Any time of day or night, a welcome place to sit can be quite inviting. Sitting is where we spend more of our time than some of us would care to admit yet it is rarely the topic of discussion. Can where we sit affect our health?
As an occupational therapist trained in body mechanics, seating and positioning the answer is YES: where and how we sit can profoundly affect our health. The considerations increase when we are not feeling well, an especially when facing hip or knee replacements or any type of disability. Here are some important excerpts on this topic related to one particular part of the home from my upcoming eBook: Making Life for Baby Boomers: The Sandwich Generation.
Living rooms, studies, home offices, and family rooms
Now it’s time to evaluate seat heights and what type of furniture is optimal for you. Just like in the bathroom, find seating where your hips will be higher than your knees when you are in a seated position BUT your feet still reach the floor when seated. A low couch may be squishy and comfy but could exacerbate back pain from a slumped posture or pose a serious hazard when quickly lowering oneself to sit down. Tall club-style chairs may be stylish yet dangerous for a person, for example, recovering from surgery.
When solving the dilemma of increasing the height of a seat, many simply add a pillow or cushion or invest in a mechanical lift chairs. Please remember that elevating devices can lead to “elevated” weakness when a person becomes dependent on the devices. My physical therapy colleagues always teach about the importance of strong hamstrings, quads, and gluts in functional transfers (getting up and getting down) and these muscles will not get exercised when a person relies on a lift mechanism. (Similar considerations apply when using a Hoveround, Jazzy, or motorized scooter within the home unless absolutely necessary!)
Further, sitting in a chair with armrests comfortably close to the body will provide more support and less fatigue than 1) sitting in a chair without arms or 2) when sitting inside one edge of a long couch. If you love your sofa then place a pillow or two under the elbow that is hanging down, not supported an armrest. This gives you some leverage to stand up using both arms securely at the side of your body. In other words, avoid sitting in the middle of the sofa!
If the person is sitting at a desk, he or she should strive to keep hips, knees, and ankles level and bent at a 90 degree angle plus knees and ankles uncrossed for the best body mechanics. When working at a computer, raise the keyboard such that your eyes can remain level and see most of the computer screen without bending the neck forward or hyperextending the neck. This is especially important when using bifocals or trifocal lenses: even a book underneath the monitor can easily raise its height. Or, raise your seat height. Keep wrists either in a neutral or slightly extended position of no more than 30 degrees. Take stretch breaks often including standing up, rolling your shoulder forwards and backwards, head/neck circles, and moving hands and forearms in clockwise and counterclockwise rotations. (These recommendations to keep moving especially taking pressure off your hips and bottom, apply to sitting in other chairs and sofas too!)
And if the sofa or chairs are too low, 1) risers for the legs are now available to securely raise their height or 2) you might have an experienced contractor build a platform to place underneath the furniture to raise its height. Risers for the legs of your bed are similar to the ones uses for chairs and other furniture in the home too. Additionally, a commercial seat assist device may aid in helping you to sit from a standing position or rise from a seated position. Please use these type of devices with secure handholds within reach as the device tends not to provide this.
Here’s an example of a chair riser device: the Carex Upeasy Seat Assist.
Well that’s the basics on seating and positioning for back health, safe transfers, and fall prevention. Be sure to “FOLLOW” this blog for more Active Tips and Gentle Moves TM to help you keep up that lower body strength needed to rise from a seated to a standing position.
Take care, Julie, O.T.