Having good posture when sitting in a wheelchair is extremely important.
It reduces undue stress on your body, maintains your comfort, improves the maneuverability of the wheelchair, and reduces injury or pressure risks.
Correct posture requires that each part of your body is in the right position in relation to the next, from your head down to your feet. Each part influences the next, so it is important to ensure your wheelchair fits well and provides good posture support for every part of your body.
Below are 5 tips to ensure good wheelchair posture support.
Stabilise your pelvis
Your pelvis is the foundation of a good body position. Start by ensuring your wheelchair seat is supporting and stabilising your pelvis.
Check the seat size. The correct depth ensures that you sit all the way back, with your weight spread evenly throughout your thighs and buttocks. The correct width stops your pelvis from sliding to one side or twisting, which can damage skin and alter your spine position. The seat angle can sometimes be adjusted as well, which can reduce forward slipping or provide more support if you have poor sitting balance.
Always ensure you use the right wheelchair cushion and it is well maintained, as the incorrect cushion can undo the posture support of a good seat.
Stabilise the ‘S’ curves of your spine
Your spine has 3 natural curves that provide the most stable position for your back. If these curves are not properly supported, it can cause abnormal positions, discomfort and potential long-term damage.
Sit upright, bring your shoulders back and ensure you are not slumping or leaning to one side. If you cannot maintain this position, then the back of the wheelchair may not be providing sufficient posture support.
Ensure the back height and width are correct, as these support the lower curve of your back. The back tension and back angle may also need to be adjusted to provide further posture support. Or, for those with difficulty even in a well measured chair, additional back support systems may be required to properly align your spine.
Support your feet
Your feet support some of your weight and provide additional stability for your pelvis. Insufficient foot support can pull your body out of alignment.
Check that the height and position of the footplates are correct. The height should place your hips and knees at right angles, and ensure your weight is evenly distributed. If your feet are too far out in front, this tilts your pelvis and causes slouching or risk of pressure damage. If they are tucked too far back, this pushes your pelvis the other way and alters the normal curves of your back.
Support your arms
Your arm position can pull your shoulders down or push them up, which affects the upper curves of your spine and your head position. Ensure your armrests are the correct height to support your arms, keep your shoulders level and maintain the natural curves of your neck.
Centralise your head
Your head should be upright, in the middle, with your chin slightly tucked, and with sufficient stability to look in different directions. If your head tilts forward, backwards or to one side this will pull your spine out of alignment and cause discomfort.
If you are unable to maintain a central head position after other parts of your posture have been stabilised, you may need additional neck or head supports.
Use these tips to ensure you wheelchair is providing good posture support from your head through to your feet.
Author: Clare Schwalbe, the O.T Agency