MS Awareness Month: Tips for the Right Chair

Community Member

Now MS Awareness and Education Month is over. To a large degree, awareness and education is an ongoing process. Let's focus on the awareness of sitting - a daily activity that we normally do without even thinking. If someone asked us to list our daily activities, how many would even list sitting?

We want to continue to watch our overall health.

Many people with MS have an uncomfortable or awkward gait. We often tire when walking any distance. A chair is often our safe-haven, but sitting for any length of time has an impact on our general health. What difference does sitting in one chair or another have to do with our health? The right chair is a factor that may improve our overall health. Most of us have heard this before, but a reminder never hurts.

About 40% of MSers sit in wheelchairs, and that includes some who use the wheelchair only part of the time. Selecting a chair, whether it's a wheelchair or an office chair, is almost the same process. Of course when selecting a wheelchair, our legs and feet also have to be considered.

No one selects an uncomfortable chair on purpose, but sometimes there are particular qualities that we don't consider. Even the smallest discomfort may lead to stress, including compressive vertical or horizontal stress on or between discs. This may lead to back aches and pains. Seating with posture and lumbar support reduces that stress.

In addition to back stress, there can be stress on arms and even small muscle groups such as wrists and hands. Reducing stress in the back, arms, and wrists is especially important for people with MS who are subject to osteoporosis.

Sitting habits can lead to stiffness and sore muscles. In a condition that promotes the importance of being able to move and control that movement, stiffness and soreness works against the goal of continued movement. In addition to reducing the ability to move freely, lack of attention to sitting may also lead to carpal tunnel syndrome, muscle strain, and disrupted posture. Following are types of chairs we might use:
Office Chair
The best office chair is stable, with wheeled legs that are wide apart or five wheeled legs. Best is a swivel chair, allowing for multiple tasks. Be sure it is wide enough that you can move your knees apart. It allows you to align yourself so you can sit straight with good posture, a supported back, and a straight head. An adjustable lumbar support is a plus. You do not want to slump over to do your work. The chair should have easily adjustable height so you can sit with your feet flat at least some of the time. Arm rests allow you to sit with your elbows comfortably bent at 90 degrees, allowing even the small muscle groups to relax.

Now that you have a good chair, practice good sitting habits. Do not sit for too long in the same position. While sitting, move your legs and arms to prevent stiffness, poor circulation and sore muscles. Proper sitting in a good chair allows for better rest and less pain and aches. This is a step toward better overall health. Wheelchair A wheelchair, whether part time or full time, can have any of the same characteristics of the ergonomic office chair. The chair should fit not only the sitter but also the environment, which might be an office or a home. For a wheelchair, it is always a good idea to consult a physical therapist who can match disabilities with chair characteristics. Basically, the seat is similar to the office chair.

Manual Wheelchair
A manual chair depends on the size of the chair for the accessories. For example, if it is too close to the ground, adjustable leg rests may not fit. However, it must be close to the ground for foot propulsion. Shoulders should be aligned with the pushing wheel. The seat may require a separate, firm pad to allow straighter sitting.

An electric scooter is nice for someone who has the ability to keep feet on the platform. The chair itself can swivel for multiple tasks. I used an Amigo scooter for 16 years. It was great when I could stand up, change chairs or positions. I knew I needed another chair only when I had trouble keeping my feet on the platform.

Power Chair
A power chair that can tilt back allows movement for comfort and a change in weight bearing. The legs can be extended and knees bent. For people in a wheelchair all of the time, changing positions helps prevent stiffness and promote good circulation. Sitting is a large part of an MSer's life. Awareness of how chairs help contribute to our overall health is very important. Notes and Links: Simple tips Ergonomic tips Sitting correctly
Manual wheelchair
Power wheelchair