book-chair-articleSpring Chicken

I'm interested in buying a riser recliner, is there anything I should take into consideration?

Having a comfy, well fitting chair to relax in is a must have for many people. In fact, seating is a bit of an Occupational Therapists specialist subject and I am passionate about how much of an impact it can have for better quality of life for people who have physical difficulties. The main reason is posture and positioning, as this allows activities to be carried out easier and I do agree but would add that comfort can have as much of an impact.   

The seat needs to be suitable for the purpose and it must also be a good fit.
The differences between a good armchair and one which doesn't fit are quite subtle and if you have health issues can become quite complex.

The main issues are:

  • Height and depth measurements
  • Your weight
  • Amount of support for the back and in what areas of the back
  • Armrest height width and angle
  • Adjustability and allowing for changes in ability or future proofing
  • What activities you want to be able to carry out in the chair - relaxing, eating, watercolour painting, sleeping etc
  • Whether the chair need to be manoeuvred around
  • How long the chair will be used for at one time - any pressure care needs and finally individual preferences for the feel and look of the material and design of the chair.

However it is worth the effort of getting the right chair for the person, especially if you have any special needs as the consequences of not having the right seating can be severe. From feeling pain, stiffer and less able to do things to having contractures (permanent painful shortening of the muscles) and pressure sores.

The right posture and positioning gives more muscle strength and ability to engage in activities. This is especially obvious in people who have neurological illnesses and no other way to communicate other than body language - they are significantly happier and more able to relax or even feed themselves in better seating. So having the right seating might reduce the pain gel bill, among other benefits! It can be an expensive mistake when the wrong seating is bought and so getting it right first time is important whenever possible.

Measuring for correct fit: If the person concerned has specialised needs such as following a stroke or advanced dementia, then this needs to be done by a trained and experienced chair demonstrator/supplier, health or social services trained staff.

For a high back or riser recliner chair then the measurements are fairly straight forward to suit the size of the user and the space available.

Seat height: The higher the seat the easier it is to get out of. If it's too high then it will feel uncomfortable under the thighs especially if the feet do not touch the ground properly. If it is too low then it is difficult to get out of but also the pressure of body weight is directed too much to the pelvis and not taken by the full length of the thigh potentially causing back pain. Measuring from the floor to the crease at the back of the knee and adding an inch is usually comfortable.
The angle at the hips and knees should be a bit greater than 90 degrees for relaxing.

Seat width: When you sit in the chair the backrest should feel supportive and ideally have a slight lumbar curve. Narrow enough to be able to make use of the armrests, Ideally it should be the width of your hips plus an inch or two.

Seat depth: The seat needs to be deep enough to support the full length of your thighs. If the seat is too deep, you will have to lean back to provide support for the shoulders which may cause you to slump in the chair. A seat which is too deep may also cause your bottom to slide forwards in the chair. If it is too shallow, your thighs will not be supported properly and after a while you may be uncomfortable.

To calculate the correct depth, measure the distance from the back of the bottom, along the thighs to approximately 3 cm (1.5 in) behind the back of the knees. When seated you should be able to place two fingers together between the edge of the seat and the back of the knee. A greater depth should be allowed if you require additional back supports or cushions.

The back height for a chair is also important particularly if head support is required. The chair needs to be in proportion to a person's trunk height so that if a chair is providing head support it conforms to a person's dimensions.

The armrest height: For comfort the armrest should allow you to rest your arms without raising or dropping your shoulders and should support the full length of the forearm.

It is best to be in a more upright position for activity such as eating, writing or working on a computer. For wheelchair users who want to be able to transfer themselves to an armchair using a transfer board, a removable arm can be made to assist.

Heat and massage: Something that you will love is widely available and can be good for pain relief and comfort.

Specialist chairs can be life changing for someone with multiple severe posture issues or care needs. Being stuck in a bed because you do not have a chair that meets your needs is not a good quality of life.


Any information of a medical nature on this website is given to provide a general understanding of a medical condition or conditions. No patient/doctor relationship is to be inferred and you should seek medical advice from a qualified practitioner. Nothing on this site should be used as a substitute for competent advice from a qualified medical practitioner.

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