Back in Action Blog

Why Don't We Sell Mesh-Seat Office Chairs?

Published on  – 7 minute read

We could probably make a small fortune selling them, so why do we choose not to?

Our advice, built up over 30 years, is to avoid sitting on chairs with a mesh seat while working at a desk. Yet it’s easy to find other opinions; Ergonomists, health professionals, and sitting experts like us often disagree. Why?  

Let’s start by sharing some of our passion with you and how we arrived at it.

After a lot of experimenting, working with practitioners, observing thousands of our customers and researching we feel more passionately than ever that sitting healthily (while working for long periods), requires the base of the pelvis to be supported by something firm. Firm enough to stop the pelvis (hips) rolling backwards and creating the slump that we are all susceptible to in the wrong chairs.

“Firm” includes high-quality foam, or padded wood, but we find doesn’t include mesh or anything that can 'hammock' over time.

To explain : when the base of the pelvis is firmly supported, then the spine and neck above the pelvis can align easily and effortlessly leading to greater movement, greater variety, and a dramatic increase in alertness and sense of well-being. (This way of sitting is hugely rewarding but does take a bit of getting used to - which is why we LOVE chairs that enable both this upright position, and more supported positions too).

Most people will agree this picture shows near perfect posture and poise .. the body is in movement with the neck perfectly balanced and the sitter doing some muscle work to generate health but not enough to be too much through a working day.

When the base of the pelvis is not supported firmly then it more easily falls over backwards, just like this wall is falling over because the foundations aren’t good enough. 

That wooden support is there as an emergency to hold the wall upright, but long term the answer is to correct the foundations. This is a great metaphor for sitting well - get the foundations right and the rest will follow.

A soft seat that gives your hips poor foundations will inevitably lead to slouching - unless you place a backrest behind it - but becoming dependent on a backrest isn't healthy either. Backrests are the answer to a problem that doesn't need to exist… they stop the lower part of your back from moving for hours at a time (bad for long term joint health) and even a backrest with a perfect shape can cause you to poke the neck forwards. Reducing moment by moment movement in the spine can also have a big impact on circulation and energy levels. 

How do we know this and why are we so passionate about pelvis support?

The answer is years of observing what works for us, our staff, our customers but also because way back in the 80s we did a lot of research and humans haven't changed - if anything movement and learning to co-ordinate your spine is more important than ever since we now have more sedentary lives than we did 30+ years ago. Since the 80's the choice of chairs has improved and we have learned more and more from our customers about which types of chairs keep spines healthy, pain free and or solve significant back issues. 

The counter argument often put forward by ergonomists and some health professionals is that support under the pelvis is not necessary because the backrest of the chair is the vital part, controlling the person's shape whilst requiring no skill or understanding on the part of the sitter. That view of the world became established back in the 1950s and since then the epidemic of back pain has grown and grown. Based on ever increasing rates of back pain and joint health issues, we feels its clear the backrest and lumbar support approach isn't the solution.  On the contrary, the majority of people who contact us about needing a chair to beat back pain are already sitting in something with good lumbar support... but the seat underneath them is too soft. They are therefore sitting in a curled position, without enough movement and with the head poked forwards, the lungs compressed, and the ligaments at the back of the spine stretched too much. 

It would be understandable to wonder why some ergonomists and health professionals still use an approach that we believe leads to ill-health.

We certainly don’t think it’s because they lack caring and we don't think our approach is the only one that works - we just passionately believe its the one that works best. It's not just the spinal health element either - it's the added energy and wellbeing we are able to observe when people move to a move active, self-supporting way of sitting (often still with a backrest, but with less dependence on it).

Our research and then subsequent experience is that a soft seat and backrest dependence can alleviate symptoms of back pain for a week or two - but beyond that often exacerbates the problem. Like sitting on a soft sofa - its comfy now but you know its not good for you and in about an hours time you are going to want more support. Likewise sedentary backrest sitting can cause neck and shoulder discomfort, allows cores muscles to become weak and long term often results in deterioration of wellbeing and spinal health.

There is another factor too: companies don’t like large expenditure so have often resisted views that imply they should change their approach to sitting. Is it surprising that many have therefore remained supportive of the conventional approach to sitting? 

Our belief is simple: Move more, Live better.

On average we sit for the equivalent of 18 years of our adult life:
Don't underestimate the power of the furniture you use - making a change can be truly life changing.