The standard American desk chair is way too big for 90% of us. It’s designed for someone who is 7’3″ tall with a 46″ waist and a very wide shoulder frame. I’m nowhere near that big, but I’m not small either. I’m 6’2″ tall with a 34″ waist, and the average chair is even way too big for me.
We won’t get into redesigning chairs today, although it’s on my list in the future.
Today, we’ll just stick to one variable of the problem: 90% of office chair armrests are destructive to our bodies.
They are too wide apart from each other. They force us to break our good posture at the shoulders. Once we break our posture at one joint, it has a chain reaction on other body parts and joints. It could pull our entire body out of alignment. And when our body is in the same, poor position for an extended period of time, it creates a terrible muscle imbalance.
In my personal experience, I used office chair armrests for years. It unknowingly caused me to contract my triceps in order to put my elbows on the armrest. I was contracting tricep muscles so that I could rest my elbows. Sounds silly, right?
Anyway, contracting my triceps for long periods of time caused my biceps to overextend. My overextended biceps became deactivated. Those tight, deactivated muscles didn’t stop in my biceps. They traveled in a chain reaction both north and south throughout my arms. South, through the tendons in my elbow (causing tendonitis) and also into my forearm muscles (weakening them). North, from my biceps through my shoulder (causing internal rotation) and into my chest all the way up to my collarbone, and also into the front of my neck muscles.
Everything is connected in our bodies, especially when we’re talking about muscles and tendons as a conduit for our blood circulation.
For solutions to today’s problem, check out rules # 13 and 14 of my Computer Posture Checklist below:
(13) Always keep your elbows close to a 90 degree angle. Your forearms should be parallel to the floor (regardless of whether they are resting on an armrest or not).
(14) Shoulders are back, down, and somewhat relaxed and balanced. Keep your elbows somewhat close to your rib cage (not extended out from your sides). They don’t have to be touching your rib cage. But, your arm should go almost straight down towards the floor from your shoulder to your elbow (not out to your side). You shouldn’t have to use any of your arm muscles just to rest your elbow on an armrest. That defeats the purpose and just causes other problems. I’d just assume not use armrests at all. Extending your elbows outwards even a fraction of an inch could cause stubborn muscle tension and chronic pain.
Closing thoughts: Chances are slim, but maybe you’re lucky and your chair armrests are in a good position for you. If so, this article obviously doesn’t apply to you as much as it does to the rest of us. I’m simply telling my personal experience of how I never met an office chair with armrests that were functional for me. I tell my story so others can learn from it the easy way. There are so many different variables involved with posture, there is no one-size-fits-all solution for everyone. We all have to increase our own body awareness and adjust accordingly.