Your furniture defines the look of your living room. The styles you choose and the colors you love help create the personal vibe you seek. But don’t forget that after all is said and done, it’s important that your chairs and sofas contribute to a healthy lifestyle, not just a beautiful one.
We’ll leave the design options up to you but for help with choosing furniture that won’t break your back, here is a good set of guidelines to follow. They’re worth considering if you care about the health of your spine… and judging by the long hours most of us spend sitting down, you probably do!
To know what to buy, it helps to understand what’s probably wrong with most of the furniture out there. Most people choose their living room furniture according to their own set of design principles:
…with some thought given to comfort:
These are all very good questions. There’s nothing wrong with getting the right look but the way most people approach the comfort element is severely short-sighted.
The feeling you get when you first sink down into a recliner on the showroom floor can be misleading if you don’t know what you’re doing. Does it feel soft?
A better question would be: Does it support my back and feel comfortable? Another good question: Does it adjust to my body instead of the other way around?
If you chose your current recliner because it felt ‘soft’ when you tried it out, there’s a good chance it doesn’t provide you with the proper support for long-term sitting and relaxing. For people who need to pay attention to spine health (and who doesn’t?), that can turn into a problem — a very uncomfortable problem.
Lucky you, since you’re in the market for a new chair and you can avoid that all-too-common mistake.
So, what should you look for if not temporary show-room comfort and ‘softness’? Here’s what to do to ensure your living room seating pleases the body as well as the eye.
Most people don’t think of their furniture the same way they do their clothing. That’s a shame since the right size is a key feature of back-friendly seating. You’ve probably noticed that people come in all different shape and sizes.
Just as Goldilocks discovered, it’s just no good sitting in someone else’s chair.
Just because a chair feels fantastic on Uncle Frank’s back, neck, and tush, it doesn’t mean you’ll find seating Nirvana once you try it out. Seating should be fitted to the person who’s going to be using the chair most often.
Look for seating that comes in various sizes and then select the one that’s right for you. Consider height, of course, but don’t forget to check the width. Don’t assume that a chair that’s too wide will be suitable. It’s not just about making sure you can squeeze into the seat. A chair that’s too wide can mess with your spine just as badly as one that’s too narrow.
For the vast majority of us, any seating that’s not good for the spine is bad news. The percentage of the population that suffers back problems at some point in time is shockingly high: 80 percent(1). If you can alleviate any problems simply by purchasing the correct size seating, this is a good first step.
If you’ve ever driven a luxury car, one of the first things you might have noticed is how comfortable the seating was.
That’s partly due to the extraordinary amount of attention given to lumbar support by designers of premium cars. Not only does good seating have lumbar support but it also comes fully adjustable. That means you can find the ideal setting for your back. It also means you can switch things up when you need a change during those long drives.
It’s the same with back-friendly furniture. You’ll have the best outcome when there’s good lumbar support. Even better is when you can adjust the lumbar settings. That makes a huge difference during those long periods of sitting while bingeing on Netflix or otherwise relaxing for long stretches at a time.
It’s not your typical living room seating that can adjust to the different ways you sit. That’s usually a feature of high-end office seating. It’s also not common to find seating that moves with your body but certain companies specialize in making chairs and sofas that can accommodate different activities.
For instance, when you’re watching TV, it’s good to have neck support so you can see the screen without straining. The same goes for reading, where you’ll want to have your head tilted slightly forward. Your chair should cradle your head at the base, keeping it in a natural position.
Napping, on the other hand, requires a different position. For comfort and maximum spine health, it’s better to have the head rest flat. Chairs that come with movable headrests are optimal so you can easily switch from reading mode to napping. ‘Easily’ is the keyword, since if the headrest is difficult to adjust, you probably won’t end up moving it at all.
There’s no such thing as magic furniture, but there are chairs that can automatically adjust to your body weight and your position. That ensures not only maximum comfort but also better support for your back. Again, the keyword is automatic. If it takes any effort at all, most people won’t bother to turn that knob or adjust that lever for better ergonomics.
Picture it yourself: can you imagine fussing with knobs while you’re transitioning from watching TV to slipping off into nap mode? Chairs have to be automatically adjustable (or at the very least, easilyadjustable) in order for you to enjoy the maximum ergonomic benefits your spine craves.
People whose job is to advise other people on ergonomics will always tell their clients to keep moving throughout the day. Having a recliner that adjusts automatically (or at least easily) to a number of different positions will help you keep moving even when you’re sitting down at home.
No matter what position you’re in, however, you’ll want to maintain the natural curve of your spine —especially your lower back. This is recommended by chiropractors giving advice for proper sitting(2). Features that adjust automatically to your spine may do a lot to help you keep the right position while sitting.
Finally, there’s one more thing to look for if you’re seeking spine-friendly furniture for your living room. It’s considered the gold standard for ergonomic furniture standards: an endorsement from the American Chiropractic Association (ACA).
The ACA is the largest professional organization in the country for chiropractors. Their public-facing role includes publishing tips for healthy spines, good posture, and endorsements for products that support chiropractic health principles. At the time this guide went to press, there were only six manufacturers who were given the official seal of approval from the ACA:
This last criterion isn’t required, especially since it’s a rare find. But if you can score approval from the leading spine care organization in the United States, your spine is all but guaranteed a much better experience. Good luck in your search and here’s to your healthy back!