How to Improve the Comfort of a Wheelchair

How to improve the comfort of a wheelchair

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If you need to use a wheelchair to help you get around, there is nothing worse than feeling uncomfortable when you’re sitting in it. But many people struggle with comfort in their wheelchairs. Since this is an aid that is meant to make your life easier, finding ways to make it more comfortable is essential.

Here, we have put together some ideas to make using your wheelchair more comfortable, giving you a more pleasant day-to-day experience.

1. Consider a Wheelchair Cushion for Increased Pressure Relief

Perhaps one of the biggest issues for wheelchair users is constant pressure from sitting. This can result in pressure sores which at best can cause pain and irritation. In the worst cases, pressure sores could lead to life-threatening infections, and while this is uncommon, the use of a pressure relief cushion could eliminate the risk even more.

Pressure relief cushions are designed to be a barrier between you and the wheelchair. They’re made from comfortable materials such as gel and foam which contour to the shape of your body. This provides greater support and weight distribution, rather than having all of your weight on one point.

Luxury gel wheelchair cushion by NY Ortho

What’s more, the use of a cushion often offers better stability when you are seated in a wheelchair.

There are varying degrees of thickness and firmness when it comes to wheelchair cushions so you may need to try out different products to see what works best for you.

2. Replace Armrests with Cushioned Ones or Fit Soft Covers

A lot of people don’t realize the pressure that is put on your arms when using a wheelchair. But every time you shift in your chair or get in and out of it, you’ll use your armrests for support and stability. Even when you’re sitting still in the chair, you’ll likely rest your arms on the rests so they need to be comfortable.

The armrests that come as standard on your wheelchair may not provide the right level of support and comfort. But the good news is that you can replace them.

You don’t necessarily have to have as thick arm rests as you would your seat cushion. Even just a small amount of extra padding can make a huge difference. Much like seat cushions, arm rest padding and covers come in a variety of styles.

Desk length armrest pad for a wheelchair

There are some that are filled with gel, while others are made from foam. You can get those that cover the full length of the arm rests or more compact ones. It’s worth considering what makes you feel most comfortable and going with that.

3. Fit Lumbar Support for Improved Stability & Comfort

Spending long periods of time sitting down can put a great deal of pressure on your lower back. Not only can this cause pain and discomfort, but it can also impact your posture. Not only this, but without proper lumbar support, your core stability could be affected.

Some wheelchairs come with lumbar support built in, but these tend to be higher spec chairs. A lot of manual wheelchair users find that they have to buy accessories for lumbar support.

Some people will simply roll up a towel and use that, but for the most effective support, a properly designed lumbar support cushion will have you feeling much more comfortable.

If you rely on a wheelchair for most of the time, then lumbar support is one of the most important things you can add to improve your comfort.

Supra Visco memory foam back cushion by K2 Health Products

Look for lumbar cushions that are made from memory foam. This is the best material because it has a good amount of give but won’t collapse under weight. The cushion will mold to your shape, giving you personalized comfort.

4. Use Lateral Side Supports to Assist with Stabilisation

For some wheelchair users, balance is an issue. If you’re going to counteract this problem then you will need to make sure that you are supported at the side. By using lateral side supports, you will feel confident that you won’t slump to one side or the other even when you’re doing more challenging tasks.

Lateral wheelchair support by the The Comfort Company

These supports stick out from your backrest at either side and stop you from moving too far to the left or the right. Using these supports will not only improve your balance and torso control, but they could also go a long way in improving your posture and reducing pain and discomfort.

5. Upgrade the Footrests

When you sit in your wheelchair, the position of your foot rests can actually impact how comfortable you are. If your knees are not kept a little higher than your hips then you won’t feel comfortable. That said, it’s really important to ensure that your feet aren’t placed too high, otherwise, you may move back in your seat which will be equally uncomfortable and can cause back pain.

Many wheelchairs come with adjustable foot rests but if yours doesn’t then it is possible to upgrade them or replace them.

If you suffer from fatigued legs then elevated foot rests will bring some welcome relief. You can also upgrade the foot and leg supports to include additional padding which will also improve your level of comfort.

6. Ensure the Backrest, Armrests & Footrests are set to the Correct Height

Imagine sitting in a wheelchair all day in a position that is totally unnatural. You can see why this would feel uncomfortable. But one too many wheelchair users are being forced to sit with their legs and arms in a strange position as well as having a backrest that isn’t offering the right level of support.

This is why it is really important to make sure that your backrest, footrests, and armrests are all in a position that promotes good posture, reduces pain, and offers the best support.

Ensure the backrest, armrests & footrests are set to the correct height

With the backrest, you’ll want to recline back ever so slightly. This is because sitting in too much of an upright position can cause you to fall forward. In turn, you’ll be constantly fighting yourself, and this can cause discomfort.

As we discussed earlier, it’s also incredibly important to make sure you adjust the footrests to the correct height to stop yourself from moving into an uncomfortable position. If the armrests aren’t set to a suitable height then this misaligns the arms and shoulders which again, can lead to discomfort.

7. Recline the Backrest to Ease Pressure during Prolonged Sitting

A lot of wheelchairs have a reclining backrest and this is a feature that you’ll want to take advantage of. It’s surprising to learn that not having your backrest in the right position could actually increase the likelihood of developing pressure ulcers, as noted in this study. The results showed that frequent adjustments with reclining reduced cell deformation, which is a leading cause of pressure ulcers.

You don’t need to recline your backrest a huge amount, even just a small adjustment could be enough to relieve pressure and make you feel more comfortable.

Some reclining wheelchairs go back as far as 90 degrees. If you find that you feel a lot of pressure in your lower back and hips, reclining back into this position will open the hips and provide relief. For people that spend most or all of the time in their wheelchairs, this is incredibly important. Moving into different positions will improve your sitting tolerance over the course of the day. 

8. Invest in a Waterproof Wheelchair Poncho

When you are in a wheelchair, you won’t be able to protect yourself from the weather as well as other people. Using things like umbrellas isn’t always easy, but there is a solution that comes in the form of a waterproof wheelchair poncho.

These simple accessories cover both you and your chair when wet weather comes around. When the poncho is not in use, it will fold away so you can store it in a wheelchair bag. Most ponchos have vents at the back which promote breathability but also allow easy access to the wheelchair handles for an attendant.

Depending on which poncho you buy, it may have a fleece lining which is great in colder weather. When you’re in a wheelchair, you won’t be as physically active, which means you might feel the cold a little more.

9. Use Wheelchair Gloves for Easier Propulsion

For those that self-propel their wheelchairs, this can take a toll on their hands. But a great way to improve comfort and lessen the stress on your hands is to use wheelchair gloves.

Not only are they more comfortable, but wheelchair gloves also give you a much better grip on the wheels so you can more easily move around.

Open fingered gloves by Invacare

Most wheelchair gloves are deeply padded for comfort and feature a mesh material so the hands don’t get sweaty. If you’re someone that will be using a wheelchair for the foreseeable future or maybe for life, then these gloves are a wise investment.

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