spine.jpg
Forward sloping seat option on Wellback 300 Orthopedic chair

b. Dual Density Seat Foam

Moulded foam has long been recognised by ergonomists, occupational health, and medical professionals as being able to provide the best support and cushioning for office chairs. Dual Density moulded foam adds an extra dimension by providing even better support and comfort.

Dual density seat foam

The seat foam has a firm inner core (shown in red), surrounded by a softer outer foam layer (shown in yellow). The combination of these two layers improves your posture and reduces backache and muscle fatigue.

What is Dual Density seat foam and how does it improve comfort and support?

3. Comparing Chair Types

In the table below we compare the important differences between orthopedic and ergonomic chairs.

Feature Orthopedic chair Ergonomic chair
Swivel and Tilt Mechanism Free-Float mechanism that allows Dynamic Sitting Synchronous mechanism that allows Dynamic Sitting
Seat Foam Moulded, Dual Density Moulded, single density
May alleviate certain medical preconditions, specifically musculoskeletal issues of the spine like sciatica Yes Less likely
Seat angle adjustment Yes, fully independent seat angle adjustment. Lockable in any position. Synchronous mechanisms have a mechanical link to the backrest. The seat and backrest move together in a fixed ratio.
Negative tilt (forward sloping) seat adjustment Yes No
Backrest angle adjustment Yes, fully independent backrest adjustment. Lockable in any position Yes. For synchronous mechanisms, there is a mechanical link to the movement of the seat.
Lumbar Support Yes, integrated with backrest height and angle adjustment Optional on better ergonomic chairs

4. Heavy Duty Orthopedic Chair

If you have a larger build and need a high-back chair, most standard task chairs will not be suitable for you. Furthermore, if you also have a back-related ailment, not only do you require a heavy duty chair, but also an orthopedic one that provides the correct support for your back.

There are very few chairs available in South Africa that have both the heavy duty and orthopedic attributes. What is a heavy duty orthopedic  chair?

The Heathrow is an exception and is a true heavy duty orthopedic chair.

The mechanism on the Heathrow Heavy Duty Orthopedic Chair allows you to independently adjust the:

      • Backrest angle
      • Seat Tilt angle
      • Seat Depth.

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5. What is the best chair for sciatica? Is an orthopedic chair a good choice?

Sciatica occurs when the sciatic nerve is pinched. It results in pain in the lower back, back of the thighs, and legs. Typically it only affects one leg.

The best chairs for sciatica should have a forward tilting seat and excellent lower back support. In others words, an orthopedic chair is ideal for a medical condition like sciatica.

6. Which chair is best for you?

Before selecting an ergonomic or orthopedic chair, the first question that needs to be answered is whether or not you have any medical preconditions, specifically musculoskeletal issues of the spine like sciatica. If so, then it is likely that an orthopedic chair will be the better option. If not, then either chair type will be suitable.

Watch this video on how to set up your workstation correctly.

Whether you decide on an ergonomic or an orthopedic chair, remember: All chairs are designed for the “average” person, in other words, the majority of people, but not everyone.

For example, a short slim person may find that a standard chair is too high and the armrests are too far apart. In such a case, the chair may need a different height adjuster or armrests that have width adjustment.

To ensure you purchase a chair that’s right for you, contact our team for professional advice.

Selecting the right chair must take the following into consideration:

Still unsure and need help selecting the best chair for you? Visit our showroom and one of our qualified Office Ergonomics Risk Facilitators will conduct a full ergonomic assessment and determine whether an ergonomic or orthopedic office chair is best for you.

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