A tale of many chairs! The best of chairs, the worst of chairs – with apologies to Charles Dickens!

by admin

Anyone who’s read The Tale of Two Cities, will recognize this famous line taken from the beginning of this dramatic story based on the French Revolution. But, while not really wanting to draw any melodramatic connections between death by guillotine and the pain suffered by sitting in the wrong type of chairs, it is a fact that long hours spent in chairs that are totally at odds with our bodies, can be almost as painful!

From squatting to sitting…a long and eventful journey

So, as man evolved, so did his needs. And aspirations. Presumably, early man must have squatted on the floor – and over time decided it was too cold, too hard, too uncomfortable. From the floor to sitting on rocks and piles of grass and hay…man used his brains and imagination to design and make seating options that covered the gamut – from the humble peasant to royal rulers.

History shows us the wide variety of seating styles that have been invented over millennia and today this covers the gamut of styles, sizes, uses, material, technology – ranging from the minimalistic to the most extravagant. Some systems in use around the world include

chairs with center seats where a solid material forms the chair seat; chairs made from solid wood, which may or may not be shaped to human contours; padded leather chairs, generally a flat wood base covered in padding and contained in soft leather; stuffed fabric chairs similar to padded leather; metal seating systems of solid or open design; moulded plastic chairs; stone, often marble, chairs found outdoors and in palaces; Wicker chairs, woven to provide a surface with a certain give to it; leather chairs, may be tooled with a design; cane chairs used on patios and in gardens…and many, many more.

Which brings us to the 21st century and presents us with that all-important question: what is the best type of chair for the human body to sit on? Well, there is no straight forward answer to this question. Each type and style of chair has its pros and cons. The type of chair that suits one person may not suit another due to various factors – namely those of size, shape, weight, height, age, inclination, state of health, familiarity, culture and so forth. But, we can home in on few of the most common types of seating in use and see what they have to offer by way advantages and disadvantages.

To recline or not, is the question

We have all been there. At the end of a long, tiring and stressful day, there’s nothing you want more than put your feet up and relax. That’s exactly what you do when you plonk yourself down on a recliner. But, while getting out of the chair you may feel some pain in your lower back. This then begs the question: “Are recliners good or bad for your back?”

Generally speaking, as long as the recliner provides lumbar support, elevates your feet above the level of your heart and fits the contours of your body properly, sitting in a recliner is good for your back. However, lack of lumbar support can cause your lower back muscles to stretch and tighten up while you sit – causing back aches and discomfort. Some recliners offer better lumbar support, others not so much. So, how do you know when a recliner offers good lumbar support or not?

If there is no gap between your lower back and the chair when you put your legs up, then your recliner is providing you with good lumbar support. If there is a gap when you put your feet up, your body will sink into the hole, causing you to slouch. This will put a strain on the ligaments and muscles of your lower back, causing back pain.

Sofas: Are they as comfortable and relaxing as they look?

Most of us look at a nice, over-stuffed sofa, and all we want to do is sink into it. But, are you aware that sofas have been known to cause back pain? A new survey in the U.K. has shown that one in five people have reported back problems after purchasing ‘soft seat’ furniture. To quote the key findings of this study, unquote:

  • Soft sofas to blame for a rise in back problems
  • A fifth of people reported lower back ache and shoulder strain after buying a sofa
  • Wooden chairs used to be more popular but now people prefer deep cushions
  • 8 in 10 British people suffer at least one bout of lower back pain during their lives

*Physiotherapist Dr Richard Evans, The Back and Body Clinic in Northampton, says that while softer furniture might feel more comfortable, they could lead to pain and discomfort at a later stage. The reason, he clarified, is that sink-in-deep, softer sofas encourage people to slouch and lie back rather than sit upright, to boost good posture.

Mr Evans, went on to say that, “Sitting comfortably may seem a very basic human activity but in fact sitting properly, with muscles and vertebrae supported efficiently, does require good back support and posture.” He added: ‘Modern sofas and cushioned chairs can encourage poor posture as the soft upholstery may not give the spine and neck the support that is required. By sitting for too long, especially in a poor postural or slumped position, you can add a tremendous amount of pressure to your back, overstretch the spinal ligaments and increase the pressure on your intervertebral discs. This, in turn, can lead to on-going aches and pains.”

The National Health Service UK (NHS) advises that to avoid back pain, it is recommended that we sit with our knees level with our hips, the lower back properly supported and with both feet on the floor. Crossing our legs or putting them up on the sofa next to us can lead to aches caused by bad posture.

Rocking away lower back pain

The most famous beneficiary of rocking chair therapy for chronic lower back pain was President Kennedy. Internationally famous, soft-tissue specialist Dr Janet Travell recommended that President Kennedy use a rocking chair after he found the rocking chair in her office very comfortable. According to specialists, “The repetitive rocking motion increases proprioception, the body’s awareness of the location of its various parts, such as the spine and lower extremities, in relation to each other.”

**Dr. Barry L. Marks, a chiropractor from California, recommends the following exercises while sitting in a rocking chair.

  • To start with, gently rock with both feet flat on the floor pushing with only your legs for five minutes
  • Next, raise your heels and leaving only the tips of the toes in contact with the floor, push with your legs for five minutes.
  • Next, gently rock for another five minutes with only your heels on the floor.
    Repeating these exercises throughout the day will increase blood flow to the legs and increase proprioception in the spine.

Zero Gravity Chair: Putting back pain to flight

Strictly speaking, though it rocks, the zero gravity recliner is not a rocking chair. But, many sufferers from low back pain and sciatica find it very helpful in alleviating their pain. The therapeutic effects of the chair on the body are extremely effective. The ergonomically designed zero gravity chair seats the body so the legs are higher than the heart, and the spine is in a neutral position. The chair’s therapeutic benefits include:

  • spinal decompression
  • decreased hip flexor muscle tension on the spine
  • improved circulation and blood oxygen levels

***Dr Stewart Eidelson, an orthopedic surgeon in Boca Raton, Florida, says, “The zero gravity position reduces the amount of force exerted on the spine.” The concept of zero gravity was developed by NASA research scientists who were looking for the best positions for the astronauts to take during launch.


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