A study conducted in the early 2000’s revealed that sitting upright in a chair for several hours (which opens the hips up to 90 degrees) leads to chronic back pain.
The alternative was to recline the chair back to open the hip angle up to at least 135 degrees for instant relief. But, is reclined seating the BEST sitting posture overall?
The Benefits of Reclining
Simply tipping your chair back a bit automatically does so much more for you than just open your hips up:
Reverse hunched position
Holding a prolonged hunched position at work can do a number on your overall posture. Potential problems include neck, shoulder, and back pain, joint stiffness, future spinal herniation, pinched nerves, and reduced circulation to muscle tissue.
Reclining the chair back means that gravity does the work, keeping your chest and shoulder open and your neck and chin upright.
Great for back pain
As mentioned previously, reclined seating reduces back pain. Sitting in a 90 degree angle for lengthy periods of time means that the spine is being compressed with gravity.
Spinal compression with no rest breaks can reduce synovial fluid in the vertebral discs, causing spine bones (vertebra) to collapse and rub into each other.
This results in disc herniations and nerve pinches that can be excruciating while leading to permanent spinal damage.
Less spinal load
Reclined seating allows for the entire spine to lean back while keeping the hips tilted forward. This means that gravity is no longer pushing an upright spine straight down on top of itself.
The immediate effects may not be noticeable, but a reclined position might be saving someone from disc, nerve, bone, and muscle breakdown in the back.
Helps you breathe better
A reclined seating position optimizes a person’s ability to breathe. By leaning backwards, the lungs and diaphragm have more room to expand.
Downsides of Recliners
Now that we have discussed to common health perks that come with a reclined seating position, let’s spoil some of the fun and examine some of the downsides:
Bad for knees
Obviously, reclining backwards consistently in an office setting is not practical. There are some work-related tasks that can be completed more efficiently when sitting upright.
In efforts to recline back and to sit upright, the knees take the brunt of the work in order to bring the body up from a reclined seated position to an upright seated position.
Overtime, this can wreak havoc on weak or sore knees.
Can be bad for lower back
If you are sitting in a chair that does not provide the right back support, then reclined seating can actually cause untold pain to the lower back.
This is common for people who recline back in chairs that have a hollowed out pad at the bottom of the back support. The curvature of the lower back creates a hollowed space between the back and the back support.
This means that the lower back is actually getting ZERO support from the chair, and without a filler padding (towel or pillow), the spine with gravity pushes into that space causing increased pain.
BBC News referenced a study in 2006 conducted by Canadian and Scottish researchers. Twenty two volunteers were examined in Aberdeen while sitting in 3 different positions: slouching, sitting upright at 90 degrees, and sitting in a reclined position at 135 degrees.
Overall, results showed that the 135 degree position was better in preventing disc slide and compression. However, one researcher made a notable point.
Although sitting with the hip angle open at 135 degrees provides more spinal relief, this angle does put sitters at risk of sliding out of the chair.
Dr. Waseem Bashir, who led the study, recommended that the reclined position should be 120 degrees or less.
Ideal Reclining Angle While Sitting
Although research has shown that reclining a chair back to 135 degrees proves beneficial, the angle is not a “one size fits all” solution.
In regards to Dr. Bashir’s comments, a smaller angle may be better for some users who are unsure or who are at risk of sliding off of their chairs. People who slide off often lack appropriate muscle strength in their legs to keep themselves up.
Choosing the right hip angle for reclined sitting all depends on the user’s needs, their history with lower back pain (if any), and the type of chair that they are using.
Common Questions About Recliners
- Is sleeping in a recliner bad for you?
No, it is possible to sleep safely in a recliner and YES, it can be bad for you. Let’s clear up the confusion. Recliner technology has come a long way since the 1920’s, so ergonomically-friendly recliner frames have made it possible for users to comfortably sleep for longer periods of time without destroying the back.
However, without the right chair and a combination of unique health problems, sleeping in a recliner can be dangerous.
Consult with a doctor and/or a spine specialist if you have chronic back problems or breakdown, COPD or other respiratory conditions, heart problems, and circulatory problems before sleeping in a recliner.
- Are recliners good for back pain?
Yes, some recliners were specifically designed to reduce back pain. Reclining the back support automatically reduces weight and pressure throughout the spine. Elevating the legs also reduces tension on the hips and lower back.
If you want a recliner that actually helps alleviate lower back pain, make a well-researched effort to locate the BEST ones.
Make sure that the recliner you want offers multiple hip angle placements so that it can be adjusted according to your needs.
- How do you sit in a recliner with lower back pain?
Find a chair that supports the entirety of your spine, meeting every curve of your back, shoulders, hips, and neck.
Settle into the middle of the back cushion rather than leaning from side to side. Slightly leaning or turning from the middle of the cushion can exacerbate current pain but also throw your backs and hips out.
- Is your lower back supported?
Yes, depending on whether or not you got the right chair for you back shape. A well-shaped back support should bulge out a bit where your lower back should rest in a reclined position.
The bulge fills any potential space between the lower spine and the lower back cushion. If you find that your lower back pain is worsening in recline, or that you have to shove pillows or rolled-up towels under your lower back, then your chair is not giving you enough lower back support.
- Are recliners good for people recovering from surgery?
Recliners have the potential to be beneficial for persons recovering from surgery, but it very much depends on the surgery. If you went through any joint replacement surgeries (hips or back), you should consult with your surgeon.
Recliners that are too deep or too soft can actually sublux or pop joint replacements out of place resulting in severe pain and additional surgical revisions.
- Are massage recliners useful?
Yes, massage recliners can be extremely useful for persons who struggle with back stiffness, pain, and spasms. However, massage features have very little to do with promoting a healthy sitting posture.
For example, you can sit in a massage chair all day and feel great. If are positioned incorrectly, there will never be enough massage time to reverse what is happening to your spine.
To sum it up, a reclined sitting position wins over an upright sitting posture any day when it comes to prolonged sitting.
Reclining angles will vary depending on the person and the type of chair, but tipping the spine back into a well-shaped back support provides instant back relief.
Do your research, get to know your body, talk to your doctor, and change your posture for the better.