Homo Sedens--The Seated Man

For thousands of years, man has used different sorts of furniture to sit on, but nobody knows for certain when or how man started using them. A common theory is that the leader or chief of tribe sat on a block of stone or wood to "elevate" himself above the others. Egyptian Pharaohs used a high backed throne whenever they held court or displayed themselves for the adoration of their subjects. The Pharaohs sat very upright with hips, knees and ankles all at right angles. This stiff, symmetrical position emphasized their god-like status, as who but a god could sit like this!? The Egyptian artisans and slaves sat on quite a different sort of stool. It was lower and sloped forward, forcing them to lean over their work, ensuring that they kept working.

Originating in the Middle Ages when chairs were a status symbol, there are a number of words in the English language where "chair" has become synonymous with authority, e.g. "Papal See," "to sit in judgment," a "chair" at a University. In Scandinavia, the chair is a relatively new (about 200 hundred years) addition to the household furniture. People there sat on benches...much sturdier and easier to make.

The age of industrialization brought the chair into the workplace. Men were the only ones who could have comfortable chairs and enjoy slouching in the privacy of their "clubs." Women wearing corsets and crinolines couldn't possibly sit any way other than upright. Children were not spared either: "Children are expected to sit bolt upright, and preferably in silence."

In our modern industrial society most people spend a good deal of their lives sitting down. From a heritage of fishermen, hunters and farmers, humanity has developed into a predominantly sedentary race. Our evolution can be a summarized: Homo erectus (upright man) to Homo sapiens (thinking man) to Homo sedens (sitting man).

It seems today that our ideas of good posture and what a chair should be are still influenced by the way the Pharaohs sat. Many of our chairs today are designed for stacking and not for sitting. I know the ones in my reception room are. 

The seated working position created by these types of chairs involves bending the back, which leads to straining the joints and ligaments. More and more people today are afflicted with some sort of back ailment. A homo sapiens would have to look no further than our schools as a starting place for this affliction. The majority of children arrive at school with good to almost perfect posture, but leave school eight to ten years later with lousy or ruined posture.

Although this article will not change the fates of our youngsters, hopefully it will get the rest of you poor folks thinking about the chairs you use. Those of you spending hours at a computer who want to read further on how to sit properly, can contact your local bookstore or my office for a copy of "Sitting on the Job" by Scott Donkin, D.C.

If you are considering a new chair, I have included a checklist to take shopping with you. If you can answer all questions with a "Yes," chances are, you'll be buying a good chair.


HEIGHT: The range of heights necessary will depend upon the size of the population of users and the working height. All workers should be able to place their feet flat on the floor or on a footrest.

  1. Is the range of height adjustment adequate?
  2. Can the chair height be easily adjusted?
  3. Can adjustment be made from the seated position?
  4. Are adequate footrests available?

BACKREST: High backrests are preferred by most people. The state of the chair and worker along with the type of job that is being performed will dictate the need for adjustable positions on the chair. If the backrest tilts, it must also lock or be adjustable in tension.

  1. Does the chair have a high backrest?
  2. Does the backrest interfere with arm movements?
  3. Is the lumbar support adequate?
  4. Is the tension of the backrest adjustable?
  5. Does the backrest tilt back?
  6. Does the backrest lock in position?
  7. Can the backrest be adjusted up and down?
  8. Can the backrest be adjusted forward?

ARMRESTS: Armrests should be optional since they may interfere with work. They should be adjustable in height and distance apart if they are to be used to support the arms while working.

  1. Does the chair have armrests?
  2. Are armrests appropriate for the job?
  3. Are armrests optional?
  4. Do armrests interfere with movement?

COMFORT: This is best evaluated by asking the user of the chair. Comfort may be affected by the chair or by other factors in the work environment.

  1. 1. Is the chair adequately padded?
  2. Are materials appropriate?
  3. Is the chair comfortable?
  4. Does the seatpan have a rounded front edge?
  5. Does the seatpan tilt?
  6. Is seatpan tension adjustable?
  7. Does seatpan lock in position?

SAFETY: Always match the stability of the chair with the task. All tension adjustments should remain locked even if accidentally disturbed. The chair should also be able to appropriately glide over the surfaces it will be used on.

  1. Is the chair stable?
  2. Does the chair have a 5-leg base?
  3. Are casters matched to the floor or floor covering?
  4. Can casters be changed?
  5. Are all adjustments safe against self or unintentional release?
  6. Does chair meet all applicable fire codes?
  7. Can the chair be easily maintained?

If you can't afford a quality chair, consider the alternative. See a chiropractor.


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