Neck Pain and the Recliner Chair


A common complaint that is heard from patients in the office is reoccurring neck pain and stiffness after watching TV or taking a nap in a recliner chair. Why does this happen? There are several reasons for this complaint and some will be presented in this article as well as some suggestions given to prevent the problem.

Mechanism of Injury

The mechanism of injury when lying back in a recliner while watching television, reading or taking a nap is the same as if you fell asleep on the couch with a pillow pushing or flexing your head forward. It may not bother you if you remain in the same position for a few minutes, but after a period of time the muscles of the neck are strained by the awkward position. This creates muscular strain and is superimposed upon ongoing or previous neck problems that could trigger the discomfort. Envision holding a 2-pound weight out in front of you with your arm stretched straight. For a short time there’s no discomfort, but after the muscles have been unable to rest or change position they start to hurt. This is what happens to your neck muscles when they are being stretched and your head is pushed forward in the chair.
Many recliner chairs fit a certain height and body build without creating any problems. Unfortunately, they are designed for only one small segment and not the general population.
The example below is what happens to the neck when the head is forced forward. Note the loss of the normal curve (also called a military neck) in the spine on the side view. If the spine isn’t healthy to start with, this poor posture can magnify the symptoms and discomfort.

Some Remedies for Neck Care in a Recliner

Some suggestions that may help when sitting in the reclining chair for any length of time include:

  • Fit the Chair – If you are fortunate enough, you can find a chair that fits your neck comfortably. There may be a built-in neck pillow, but that isn’t always in the right position to support each individual who uses the chair.

  • Make a neck pillow – Roll a hand towel tightly and put tape or a couple of rubber bands around it to keep it tight. Place it on the back of the neck to support the neck and keep the curve present. This can be an advantage as the pillow can be moved to the most comfortable position for you and others.
  • Maintain Good Neck MechanicsNeck and upper spine exercises done 1-3 times per day will help to keep the neck flexible and more adaptable to your daily activities.

  • Ice – Use ice to the neck if pain is present after sitting in the chair.

Ideal recliner chair selection isn’t always possible. The above suggestions can be of help should any neck or upper back conditions arise. This article is not meant to discourage the use of recliner chairs but can be used as a reference if you experience reoccurring neck problems.
Review the article on the website for selecting a pillow for sleeping.

Please make an appointment to consult with the doctors at Coon Rapids Chiropractic Office for treatment recommendations regarding your neck complaints.

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The International Academy of Neuromusculoskeletal Medicine