Every few months, a new study pops up about the negative effects sitting can have on our bodies and our health.
One of the latest reports, issued by the American Heart Association, warns that too much sedentary time—at home or at work—increases our risk of heart disease and diabetes.
But what about recliners, those easy chairs that encourage folks to kick their feet up? Don’t they take stress off the back and relieve lower back pain? Doesn’t a recliner simply provide a great way to relax without worry?
Maybe, and maybe not.
So says Bryan Kamps, MD, a Spectrum Health Medical Group orthopedic surgeon specializing in knee and hip replacements.
“It’s kind of a mixed bag,” Dr. Kamps said. “I wouldn’t say that recliners are just bad for everything. There are some things that they’re good for, but you have to use your judgment.”
When it’s good
Recliners are especially helpful for people recovering from surgery, Dr. Kamps said.
A patient who had shoulder surgery, for example, may feel less pain while relaxing in a recliner because the chair keeps the shoulder elevated.
Recliners are also good for people who spend a lot of time on their feet. Excessive standing puts stress on the back.
“If you take some stress off of your back, whether it’s by lying flat or lying in a recliner, that can help relieve some of that back pain,” the doctor said.
But—and this is important—the recliner has to fit you properly.
If your recliner doesn’t support your lower back, the chair could do your body more harm than good. To help your posture, add support by tucking a rolled towel or a small cushion against your lower back, Dr. Kamps said.
If you’re buying a new recliner, pay attention to what you feel at your lower back as you try out the options.
“If there’s nothing there, it’s probably going to make your back pain worse,” he said. “Or if you don’t have back pain, it’s going to give you back pain.”
When it’s bad
Recliners have their benefits, but they’re simply not helpful for people who tend to sit too much.
“A recliner in front of the television with a remote, spending hours a day in it—that is not going to be good for your health, right?” the doctor said. “That’s not the recliner’s fault, though. That’s just overall sedentary lifestyle.”
The recliner’s flaw is that it encourages sitting. And some people just don’t need that kind of encouragement.
What they need instead is to increase their activity level and improve their diet, Dr. Kamps said.
“Over and over again, every day, I tell people, ‘You know, I can do your surgery, but it’s not going to fix the reason that you got this joint pain in the first place,’” he said, alluding to lifestyle choices that affect body mass index and overall health.
Too much sitting is the problem, he said, which remains true no matter what type of chair you’re in.
“Our bodies aren’t designed to just sit,” Dr. Kamps said.
So go ahead, kick back and relax. Just remember that it should be a short and cherished interlude between activities.