3 min read

Are headrests actually good?

I thought I knew better than Herman Miller. I didn't.
Are headrests actually good?

Earlier this year, I ordered an Atlas Headrest for my office chair (a Herman Miller Aeron). A couple of years ago, I had a bike accident and injured my neck - it still gives me trouble most days. This purchase was an attempt to try and reduce things in my life that could trigger the cervicogenic headaches I now suffer from.

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I thought maybe if I could relax my head a little more whilst sat at my desk - which as someone who works from home, I do a lot - then maybe that would help.

The Atlas headrest comes highly recommended, it's built by former a Herman Miller designer and made to perfectly match the Aeron in its materials, design and fit. I received it, and I agree with the reviews, it's an excellent product - built really well and they've done a great job of making it look like it should be part of the chair.

It's expensive, especially to get it shipped to the UK, but as far as the product itself - I was happy with the purchase. It looks and functions as it should. But over the past 8-10 months, I think I've come to a realisation as to why Herman Miller don't design their chairs with headrests.

I'll preface this with: I don't believe my experience below is a fault of this product itself - I do believe if you have found headrests work for you and you have an Aeron, then the Atlas is a great choice.

The many arguments against headrests come down to the idea that if the rest of your body is properly supported, particularly your upper and lower back, then medical conditions or individual circumstances aside, your spine is perfectly capable of holding your head and neck in a position that is comfortable and ergonomic.

Not only that, but there are arguments that headrests usually put your head and neck in a position that isn't ideal and can induce neck strain. Unfortunately, I have to say I'm one of those. I have found that trying to use the headrest in my standard desk usage is more likely to trigger my neck injury. It didn't help my issue, and made it worse.

Over the past 8-10 months, I have learned that if I don't overthink my seating position at my desk and just sit how the Aeron tries to make you sit via its design, then I can remain comfortable for long periods of time. I knew that already from prior to my injury, but I began to adjust too much in an attempt to resolve my neck issues. I now believe it isn't sitting at my desk that triggers the injury, it's other things that aren't particularly relevant to this post.

I have not, however, removed the headrest from my chair. There are circumstances where the headrest is beneficial and I find it comfortable without causing any stress on my neck. That's when I'm in a more lounging position playing games or watching videos or other leisure activities at my desk on my PC. I've sat for hours reclined into the headrest and it has been great.

But these are two different modes, when working at my desk, I naturally feel the urge to sit up and a bit more forward - and trying to utilise the headrest in this position doesn't work for me. I should have known this, I knew I never really used the headrests on previous office chairs, or even in cars or similar seating situations where I'm active and concentrating.

I think those who argue against headrests might have a point, but as usual, it's rarely black & white. There are circumstances where they're not going to do you any harm and do provide the comfort expected. But for me, I probably shouldn't have questioned Herman Miller's design philosophy, the Aeron had already proven to me that it understands seating ergonomics well.