Most people don’t realise it, but wheelchairs do more than just get their users from A to B. For people with compromised mobility, wheelchairs offer a chance of normalcy. They can perform their daily activities, and attend to their personal needs in comfort.
Users are in tune with their chairs, but it’s a ‘relationship’ that takes time to develop. So anyone who has to adjust to a new wheelchair may feel uncomfortable and uncoordinated.
Knowing how your new wheelchair should fit your body is your first priority in the adjustment period. Research suggests that 80% to 90% of wheelchair users are in chairs that don’t support their needs. This is partly because their bodies and needs change over time, but the chair stays the same.
Sometimes a simple adjustment is all you need to improve overall functionality. Even small adjustments can prevent a host of medical conditions, including pressure abrasions, poor posture, and blood clots.
Fit your new wheelchair perfectly
Your pelvic area carries most of your weight and needs to be correctly aligned to bear the load. You should feel comfortable and supported. Pressure dispersion cushions improve comfort and provide even pressure across the bottom and the back. You need to release pressure regularly to relieve your pelvic area. Reclining is good for pressure release.
Use the seat and the back of the chair to position yourself properly. Sit in a manner that allows as much upper body control as possible. Your hips and spine should be aligned to prevent pressure on your coccyx or ischial bones. Pressure can produce ulcers on your rear end.
If you are confined to your wheelchair for most of the day, your head and neck must be well supported. Invest in a quality head rest.
According to an article on the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation, there are 6 measurements you need to focus on when fitting your new wheelchair.
- Seat width: Your seat should be wide enough to avoid pressure on your hips, but narrow enough to allow easy access to the wheels if the wheelchair is self-propelling. Make sure you’ve got enough space around your hips to avoid pressure ulcers.
- Seat depth: You need a seat depth of at least two inches to prevent blood vessel constriction blood clots from forming. This means that the edge of your seat should be 2 inches from the back of your knees.
- Seat height: This depends on your height and whether your feet will be on foot rests or are going to help you move your chair. If you’re using foot rests then your seat needs to be higher to clear the floor and any low obstacles.
- Foot rest length: Foot rests that are too long will leave your legs dangling, and if they’re too short they will push your thighs up which tilts your pelvis. It’s a good idea to have calf supports, especially if you’re going to recline, otherwise your feet will just slide off the rests.
- Arm rest height: Arm rest height depends on what you are personally comfortable with. People who move in and out of their wheelchairs often, and do it themselves, often prefer not to have arm rests because they just get in the way. On the other hand, arm rests provide support for tired arms. Arm rests or positioning devices at the right height provide support for your arms and alleviate tension in your shoulders. Note: Your arms shouldn’t droop when on the arm rests. You can choose between full length arm rests and those that are equal to the seat depth and desk-style arm rests that fit under tables and desks.
- Back height: Your injury will determine the correct height for the back of the chair. For example, those with an injury to the lower back may be more comfortable in a chair with a low back, while injuries to the upper back may be better supported by a full-length back rest and head rest.
When you’re in the chair, look in a full-length mirror to see your body’s position. Is your body even or does it lean more to one side or the other? Do you lean forward or backwards? Are your shoulders straight or are they droopy or pulled up around your ears? Are you legs even or are they tucked under your chin? If you’re not happy with your posture or you feel uncomfortable you may need to adjust your chair or even get a new one.
Other adjustment options include:
- Adding lumber support
- Upgrading to cushioned arm rests
- Lateral side supports
- Custom seating for special needs or extreme discomfort
- Luxury seat cushions, like the Vector Vicair Wheelchair Cushion
If you’re sure that you have the right wheelchair but you’re still in the adjustment stage, you can relieve discomfort by simply crossing your legs. The change in pressure on your lower back eases pain but remember to change legs so that pressure remains equal on both sides.