Ergonomics – Couches and Chairs (Part III)

What do you conjure up in your mind when you think about your ideal living room furniture? A plush, cushy couch that envelopes you with warm hugs as you settle in to watch Game of Thornes? Most people do. Say your couch dream has come true and you are doing exactly that. But instead of comfortably watching GOT, you become restless because your back is bugging you…or your neck…or maybe your leg is beginning to fall asleep. Why is this happening?
Cushy couches, sofas and chairs do not offer support for your spine, quite the opposite. The cushier, the more your body is encouraged to slouch. Slouching causes neck and back pain. Just one more piece to the puzzle that your health professional must consider when you visit with complaints of pain. According to The Times of India, orthopedic surgeon Kiran Shete says, “The back muscles work harder to keep you aligned as you sink into those soft cushions. Similarly, the use of bean bags and couches distort the normal curvature of the spine by not giving adequate support.” Sitting on one of these couches, sofas or chairs for three hours over the course of four months is enough to create and painful situation.
When considering furniture, it’s not one size fits all. And a piece of furniture that is great for you at 50, may not be at 70. I’ve had many elderly patients who no longer sit on their couches because they can’t get up out of them. Living room furniture should fit the same criteria as a good ergonomic chair, giving you firm support where you need it. As Ergonomics specialist Chaitra Hiremath emphasized, “It is necessary that while selecting a sofa or a mattress, people give importance to optimum comfort rather than maximum comfort.”
Some things to consider when searching for living room furniture:
  • Furniture that supports you in an upright position (ears over shoulders over hips)
  • With your back against the back support, your feet should be resting on the floor
  • Your knees should be flexed at an angle between 90 deg and 110 deg in relationship to your hips
  • should be at least a two-finger distance between the surface of the couch, sofa or chair and the back of your knee to avoid compression of the soft tissue
When shopping for furniture, sit on the piece you are considering for at least 20 minutes. If you are shopping with a significant other who is either taller or shorter, you may have to consider separate custom pieces for optimum comfort for the both of you.
The other thing to consider is the favored recreation for the room you are purchasing furniture for. If the primary function is watching television, take care to arrange the furniture so that you can watch in a perfectly aligned position. Let’s say this is binge-watch room, you may want to choose a chair that reclines to take pressure off your neck and back or a sofa that allows you full extension of your body in a reclined position. Whether your television is hung up on the wall or on a television stand or in a console, you want to make sure that you are able to watch it at eye level. Having it up too high can cause neck pain.
If you love to read and this is the room where you do it, choose a chair that is upright and provides support for the low back in addition to a large pillow to rest the book on to prevent stress on your arms, shoulders and neck. Remember eye level is the key—looking down at the book will land you in physical therapy pronto.
If creating is what you love, all you crochet and knitting enthusiasts might want to look for a firm chair with arms rests to support elbows and prevent slouching or shoulder shrugging.
Do you crave entertaining? Check out chairs that pivot or arrange furniture in a circle for guests to easily mingle.
Need some help getting started on your search for comfortable furniture ergonomically designed? Check out ekornes, fjords’, Herman Miller’s Goetz sofa, and Knoll.
Book Authored by Deidre Ann Johnson

Keep this handy book by your desk while working or in your carry on when travelling for tips to keep you flexible and pain free.