I’m interested in buying a 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 usually said to be 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.
If you can imagine the difference a person driving a car when sitting on a very soft sofa style seat or watching a movie on step stool, then its obvious what I am getting at.
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.
This can make the choices available a bit of a chore to go through. Sometimes you can go through the process and find the right chair but the person hates it, but finds one that shouldn’t suit them the most comfortable of all!
If your favourite chair is a sofa, then this stand assist with tray may help.
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.
High back chair
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 ideally.
For a high back or rise recline 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 its too high then it will feel uncomfortable under the thighs especially of 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.
Add two inches if you have just had a hip replacement or find it difficult to get out of a chair.
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 a couple of inches on either side.
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.
Having a lumbar support: This is a controversial area as some people believe that it can cause more discomfort than it alleviates. The best supports are soft and flexible allowing normal movement so that changing position or stretching can be done comfortably.
Anything which is too curved or too hard will be uncomfortable after a while.
Whether you will benefit from one or not does depend on what your muscle tone is like and whether you normally tilt your pelvis forward or backwards. It also depends whether you already have a back problem or not.
For a thin and frail person these lateral back supports can be very helpful in stopping them sliding to one side due to feeling unsupported.
Allowing good positioning of shoulders and elbows will be important for reducing stiffness in the neck and back and for activities such as reading or crafting.
It is best to be in a more upright position for activity such as eating, writing 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.
Reclining for rest: Head and neck support are important for relaxing, some armchairs which only reach to shoulder blade height will become uncomfortable after a while but are good for shorter periods.
Rise function: Health professionals advise that you don’t use the rise function on the chair f you don’t need it. This is because it is important to maintain strength in your limbs as much as you can even if it is painful.
Therefore use and 80:20 rule and perhaps use the rise function in the evening when tired or after sitting for a lengthy time but make sure you keep those leg muscles as active as possible.
Sleeping in a chair: It’s best to only sleep in chairs that recline for the purpose and have material that will not leave marks or damage skin.
Clip on mattresses are available which can assist with pressure care for people who have no alternative to sleeping in a chair but they need to be monitored in case of sliding off the chair. To prevent this a thin rubber mat can be placed underneath it.
Heat and massage: Something that you will either love or hate but is widely available and can be good for pain relief and comfort.
Specialist chairs can be life changing for someone with multiple sever 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.
Multi purpose chairs can make all the difference.
Seating Matters Is the world leading specialist seating company in terms of carrying out research into seating issues and designing solutions. These fully adjustable chairs can be used instead of attendant propelled wheelchairs also with the addition of different wheels, although mainly for easy terrain.
The ergonomics of chair design and fit is a huge subject which is just touched on here and it’s worth knowing many chair companies can build to fit, with other designs are made to be adjustable.
Good luck finding the one for you.
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No patient/doctor relationship is to be inferred and you should seek medical advice from a qualified practitioner.
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