Riser Recliner Buying Guide

Riser recliners are essentially motorised armchairs which will recline and lift you up out of the chair at the touch of a button. These chairs are very versatile and can help you get out of your chair more easily and raise your legs up if swelling is a problem.

There is a wide range of riser recliners (sometimes also known as ‘lift’ chairs) on the market, some produced by traditional furniture manufacturers whilst others are produced by specialist mobility product manufacturers. This guide is intended to help you understand the different types of chair available, explain some of the more specialist features and give guidance on how to measure the correct size of chair for you.

The Basics

All riser recliners are powered by at least one electric motor. The chair will generally have a metal frame with scissor type mechanisms which when pushed or pulled by the motor causes the chair to move in the desired direction.

Contrary to popular belief the electric motor is not battery powered. The electric motor plugs in to a normal mains wall socket via a transformer. This transformer reduces the voltage to a safer level so that it is not possible to get an electric shock from the chair.

The chair will be equipped with a remote control linked to the motor by a cable. This gives you control of the chair whilst seated. There will be at least 2 buttons on the controller allowing you to recline or be raised up. You are able to stop the motor at any time and do not have to go to the end of the motor’s position. This can be reassuring and keeps you completely in control at all times – just let go of the button and the chair will stop.

One thing to bear in mind with riser recliners is that the standard chair needs to be positioned away from the wall. This is to allow enough space for the back to recline. If you are going to recline fully, then there needs to be at least a 2 foot gap between the wall and the chair when in an upright position. It is extremely important to ensure that the back of the chair does not hit the wall as this can cause the frame to bend which is expensive to repair. If you have limited space available, there are chairs designed to overcome this problem called wall huggers.

Motor Types

Single Motor

Single motor chairs have just what their name implies – a single motor! This is an important difference to make as it fundamentally affects the reclining action. The impact of only having one motor is that when the chair reclines, the backrest and footplate move together or in a coordinated fashion. The upwards rising function is exactly the same no matter whether the chair has a single or dual motor.

Different chairs have different motions and recline to different degrees. On most single motor chairs, the footplate rises up before the backrest goes down. It is normal for this motion to become blurred as the footplate reaches its highest point and the two move in tandem. Once the footplate has reached its highest point the backrest will continue to recline.

Single motor chairs do not fully recline. It is normal for the recline to only go back to an angle of 45 degrees. This is what is known as a comfortable TV watching angle. This angle also allows you to have conversations with others in the room. It is only if you want to sleep in the chair that you would need to look at a motion which reclines fully so that a flat ‘bed’ can be achieved.

Dual Motor

As the name suggests, dual motor chairs have two motors - one motor to control the footrest and one motor to control the back rest. This gives the ultimate in flexibility and allows you to find a reclined seating position to suit you. In addition, a dual motor chair will recline fully, so is ideal if you may need to sleep in your chair on occasions.

The handset on a dual motor will have four or more buttons (an up and down switch for each motor). This can be slightly confusing at the outset but most people get used to it with practice. However, if you are buying the chair for someone who has dementia, it may be better to go for a single motor chair with its greater simplicity.

Some handsets have a fifth button, which will take you back to a seated position from whatever position you may be in. This fifth button coordinates both motors at the same time. This is very useful when the phone or door bell rings, so you don’t press the wrong button and go the wrong way!

Styles of Back

There is a range of different back styles available and your choice will depend on which you find most comfortable and your personal preference of the way it looks.

Button Back

This is a very traditional style and produces a neat looking chair. In general, a button back will provide reasonably firm support to your back although it is possible to have a soft button back design.

Waterfall Back

Also known as a pillow back, the waterfall is typically made up of 3 separate pillows cascading down the back of the chair. Each pillow will have a zip to allow you to adjust the amount of filling and hence achieve the ideal level of comfort for you. This can be done on each of the pillows giving the ultimate flexibility to mould the back to your preference. This back style is generally softer than a button back, which may not suit everyone. Due to the nature of the fibre padding, you will find that the back will flatten slightly with use.

Orthopaedic Back

The roll style back, is where the back is made up of three or more sections, which are built in to the back. This type of back gives reasonably firm support.

This type of back provides firm support and will be suitable if you experience back pain. The shape of the back mirrors the contours of your spines natural position and encourages good posture.

Things to Consider

Wall Hugger

Typically found on some single motor chairs, the wall hugger movement means that the seat base actually moves forward whilst the chair is being reclined. This enables the chair to be placed within a few inches of the wall and still recline without hitting the wall. Ideal for small rooms.

Tilt in Space

Tilt in space is a particular type of motion a chair has when it is reclined. When the back reclines on normal chairs it can put strain on the lower back as the seat stays horizontal. A tilt in space motion angles the seat of the chair backwards with the reclining back and reduces the amount of strain placed on the lower back. The motion maintains the support on your back by keeping the chair in an L shape as you recline. It also stops you having to move backward in the chair when it is reclining. Due to the angles involved, chairs that have a tilt in space action don’t recline very far back and it is only available on single motor chairs.

Chaise Leg Rest

A full chaise leg rest is one which provides a continuous cushion from the edge of the seat to the end of the footplate. Some chairs do not have a full chaise leg rest and hence a gap appears between the footplate and the edge of the seat when the leg rest is raised. This gap is often partially covered by material however that does not provide support for the backs of the lower legs. Apart from looking less pleasing, there is the possibility of skirts or dresses getting caught in the gap as the footplate is retracted.

Wooden Knuckles

Wooden knuckles at the end of the arms are available on a number of chair designs. The principle benefit of wooden knuckles is they are easier to grip when pushing yourself off the chair - it can be difficult to grip the wider upholstered arms. They also give a very wearing surface.

Side Pockets

Most chairs come with a side pocket sewn on. This can be used for keeping your newspaper, glasses and other belongings close at hand. It also provides a place to store the remote control when not being used. Some chairs are fitted with pockets on both sides.

Assessing the Right Size

Getting the dimensions of a seat right is crucial in terms of the comfort, support and pressure distribution it will give. The key measurements are the seat height, width and depth. You should ideally ask someone to help measure you when you are seated not forgetting that your current chair may not be the right dimensions.

Seat Height

The correct seat height can be calculated by measuring the distance from the floor to the crease at the back of the knees. When seated, the hips and knees should be at right angles whilst your feet are flat on the floor whilst wearing your usual indoor shoes. A slightly higher seat can make it easier to stand up and sit down, particularly if you have any pain or weakness in your legs.

Seat Depth

To calculate the correct seat depth, measure the distance from the back of the hips, along the thighs to approximately 1.5” (3 cm) before the back of the knees. When seated you should be able to place two fingers together between the edge of the seat and the back of the knee. The seat needs to be deep enough to support the full length of the thighs but not so deep that your lower back is not properly supported.

Seat Width

The seat should be wide enough to allow you to sit comfortably whilst reading, writing or knitting, but narrow enough to enable you to make use of the armrests. Ideally, it should be the width of your hips plus a clenched fist on either side.


Battery Backup

The purpose of a battery back-up is to ensure that in the event of a power cut you are still able to operate the chair. This is especially important if you are fully reclined at the time of the power cut as it may be impossible for you to get out of the chair. Most chairs come with either a battery back-up as standard or it is offered as an optional extra.

The basic battery back-up normally comprises 2 or more standard 9V batteries that have enough power to slowly return you to an upright seated position. However, there will only be enough power in these small batteries to move the chair once. After this they will need to be replaced. Even if they are not used, they should be replaced at least every 6 months.

There are more sophisticated battery back-ups available which incorporate larger capacity rechargeable batteries. These batteries recharge automatically when power to the chair is on. As they have greater capacity, these batteries will last up to 25 movements giving greater flexibility in the event of a prolonged power cut.

Hazard Sensors

If you have pets or children, you need to be very careful when lowering your chair as there is the risk that they could get caught underneath and be injured.

Some chairs have the option of a hazard sensor which is fitted to the underside of the chair. This works by stopping the lowering motion if it senses an obstacle in its way. You would then have to move whatever it was, before the chair will continue to lower you down.

Other chairs have the option of a lockable remote control. This allows you to lock the handset and prevent children playing with it when you are out of the room. As a further precaution you should also switch off the mains power to the chair whenever young children are left unsupervised.

Arm Caps

These are available to help protect the vulnerable arms from wear and tear. Most of the manufacturers provide these as an optional extra which should be ordered at the time the chair is ordered to ensure the availability of matching fabric.

Neck Pillow

A neck roll can provide welcome support to the neck and allow those muscles to be relaxed. The neck pillow is typically secured by a material strap which goes over the top of the back of the chair. At the other end of the strap is a concealed metal bar which provides a counter weight to keep the pillow in the position chosen.

We hope that this Riser Recliner Buying Guide has been helpful in providing you with information on how to choose the right riser recliner for your needs. Discover our full range of Riser Recliners here.

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