In our advice column, Ask the Strategist, we take your most burning shopping questions and scour friends, call up experts, and draw from personal experience to answer them. As always, please comment with one of your own — we’re here to help.
Question: What are the best lounge chairs for people with back problems, according to chiropractors?
First, let’s clarify what we mean by lounge chairs. To find something comfortable with back support for those looking to kick their feet up at home, we focused on the best recliners and armchairs for your living room (so no flimsy deck chairs you might “lounge” on). But if you’re stumped on ergonomic desk chairs, kneeling chairs, or actually just looking for a nice deck lounger, we’ve already covered that here, too.
The bottom line is that the person with persistent back problems should look for something middle-of-the-road — meaning not too squishy, yet not too firm — to prevent alignment issues from getting any worse. “Too soft means it’s too unstable and your muscles can’t stop contracting to keep you upright. Too hard is actually a bad thing because it’s not good for the nerves or the muscles,” says chiropractor Dr. Rudy Gehrman of New York’s Physio Logic. All the chiropractors that I spoke to for this story steered me away from the traditional “Archie Bunker”-style chairs that you sink into, toward firmer chairs with sufficient back and head support — even recliners with footrests (to minimize the effect of sitting all day long).
An easy favorite was the famous Herman Miller/Eames lounge chair and ottoman — a fixture in the design world, but also one touted by chiropractors Dr. David Shapiro of Complete Spine Solutions and Dr. Steven Shoshany. “It’s the ultimate,” says Shoshany. “It’s got the leg support, head support, and cushion. That would be my ideal chair.”
If you can’t afford the pricey original, you could also settle for a replica.
Gehrman has one of these anti-gravity chairs in his office, too, which is ideal because it’s both handsome and supportive (the cushy pillow is a nice add-on). The perk of reclining chairs in general is that laying flat will neutralize the spine and aid in circulation — but you could also add an ottoman to a chair that doesn’t have its own footrest. He likes this anti-gravity style because “it’s firm but not too hard and supports all the curves — it’s a good midpoint between sitting at a 90 degree angle and laying flat at 180 degrees.”
You might think that the La-Z-Boy falls into the “too soft” category of chairs, but it’s actually been endorsed by the American Chiropractic Association before. “Believe it or not, it meets all the criteria where your head is supported, your feet are supported, and it can almost go to a flat supine position,” says Shoshany.
You could even find a chair that has a built-in pillow for lumbar support, like this West Elm glider. Chiropractor Dr. Jamaal Rahman suggested it as an alternative to a chair that would have you sitting with a flattened lower back.
And if you don’t need a ton of lower back support and just want to save money, Shapiro recommends this vintage-style Strandmon chair. It’s more of a classic wingback with a high back for added neck support, and a slightly sloping back to support the curve of your spine.
For the ultimate in curved lumbar support, here’s another design-y staple that Shapiro likes — Eero Saarinen’s Womb Chair — that’s named for how comfortable and secure you feel in it. He says it’s one chair that you can trust to be well-made, supportive, and comfy enough to sit in long-term.
Lounge chair accessories
Even if your lounge chair doesn’t have the lumbar support you need, you can always add reinforcements with a small pillow. “Anytime you can add support in the lumbar area, with padding or a pillow, the better for supporting the curve in the spine,” says Shoshany. Gerhman says to find something that has good curve support, so a molded memory foam lumbar pillow like this one would come in handy.
How you spend your time in these lounge chairs could also be optimized for neck and back support. “If you’re trying to read a book, you’re going to flex your head forward, so you can develop a stress injury over a period of time,” says Gehrman. To counteract that he suggests a raised TV or book stand that will keep your neck in a neutral position. You could prop this book stand over your chair while you’re sitting (or semi-reclining), for example, to avoid hunching.
Or, use this spider-like tablet stand to browse on your iPad or Nook.
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