If you’re wondering whether the armrests are good for ergonomics or not, the answer is – it depends!
These can be good for posture if used correctly, but can also lead to issues of used incorrectly (and can lead to neck or shoulder/elbow pain).
Allow me to get into a little detail to help you understand.
The deal is that armrests are really only useful under optimal conditions. What I mean is that for the armrest to qualify as ergonomic, a neutral shoulder and correct elbow posture must be maintained.
A neutral shoulder posture is the best position possible to keep the shoulder relaxed. The shoulders are not raised or depressed. The arms are not away from the user’s torso (adduction). Instead, the upper arm is comfortably tucked next to the user’s torso when they are working.
So if your armrests fit into the criteria of giving you an ergonomically correct posture while sitting, then definitely yes!
Let us look into the arguments in favor of armrests.
When Are Armrests good for Ergonomics?
The arms and hands together comprise around 12% of the total body mass.
Good arm support helps in reducing pain in the neck and shoulders by relaxing the upper trapezius and deltoid muscles according to the journal of physical therapy science.
In addition to the postural benefits, armrests can be incredibly useful in helping some workers get into and out of their chairs. This feature is usually overlooked and only realized when the armrests are missing.
Using the armrests as leverage when standing up reduces the force in the hips by 50%. So it is absolutely essential for older people or those with hip issues.
Armrests significantly delay the onset of fatigue. Without support, extending the hand forward by eight inches results in fatigue in less than 10 minutes. With support, the time is extended considerably.
Dr. Alan hedge of Cornell University wrote in 2002 that armrests reduce the static load on muscles of the neck, back, shoulder and arms especially when the arms are extended forward or abducted sideways.
He also states that finger forces are lessened when a user’s arms are supported while typing. He says armrests help in stabilizing the body while sitting and is critical in rising from a chair to reduce knee and hip joint muscle forces.
Noting all the positive benefits of armrests I will now share with you the conditions to be met by the armrests in order to qualify as ergonomic.
Criteria that armrests must fulfill in order to be ergonomic
From the height, length, width to pivot, the more adjustable the pivots are the more precisely it will support an ergonomic sitting posture and body type.
The ideal height range of armrests should be that it should be high enough to be at level with your desk and low enough that they can go under the desk when needed.
Measure the amount of clearance space you have under your desk to get the proper measurements. For example, if the height of your desk is around 29 inches, look for armrests that can lengthen to 29 inches or more and can go down to 27 inches or less.
Take into account the height range of the seat when measuring.
Apart from the height, width adjustability is the most important feature to look for in armrests. When sitting, your elbow should be directly under your shoulders.
Since each person’s shoulder width differs, an ideal armrest will be the one that can be moved closer or farther away from the torso.
Look for armrests whose width can be adjusted 2 to four inches inside or outside the torso and can fit according to body shape.
Pivoting armrests can be angled inwards or out to form a “v” shape.
If you frequently assume arm positions where your wrists are close to each other without the support of the desk, pivoting armrests can be highly beneficial in providing full coverage of your forearms in those positions.
Armrests that pivot inwards are far more useful than those that pivot outwards. Look for a minimum of 15-degree tilt.
Some armrests are length adjustable as well, meaning they slide forward and back to maximize coverage of your forearms in various postures.
As each arm size is different, it will be able to adjust the small stature ones as well as the tall stature limbs in keeping an ergonomic position.
Finally, there are armrests that can be dismissed altogether when not in use, by flipping up.
This can be useful if you want to do other tasks like playing the guitar. It is also convenient if you get up more often and you live in tight quarters or have a desk with low clearance space underneath.
Now let us see what kind of armrests are an ergonomic risk.
When are Armrests not good for Ergonomics?
Ergonomic risk occurs when optimal armrest positioning cannot be obtained.
Most offices have only one type of office chair available for staff. The interesting thing about chair design is that it is very rare that a chair design fits all people.
For smaller or petite staff, there can be a substantial mismatch between the armrest placement and shoulder width. Simply put, armrests are too wide for the person.
When the armrests are too wide, this results in outwardly flexed (abducted) shoulder positions. In this position, the elbow is placed away from the sides.
The forearms then approach the keyboard at an angle, which requires the wrist to bend in order to type. This awkward position can result in pain and discomfort.
The height can be too raised or too low in comparison with the desk which can lead to awkward posture and pain. The height should be adjusted so that the wrist is in a neutral position.
In such a position, the wrist neither flexes down nor extends up.
If the armrest is too high, it will compromise the neutral position of the shoulder causing tension in the muscles. Similarly, if the height is too low, it increases the risk of contact stress at the forearm or wrist.
If the armrest length is too long, it can prevent the user from getting as close as possible to the workstation. This increases the user’s reach. It leads to the user leaning forward causing non-neutral back position and shoulder awkwardness.
There are also some circumstances in which we cannot get the user to sit in an ergonomic posture. For example, a pregnant or obese worker often cannot sit close enough to the desk to work with upper arms close to the body.
In such cases, armrests help a lot to take some weight of the arms. It helps to prevent long static muscle exertion while holding the arms in a raised position.
If you work all day with your neck, shoulder, and arm in an awkward position, you are likely to develop excess muscle tension and joint strain which contribute to musculoskeletal injury.
The right posture adopted with a right ergonomic armrest goes a long way to take the load off you and relieve you from any strain and tension.
You may also like the following articles about ergonomics: