Where should I look for a new chair?

There’s only one rule when finding an easy chair: Try it before you buy it! Sit in the chairs that interest you, don’t be harassed and take your time.

Where should I look for a new chair?

Furniture shops and department stores should have a wide range. There are also specialist warehouses that are used to dealing with people with arthritis or disabilities. These often have showrooms where you’ll be welcome to arrange a visit. Some chair manufacturers will come to your house to talk with you and lend you a chair to trial in your home. However, don’t feel pressured into buying.

It’s a good idea to contact your nearest Disabled Living Centre and arrange a visit. A qualified therapist will be there to give you advice about their range of chairs. Contact Living Made Easy to find your nearest Disabled Living Centre. You may also be able to get useful help and advice from your local Social Services department or the Citizens Advice Bureau.

Do I have the right chair for my arthrits?

If you have arthritis, it's important to finding a suitable chair. You should think about the following:

  • Do you find it difficult to get out of your chair?
  • Do you have to use cushions to make it comfortable?
  • Do you get more aches and pains after you’ve been sitting for a while?
  • Does the chair make you slouch?
  • Is it too large or too small?

If you answered yes to any of the above, then you should think about getting a chair that’s properly designed for your needs.

There are thousands of easy chairs on the market today and many claim to be specially designed for people with arthritis. We won’t specify which chairs are best, but we will provide guidelines on things to look for when choosing.

What should I look for when buying a chair?

How high should my chair be?

Many people think they can only be comfortable in a low chair, but this isn’t always true. A high chair can be just as comfortable – and probably more so if you suffer from back pain. A higher chair makes getting up much easier, as you’re almost half-way up already.

Choose the highest chair you can that allows you to place your bare feet flat on the floor while sitting in it. This will stop your legs from dangling uncomfortably and causing pins and needles.

If you do find a chair you like but it’s the wrong height, you may be able to have it altered. Ask the shop assistant about this.

Are armrests important?

Painful joints can make it difficult to use the armrests on a chair. However, using the armrests can be as effective in helping you get up as having a higher chair. Look for:

  • a good handgrip – armrests are easier to grip if they’re made of wood and stick out a few inches, as this will allow you to wrap your fingers around the end
  • padding for comfort and warmth
  • the right height – if you have to hunch your shoulders when you rest your arms on the armrests, they're too high, but if your elbows don’t reach then they’re too low.
  • the right length – if the armrests stick out too far beyond the front legs it can sometimes tip the chair up when you put your weight on it.

Getting up from a chair

The way you get up out of a chair makes a big difference. It’s easier if you tuck your feet back underneath you than if you place them out in front. This is because you can bring your weight over your feet more quickly. If you choose a chair that allows you to bring your feet back to get a better position you’ll be surprised how much easier it is to get up. When you’re looking for a new chair, check that it has space at the front beneath the seat.

Special chairs to help you stand up

Some people have great difficulty rising from even the perfect easy chair. Anyone who experiences this may find motorised chairs or spring-assisted seats useful:

  • Motorised chairs use an electric mechanism to lift the seat and bring you to a standing position. Make sure the chair still follows the other guidelines in this section and also complies with the British Standards Electrical Safety Standards.
  • Spring-assisted seats can be useful but often prove to be uncomfortable. They have to be adjusted to your weight, which is fine if you're the only person to use the chair. Be careful if other people will also use it because it may cause someone to get seriously hurt if they happen to be much lighter than you.

An illustration of a chair with a motorised spring-assisted seat.

Finding a comfortable chair

Apart from the height and armrests, there are other points worth looking out for when finding a comfortable chair.

The seat

You should look closely at the seat to make sure it’ll give you support, comfort and a firm base to push up from. You should think about the following:

  • Check the cushion is made from good-quality foam (cheaper foams may go soft and start sagging after a few months).
  • Try to avoid seats that sag like a hammock when you sit in them. This can be uncomfortable as you’re resting on the base of the seat. It may make it also difficult to get up.
  • Avoid narrow seats – there should be enough room for you to easily change position as staying in the same position can be uncomfortable.
  • Check that the seat isn’t too deep as it may not be good for your back. It may also be difficult to get out again. The seat should be just deep enough to fully support your thighs when you sit as far back as possible.

Backrests

It’s important that your back is fully supported. A backrest that’s gently sloped to fit the curves of your back is helpful. But everybody’s back is different, so it’s important to try before you buy. You should think about the following:

  • Check that the backrest isn’t at an awkward angle. If it slopes too far forward, it'll stop your back muscles relaxing as they'll be forced to keep working to stop you slumping forward. If it slopes too far backwards, it'll make it harder to get up.
  • Check that the backrest is high enough to support all of your back, shoulders and head. This is particularly important if you have ankylosing spondylitis or other back problems.
  • If there’s a headrest, make sure it doesn’t push your head forward as this will cause neck ache.
  • Some people like to use a reclining chair so that they can change their posture easily but remain supported.

What else should I think about when I buy a chair?

Seat covers

If you have difficulty getting to the toilet, think carefully about what type of seat cover would be best suited to you. Although a vinyl covering is waterproof and easy to wipe down, it can cause you to sweat and may become slippery. Removable covers over a waterproof vinyl cushion are more comfortable and convenient as they can be washed whenever needed. Covers made of wool or washable sheepskin will be soft and warm, and they can absorb a lot of moisture while allowing you to feel dry. You can get more advice from an occupational therapist or at a Disabled Living Centre – contact Living Made Easy for details of your nearest centre.

Moving the chair

Choosing a lightweight chair may be a good idea if you'll need to move your chair, but it must be strong enough to take the knocks of everyday use.

Function versus fashion

Function is always more important than fashion. But this doesn’t mean that your chair needs to look very different. Look around at all the available chairs and try to buy one that blends in with the rest of your furniture – but don’t buy one based on this alone.

Suitability

You may have to think about a different style of chair from those you’ve had in the past in order to find one that suits your needs. But if you think about your needs carefully and try it out properly, you may be surprised at how easy it is to get up from a different kind of chair and how comfortable it is.