Ups and Downs of Chair Arms

Ups and Downs of Chair Arms
Most office chairs come with arms as a standard feature. You may not know that this creates an ongoing debate among ergonomists. Should chairs be ordered with arms or without them? This can become a passionate debate.

Although employees expect and desire chair arms on their office chairs, the arms provide little real value for most people. In many cases, they have unintended negative consequences, so let’s look at those first. If there is a negative consequence, you don’t want chair arms.

Chair Arms too High

When chair arms are too high, even for a very sedentary job they lead to shoulder hiking, constricting the narrow spaces between the collarbone and scapula, and creating shoulder, arm and neck tension.

For a job that requires even minimal movement, there are added consequences. Chair arms can get in the way of even minimal reaching and postural shift as they trap the elbows against the body.

Each attempt to use the mouse results in awkward positioning in the shoulder, elbow and wrist. Every time you reach for the telephone, the shoulder must be elevated before the reach can begin and again before the arm can return to its resting posture.

Your arms are heavy, and each reach requires you (in an awkward position) to lift 5 - 6% of your body weight twice in order to avoid the arm. Doing this once in a day,not bad perhaps. Several times a day can get to be an issue.

Chair Arms too Low

For those that tend to lean on chair arms, low chair arms if used bilaterally may produce a pronounced ‘C’ posture, a collapse of the body forward. This interferes with breathing, arm movement, and limits visual field.

Low arms used unilaterally (a lean to the right or left) results over time in an increasing postural imbalance. This can lead to back and/or neck pain. As well, it can lead to excessive pressure on one arm and to one sided shoulder issues.

Because the most effective keying techniques require free-floating arms (more neutral shoulder and elbow postures, less finger pressure required because of neutral angles and placement over the keys) having the elbow fixed in position either on the chair arms or desktop is not suggested.

In a similar manner, fixing the wrist by use of a wrist-rest for either mousing or keying is not recommended.

No Chair Arms

Chair arms are seldom required. Some people, especially those with knee or arthritis issues, may need them to assist in getting up or sitting down. Other times, those with very weak trunk musculature may require chair arms.

Some jobs where the employee is frequently sitting down and standing up, may benefit from a chair with very low arms. In this case, the arms act as a guide for obtaining a proper position upon the chair seat. The speed of position change rarely allows for visual fixing of the target.

If the Chair Arm Fits

Most chairs these days have height adjustable arms. If you can get the arm to an appropriate height and the length of the chair arms let you get close enough to your work area that reaching is minimized, they should not be an issue. If you want them, use them. If not, most are removeable.


1. Chair arms are seldom a requirement in a good chair.

2. Only use chair arms if they assist in maintaining good sitting posture.

3. When you are sitting back in your chair in your best work posture, chair arms should be an inch or more below elbow height.

4. If you tend to lean on chair arms, you are better off without them.

5. Do not fix your elbows on the arm rests or your wrist on a wrist rest while you work.

6. Chair arms are generally not necessary in a well fitting supportive chair.


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