Ergonomic Stools - What’s Worked Guide

Ergonomic Stools

Many of us work at jobs that require sitting for long periods. At face value, this seems fine but can present problems for everyone, regardless of whether you’re dealing with a previous injury.

If you already have some knowledge of the problems associated with sitting, you’re likely looking for ways to overcome them. Well, this guide is for you.

Below we outline ergonomic stools suited for work and hobbies, including an overview of different products and the conditions they may aid. Hopefully, this guide will help you narrow down your options to make an informed selection from the range of available ergonomic stools.

Problems Associated with Sitting

Sitting for brief periods isn’t particularly damaging to your health. But, this problem is that many of us sit for too long, mostly because our jobs require it. Plus, if you suffer from back pain or injury, sitting down can help to alleviate the symptoms to a degree.

So, how long do we spend sitting during the day? A study from 2019 looked at trends among the US population from 2001 to 2016. It found that, among adults, daily sitting time increased from 7 hours in 2007 to 8.2 hours in 2016. Of course, this is just one study, and with 52,000 participants, its findings are only so relevant.

Even so, it highlights a trend many of us probably recognise: we’re sitting for longer every day, whether because of work, free time, or both. On its own, this fact might not mean much, but we must look at it in relation to a wider picture of health.

Health Problems from Sitting

Considering the amount we’re told to exercise and how this is part of a healthy lifestyle, a link between health issues and sitting should be obvious. While this might be the case, it helps to break it down.

A case study found a link between a woman’s desk job and a higher rate of cardiovascular issues. While this is a single person, there is a growing consensus that supports this link. A review study from 2013 tracked large-scale studies from the previous 5 years and found “moderately consistent evidence” for a link between sitting and circulation issues.

Various studies highlight links between sitting and obesity, muscle fatigue, joint pain, and other conditions. However, a systematic review from 2010, which covers 43 previous papers, found conflicting evidence. While it found a positive association between sitting and higher BMI, it wasn’t able to explain why. It also found a link between sitting and an increased risk of diabetes but explained that the reviewed studies made it difficult to draw clear conclusions.

All these findings apply to workplace settings, as this is where many of us sit for long periods. Sitting in different positions puts greater pressure on the back’s lower intervertebral discs. Sitting without back support increases it by 140% compared to standing, and sitting while leaning forward increases it by 190%.

Other health problems believed to be linked to prolonged sitting include:

  • Neck and shoulder pain/discomfort
  • Depression/mental health issues
  • Obesity

 

The evidence for these can be found in the studies linked above. Bear in mind, though, there is always conflicting evidence for these kinds of studies. After all, correlation doesn’t always prove causation.

Even so, a Swedish study from 2021 found that sitting for 25% less time at work decreased the incident rate of self-reported back and neck pain among the 45,000 respondents.

In short, many studies on sitting and workplace health rely on self-reported health complaints. This kind of evidence makes it slightly more difficult to draw clear conclusions, as we all have different ideas of pain and discomfort and their causes. However, if you experience back, neck, and shoulder pain during periods of prolonged sitting, you may be interested in devices that can reduce the incident rate.

Ergonomic Stools for Sitting

The idea of ergonomic seating devices took off in the 1970s due to the increasing rate of people working in offices. One branch of workplace ergonomics is stools, but what are they?

An ergonomic stool uses performance-enhancing or aiding features to improve the sitter’s experience. In a chair, this might be armrests, lumbar support, etc., but it takes a slightly different approach in ergonomic stools.

Although there are different types, all ergonomic stools share some key design features:

  • Sloping seat edge to avoid reducing circulation to the legs
  • It allows secure movement (leaning forwards/to the side without the stool slipping)
  • Padded seat that provides comfort and support
  • A base that provides traction
  • Gas cylinder to adjust sitting height

We can divide ergonomic stools into several categories as follows:

Flat Stools

This is what we would consider the most “basic” ergonomic stool. In short, it’s any stool that looks like a traditional model, just with the ergonomic elements described above.

You’ll likely find designs with and without casters depending on the purpose. Casters make very little difference to the stool’s overall stability but are useful if you need to move between several desks/locations.

Saddle Stools

As the name implies, a saddle stool uses the same design elements as a horse’s saddle. You’ll find options with divided or solid seats; the former has a seat with two separate pieces, whereas the latter is a single piece.

Some popular brands for saddle stools include:

Active Movement Stool

Although designs may vary, an active movement stool essentially has some kind of tilt function that keeps your core engaged while you sit. The stool leans with you when you move, allowing you to keep your back as straight as possible.

The Aeris Swopper, a popular active movement stool, uses a spring strut and 3D tilt function for maximum movement.

Stools with Backrests

While you might consider a stool with a backrest to be a chair, there’s a bit more of a distinction here. An ergonomic stool with backrest provides all the benefits of a stool’s seating position but also provides lumbar support.

The Salli and Score brands mentioned above provide backrests, as does the Aeris Swopper active movement stool.

Stools with Chest/Sternum Support

A stool with chest support encourages forward trunk leans, allowing you to take the pressure off your back’s discs. It’s a popular design with healthcare professionals (such as dentists) and hobbyists.

Orbital is a leading brand of sternum support stools.

Stools with Upper Limb Support

Upper limb support is another ergonomic design element that, unsurprisingly, supports your upper limbs. It’s a suitable addition for professionals who need a full range of movement in their lower arms.

Some popular models include:

Stools for Standing Desks

An ergonomic stool for a standing desk includes all the elements mentioned above, but with a longer shaft. Some models are designed for sit-stand desks, meaning you can adjust them from a sitting height to a standing one.

Rather than sitting entirely on the stool, some models encourage you to lean/perch on it instead. These models take the weight off your legs but stop you from having to sit completely.

Leading models include:

The Best Ergonomic Stools for Different Conditions

Evidence and research surrounding the best stool for certain conditions is somewhat lacking. While higher-profile brands like Aeris have appeared in some workplace studies, these are very small and not worth mentioning.

Importantly, no one stool is best for all conditions. Instead, each has an edge in certain areas thanks to the kind of posture/seating position it promotes. Based on our anecdotal evidence, we’ve come up with the following suggestions.

Lower Back Pain

We’ve found that people suffering from back pain when sitting, which is eased by standing, benefit from a saddle stool. This is because the saddle drops the pelvis forward and extends the spine. The same group of people appreciate the anterior tilting features found in models such as:

While most people with low back pain prefer to use a saddle stool without a backrest, others fatigue more quickly using a stool of this kind. If this is an issue, consider the Salli Multiadjuster or Score jumper, as they feature a backrest.

Some professionals (dentists, surgeons) or hobbyists spend time in forward-leaning positions. Over time, low-grade stress may cause back issues, as mentioned above. Orbital chairs are suitable for forward-leaning positions thanks to their sternum support.

Shoulder/Neck Pain

If your shoulder and neck pain relates to repetitive upper limb movements or from holding them in a fixed position, stools with upper limb support are the most effective. These include:

But, if your pain relates to your neck stooping or chin poking out, a saddle stool will be better. While it’s unclear exactly why this is the case, it’s likely because tilting the pelvis improves the lower back position. In turn, this aligns the upper back and neck better, allowing you to straighten your neck and drop your chin.

Please note, though. If you decide to invest in a saddle chair for neck pain, you must optimise your workplace, too. Failing to do so may create further issues rather than helping an existing one.

Coccyx Pain

Although there is no clear brand for severe coccyx pain, we have some feedback that tilt stools help with minor pain. This is because they allow you to put more weight on your legs, taking it off the lower back and coccyx.

Salli’s saddle stool is a divided model, which creates room for the groin and saddle area. However, we don’t have enough feedback to evaluate how effective this is for coccyx pain.

Hip Pain and General Discomfort

Active sitting stools are best for hip pain and general discomfort. They keep your core engaged and hips moving, and help with people who get fidgety when sat for too long. Also, the constant, gentle movement seems to aid people’s comfort and pain levels.

Popular models include:

The Best Ergonomic Stools for Different Situations

While the previous section grouped ergonomic stools based on types of pain and discomfort, this isn’t the only reason people invest in these devices. Some may prefer to use an ergonomic stool as a preventative measure to stop pain, injury and discomfort before it even starts.

If this includes you, the following section will be helpful. We’ve grouped the different kinds of ergonomic stoolsbased on profession and application.

Dentists and Other Medical Professionals

If you’ve read this far, it should be clear which type of ergonomic stool is best for healthcare professionals. The most important features for these professions are great mobility without compromising posture.

For this reason, you’ll want a stool with a piston height adjuster, and probably castors for greater mobility. While you can get flat ergonomic stools that help, in our experience most medical professionals prefer saddle stools for their posture benefits.

Models like the Score Salli and Orbital range are best for these jobs.

Office Working/Hobbyists

Office work tends to be less mobile than medical work. Often, you’ll be sat at the same desk for extended periods, meaning physical mobility for the stool is less important.

But, this has advantages and disadvantages. While you might not be putting as much stress on your body by leaning forward, it puts equally strong positional stress on other areas of your body.

For this reason, many desk workers enjoy active sitting stools like the Aeris Swopper. Another popular choice is the Backapp, which combines active sitting with a saddle seat.

If you’re someone who prefers a backrest for the added lumbar support, consider:

Sit-Stand Desks

Sit-stand desks are popular in many office applications because they encourage workers to not sit all the time. Ergonomic stools are a great addition to this setup because they’re height adjustable, meaning you can use them in all desk positions.

Also, they allow you to take the weight off your feet when standing, which is beneficial for those with back or leg pain.

If you want a stool that comes closest to standing while still offloading some weight, the Aeris Muvman and Ergo Impact Leanrite are the most popular choices. They allow you to perch on the edge rather than completely sit.

But, if you spend more time in a lower position but would like the option to sit higher, the Aeris Swopper is a great choice. The base model has various height options so you can get the best fit.

Some people prefer to combine standing with a saddle seat. For this, we recommend the Salli and Score stools as the most effective.

Frequently Asked Questions About Ergonomic Stools

When recommending ergonomic stools for pain or injury prevention, we often get asked many of the same questions. This is completely understandable, as they’re not something many people know about until it comes time to assess their options.

Generally, ergonomic stools are a niche subject for those working in occupational health or those with injuries. So, to help you understand them in more detail, and to hopefully narrow down your choices, here are some FAQs about ergonomic stools.

How often should I take a break from an ergonomic stool?

There isn’t a conclusive answer to this, as it depends on numerous factors. These include your condition and the type of work you do. Some conditions can flare up very quickly and require more frequent breaks (such as every 10-15 minutes). Others are less sensitive and so might require fewer breaks (such as every 30-40 minutes).

It might seem like a lot, but if you have a standing desk you can switch from sitting to standing in less than 10 seconds.

If you already take frequent breaks due to your condition, bear this existing number in mind when switching to an ergonomic stool. You might find that after using it for a while you can extend your time between breaks.

When should I take a break?

We recommend taking a break before the pain starts. As mentioned above, you may already have a clear understanding of how long this is. It helps to plan your day around taking breaks or using software to remind you.

How long should breaks last?

Again, there isn’t a clear answer for everyone. From our experience, even a few minutes of standing and stretching or walking can help. But, more serious conditions may require longer breaks.

The important thing is for you to adjust to using an ergonomic stool and then to see what feels most comfortable for you.

How long does it take to transition to an ergonomic stool?

It can take anywhere from 1 to 3 months to become familiar with an ergonomic stool. Active sitting models are on the longer end, as it can be unusual dealing with the constant movement.

During the adjustment period, some users report symptoms including:

  • Saddle soreness
  • Back ache
  • Thigh ache

While there is not much research into why this happens, it’s likely the same cause as any new activity (take yoga,for example). Your new sitting position stresses the soft tissue in an unfamiliar way, so it’s nothing to be concerned about.

These issues go away quite normally after a while, and gradually building up the time you spend on your ergonomic stool can help smooth the transition. Try not to spend a full day on it for a while after purchase.

What types of tasks work best on ergonomic stools?

Realistically, anything that requires sitting is fine for an ergonomic stool. We often recommend them for the following tasks:

  • Kitchen work
  • Playing music
  • Manual work (painting, crafting, technical work, construction, etc.)
  • Mobile tasks, such as moving around patients
  • Typing and desk work (although you might need upper limb support)

Should I have castors on my ergonomic stool?

Ergonomic stools with castors are no less stable than those without. After all, they’re designed with stability in mind, so it’s something developers consider.

We recommend castors for most people because they make it much easier to adjust your position and move around the work environment.

But, if your workplace has a sloping floor or you have a specific requirement for static positioning, we recommend an ergonomic stool without castors. Most models come with both options.

Will an ergonomic stool help my condition?

We all love a quick and easy fix to things we don’t like. But, realistically speaking, an ergonomic stool is just one part of a greater adjustment. We find they can make a big difference but are most successful alongside other factors.

For example, an ergonomic stool will mean very little without you adjusting your sitting habits, how many hours you work, your activity levels, and more.

Getting Help with Ergonomic Stools

Jumping into the world of ergonomic stools can feel very overwhelming, as there are probably far more kinds than you imagined. We hope this guide will narrow down your choices and recommends some suitable models.

Of course, if you still have questions or concerns, please reach out to us for more information. We’re always happy to help people improve their working conditions, and can provide specific information where possible.