Buying a Sofa? Mind your Back!

Are you thinking about buying a sofa? Make sure you think about your back when choosing. Before picking a sofa because it is “lovely and soft”, think about how your back will feel after you’ve sat in it for a couple of hours.

Over the Christmas holidays I spent many hours with my elderly parents in Bedford’s two furniture emporia, Hatters and Carlo’s. Top of the list was a new sofa, as the old one is saggy and in my professional opinion, is bad for my parents’ back health. I am glad to say we found not only a sofa, but also two chairs, one of which is a “petite” chair, which is the perfect size for a petite lady.

So what were we looking for? Obviously size matters. If you are of short stature and you buy a sofa which is designed for long-legged six-footers, your feet won’t reach the ground and you will need to put two or three cushions behind you to fill the gap between your back and the back of the sofa. On the other hand the six-foot tall and elegant types need a higher seat with more depth to accommodate their long legs. The range my parents chose comes in four sizes, petite, compact, standard and extra large. So our solution was a standard sofa which will fit Dad and the tall, willowy grandchildren, a petite chair for June, my stepmother who is the smallest member of the family, and a standard chair with electric recliner, which anyone can use if they fancy a nap.

The second consideration was firmness. I must admit I was shocked by the number of sofas that simply seemed to give way as I sat in them, and as those of you who know me will understand, I am not a heavy person! To look after your back properly, a sofa must be supportive. This doesn’t have to mean hard. As we discovered in the bed department, a mattress can be firm and supportive, and still have a soft layer on top which cushions those aged joints. The same goes for the sofa: a firm support, which keeps your hips at roughly 90°, but with nice soft cushions so that it is comfy to sit on. So many sofas seem to be constructed on the principle that soft equates to unsupportive, which is a shame.

Finally the recliner. If you or your elderly parents are prone to falling asleep on the sofa, a recliner may be a good investment as it will give you a much better sleeping position than an upright chair. This again is an investment in your back health. We debated long and hard about the recliner. June and I had decided to buy a reclining sofa, but Dad thought this was a bit too extravagant, so we settled on the reclining chair. Then we debated about whether it should be manual or electric. Dad who is 91 thought he could easily operate the manual recliner. But neither June nor I could get it to work fully – we could pull the lever to lift the footrest, but we couldn’t push back hard enough to get the backrest to recline. Of course with any major purchase it needs to be future-proofed, so if you anticipate losing some of your strength within the next five years, it’s worth investing in the electric mechanism now, instead of having to replace the chair in the future!

Well I am pleased to say, we managed to agree on the configuration of sofa, chairs and recliner, and the choice of fabric. And I hope that with the new seating, my parents will enjoy healthy backs well into their 90s!

Sorrel Pindar, Registered Osteopath

Over the Christmas holidays I spent several days with my elderly parents in Bedford’s furniture emporia, Hatters and Carlo’s. Top of the list was a new sofa, as the old one is saggy and in my professional opinion, is bad for my parents’ back health. I am glad to say we found not only a sofa, but also two chairs, one of which is a “petite” chair, which is the perfect size for a petite lady.

chaise longueSo what were we looking for? Obviously size matters. If you are of short stature and you buy a sofa which is designed for long-legged six-footers, your feet won’t reach the ground and you will need to put two or three cushions behind you to fill the gap between your back and the back of the sofa. On the other hand the six-foot tall and elegant types need a higher seat with more depth to accommodate their long legs. So our solution was a standard sofa which will fit Dad and the tall, willowy grandchildren, a petite chair for June, my stepmother who is the smallest member of the family, and a standard chair with electric recliner, which anyone can use if they fancy a nap. The range my parents chose comes in four sizes, petite, compact, standard and extra large.

The second consideration was firmness. I must admit I was shocked by the number of sofas that simply seemed to give way as I sat in them, and as those of you who know me will understand, I am not a heavy person! To look after your back properly, a sofa must be supportive. This doesn’t have to mean hard. As we discovered in the bed department, a mattress can be firm and supportive, and still have a soft layer on top which cushions those aged joints. The same goes for the sofa: a firm support, which keeps your hips at roughly 90°, but with nice soft cushions so that it is comfy to sit on. So many sofas seem to be constructed on the principle that soft equates to unsupportive, which is a shame as squishy sofas are one of the causes of back pain.

Finally the recliner. If you or your elderly parents are prone to falling asleep on the sofa, a recliner may be a good investment as it will give you a much better sleeping position than an upright chair. This again is an investment in your back health. We debated long and hard about the recliner. June and I had decided to buy a reclining sofa, but Dad thought this was a bit too extravagant, so we settled on the reclining chair. Then we debated about whether it should be manual or electric. Dad who is 91 thought he could easily operate the manual recliner. But neither June nor I could get it to work fully – we could pull the lever to lift the footrest, but we couldn’t push back hard enough to get the backrest to recline. Of course with any major purchase it needs to be future-proofed, so if you anticipate losing some of your strength within the next five years, it’s worth investing in the electric mechanism now, instead of having to replace the chair in the future!

Well I am pleased to say, we managed to agree on the configuration of sofa, chairs and recliner, and the choice of fabric. And I hope that with the new seating, my parents will enjoy healthy backs well into their 90s!

Sorrel Pindar, Registered Osteopath

Categories: Back health and Osteopathy.

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