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Is Leaning Back in Chair Bad? Chiropractor Explains

   This post has been quality checked in line with our Editorial and Research Policy.

Is Leaning Back in Chair Bad? Chiropractor Explains

There is much confusion regarding the subject of ‘is reclining back in a chair good or bad?’ There are many opinions, some research, and a lot of disinformation on the web.

As a general rule, leaning back at a 135° degree angle between your trunk and thighs is more effective than sitting up straight. This sitting angle is effective because this places unnecessary strain on our backs when we sit entirely straight. 

This article will review the research on leaning back in a chair and allow you to see why there are both valid concerns and how it can be good for you.  However, there is one massive disadvantage to leaning back in a chair that everyone ignores, and I will give you the details later in this article.

The Benefits of Reclining in a Chair

When you recline, you stop the forward hunch movement. The long-term effects of holding a hunched position at work include neck, shoulder, back pain, joint stiffness, pinched nerves, and poor circulation to muscle tissues. The simple act of tilting your chair back a bit will do a lot for you, in addition to opening your hips up. 

By reclining the chair back, gravity does the work, keeping the chest and shoulders open and the neck and chin upright.

Reclining is Good for Back Pain.  When sitting for prolonged periods, without breaks, or under excessive compression, the body may lose synovial fluid, causing them to develop arthritis.  

When you sit in a chair at a 90-degree angle for extended periods, gravity compresses the spine and leads to disc herniations and spinal pinches. This damage can result in severe and even permanent back problems.

Reclined seating allows the entire spine to lean back while the hips continue to lean forward.  Reclining in your seat prevents gravity from pushing a straight spine forward on top of itself.  Although an individual might not notice the immediate effects, a reclined position may save them from disc, nerve, bone, and muscle breakdown in the back.

A Reclined Position Improves Your Breathing

The ribs and abdominal cavity expand when leaned backwards, which keeps the shoulder blades open wide. This allows for more comfortable breathing.  Increased lung volume (vital capacity) caused by this posture should enable better breathing and improve your alertness and mental balance. 

Problems with Reclining in Your Chair

After examining the health benefits associated with sitting in a reclined position, let’s explore some of the less desirable aspects:

Back Pain Can Be Caused By Reclining In Your Chair

If your back is not properly supported in a recliner, it can cause you back pain.  It is common in chairs with no or very softbacks in people who recline backwards in them. Lack of a patent lumbar support in a recliner may produce a reversal in the low back curve. If the low back curve is not patent, the weight goes into the discs and joints of your lumbar spine, instead of your muscles, which causes breakdown and no support.  The force exerted by gravity causes spinal pressure over the lower back, causing pain.

Reclining in Your Chair Can Be Bad for Your Knees

Reclining backwards is not always practical in an office setting, since some tasks are better accomplished when you sit upright. Weak or sore legs have to bear most of the burden when sitting upright when forced to recline backwards. Weak or sore knees will be affected.

Research on Reclining Our Chair

  • Researchers at Candian & Scottish Chiropractic College conducted a study in 2006 in which volunteers were examined while slouching, sitting, slouching, and at 90° and 135° angles. 
  • In general, results suggest the 135° position prevents disc slide and compression better.  
  • However, the research mentioned in this article has one caveat. If the hip angle is open at 135°, the back pain will be relieved, but the seat occupant may slide out.  
  • Thus, the study results suggest that the seated position should be 120 degrees (or slightly less).

Why Research on Reclining is Not Accurate

The study seems to be accurate in practice, but it doesn’t tell the whole story. A significant factor is potentially overlooked. Here’s what we found:

Everyone can agree that this research indicates that the reduced risk of back pain, neck pain, and shoulder pain occurs when a person sits as close as possible to standing.  However, if you are sitting at your desk in a reclined position, you may be creating potential problems in your neck and shoulders.  Let me explain….

I found statistically higher complaints of neck pain and shoulder pain in individuals who routinely work from a reclined seated position by conducting multiple ergonomic assessments.  Neck and shoulder pain was far too prevalent in these individuals to categorically dismiss these pains as subjective.

So, my team decided to dig a little deeper to determine if a rescind seated position at a workstation was the actual causative factor for neck pain and shoulder pain.  Without going too deeply into our research, we experimented with multiple offices and one primary school and tested our subjects in various seated positions using a surface electromyography scan (sEMG). EMGs objectively measure muscle stress, making it possible to determine whether working in a reclining position is harmful to one’s neck or shoulders.

**source: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/6187080.stm

In summary, we found conclusively that those who worked at computers in a reclined position had increased muscle stress in their neck and shoulders.  One crucial point that I offer here is not intending to denigrate any research on this issue. I am simply suggesting that you consider this issue if you want. Working at your computer in a reclined position, you may be causing stress to your neck and shoulders.  

The cause of increased muscle tension and pain in the neck and shoulders is simple: your head translates forward from this position.  Think about this. If you are seated in this way, you will likely lean your head forward to look at your monitor.  Research tells us that you will increase the load on your spine exponentially for every inch that your head is in front of your spine.

The best way to recline in your chair is to treat it like wine, only in moderation.  Reclining is perfectly fine if you are not working on your computer.   

The other major factor to consider is your trunk-to-thigh angle. Most people feel comfortable when seated at an angle that is greater than 90°. My recommendation is to tilt your seat forward or sit on a wedge.  Watch yourself and notice that your spine becomes less stressed when your hips are above your knees in a seated position.  Whenever you sit with your hips above your knees, you will consciously and actively engage your core muscles and be more comfortable.  

How Safe Is It to Sleep on a Recliner?

Even with all of the advances in ‘ergonomic’ or ‘orthopaedic’ recliners over the past century, I still don’t believe that it is possible to sleep comfortably and adequately in a recliner.  I think that the eight or so hours you sleep are the most critical hours of your day, and if you sleep wrong, your entire rest of the day will be off.  

If you want the best sleep possible, then choose a medium-firm mattress that’s exceptionally comfortable, encourages proper alignment, is non-toxic, and eco-friendly. A well-designed natural latex mattress and pillow will surpass all of these requirements.

In the ideal position, sleepers need to sleep as if they are standing up straight with their knees bent. I have that it is not possible to achieve this sleeping position properly in a recliner chair. Try to get your sleep right for recovery, repair, and staying fresh and young. 

Additionally, in cases where you have chronic back problems or breakdown, respiratory problems, heart problems, or circulatory problems, consult with a doctor or a spine specialist before using a recliner.

The Benefits of Recliners if You Have Back Pain

A recliner specifically designed to relieve back pain may reduce pressure on the low back. Additionally, raising your feet alleviates tension in your pelvis and lower back.

You must do your homework to find the BEST recliners that help relieve lower back pain. Make sure that the seat angle is easily adjustable to fit you comfortably.  If buying a recliner, try one out and take your time to see if your body type works with it. If it does not, you may not be comfortable using it.

How to Sit In a Recliner With Lower Back Pain

The trick here is to find a reclining chair that accommodates the shape of your back, shoulders, hips, and neck. Nobody is the same shape and size. So make sure your reclining chair can adjust to fit you. 

Rather than leaning from side to side while sitting in a recliner, I prefer sitting in the center of the cushion. Turning slightly otherwise can aggravate current pain while also turning your hips out.

How Helpful Are Recliners to Surgery Patients?

When recovering from surgery, reclining chairs may prove beneficial, but it depends on the surgery. Soft recliners can cause excessive pain resulting from hip or joint replacements. However, if you had any joint replacement surgery, you should consult with your surgeon.

How Useful Are Massage Recliners?

Pros and Cons of Massage Recliners:

  • A good point of a massage chair: People suffering from back stiffness, pain, spasms, or spasms are likely to benefit significantly from massage recliners.  
  • The bad point of a massage chair: Massage features have little to do with proper sitting posture.

In other words, you can sit in a massage chair all day and feel fantastic. If you’re in the wrong position, you’ll never have enough time for the massage to reverse spinal degeneration.

Takeaway

If you want to know the truth about reclining back in a chair, this article will help. It discusses all of the pros and cons so that you can decide for yourself whether or not it’s worth taking on any of these risks. The one disadvantage we’ve mentioned is pretty significant but there are many benefits as well. So if you’re interested in leaning back in your office chair, keep reading!

Sources

  1. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/6187080.stm
  2. Haynes, S. and Williams, K., 2008. Impact of seating posture on user comfort and typing performance for people with chronic low back pain. International journal of industrial ergonomics, 38(1), pp.35-46.  
  3. Ota, K., Saitoh, E., Kagaya, H., Sonoda, S. and Shibata, S., 2011. Effect of postural combinations—the reclined seated position combined with head rotation—on the transport of boluses and aspiration. Japanese Journal of Comprehensive Rehabilitation Science, 2, pp.36-41.  
  4. Pynt, J., Higgs, J. and Mackey, M., 2001. Seeking the optimal posture of the seated lumbar spine. Physiotherapy theory and practice, 17(1), pp.5-21.
Dr Lawrence Woods DC

Dr Lawrence Woods DC

Founder

My goal is to create the highest quality ergonomic office chairs and accessories for unmatched comfort.

With 30 years of spinal healthcare experience in Ireland as a chiropractor, I learned the value of high-quality sitting for living a happy and healthy life.

I have a Chiropractic Degree from Life Chiropractic College West and I am NBCE Physiotherapy certified.

 

Dr Lawrence Woods

My goal is to create the highest quality ergonomic office chairs and accessories for unmatched comfort.With 30 years of spinal healthcare experience as a chiropractor, I learned the value of high-quality sleep for living a happy and healthy life.I have a Chiropractic Degree from Life Chiropractic College West and am NBCE Physiotherapy certified.

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