Around 80% of Americans will experience back pain at some point in their life.
If you need to use a wheelchair to get around, you may notice even higher rates of back pain, as you're sitting so much. If the lower back and hip pain is plaguing your life and you're unsure of how to combat it in a wheelchair, keep reading to learn more!
How to Ease Lower Back and Hip Pain in a Wheelchair
Our back directly impacts how our entire body feels, as well as our mental wellbeing.
If we're in pain or our back is carrying the weight of everything else, it can easily become overworked and cause a domino effect with the rest of our health. Since sitting can cause back pain over extended periods of time, many people who have to use wheelchairs experience frequent back pain.
So, how can you fight lower back and hip pain? Here's how:
Check Your Posture
Poor posture is one of the most common causes of lower back pain.
This is because when you hunch, extra strain is being put on the back and neck. When your lower back and hips have to carry the weight of the sagging head and upper back, it can leave your lower back and hips feeling strained.
It's important to sit up straight, especially when you sit for long periods of time in a wheelchair. Sitting up straight is essential for distributing the weight of your head and neck evenly through your back and shoulders.
Some of the most common sitting positions that cause back pain are:
- Slouching or slumping in a seated position
- Looking down to use a phone or laptop in bed
- Lying on the stomach in bed while using a phone or laptop
If you do any of these frequently, you're likely to have back pain daily.
Improving Your Posture
While improving your posture can be difficult at first, the more you work on it, the easier it will get.
When you first start working on your posture, you may notice that you're experiencing pain in different muscles than you were before. This is because the other muscles in your back and shoulders aren't used to carrying the weight that you're not distributing!
Over time, these other muscles will become adjusted to the new weight and it will reduce pain for the lower back.
To improve your posture, there are a few stretches you'll want to begin doing. First, you'll want to work on shoulder-opening exercises.
To do this, reach your arms around behind your back. Clasp the hands together and pull them down. This will open up your shoulders and chest and cause you to sit up straighter. Do this multiple times per day and hold for around 30-60 seconds each time.
Another stretch that's easy to do in a wheelchair is a horizontal pull-out.
To perform the horizontal pull-out, you'll need a resistance band. Keep your elbows bent and pulled in toward your torso as you hold the resistance band horizontally. Begin to pull the resistance band by using your hands, keeping the elbows pulled in toward the torso.
This exercise will cause your chest and shoulders to open up while encouraging your body to sit up straight. Repeat around 10 reps for this exercise and perform it multiple times throughout the day.
Add Lumbar Cushions to Your Wheelchair
A common reason you may slouch or hunch over is that you don't have enough lumbar support.
The lumbar spine is a strong and resilient area on your lower spine. Its purpose is to help support the weight of your back. However, when too much strain gets put on the lumbar spine, pain in the entire lower back can be the result.
The lumbar spine's purpose is to:
- Stabilize and support your upper body
- Protect the spinal cord
- Aid in twisting movements
When an excessive amount of stress is put on the lumbar spine, moving and staying stable in your posture will become difficult. This is why a lumbar cushion is important when you're sitting in a wheelchair.
A lumbar cushion will fill in the gap between the chair and the lumbar spine. It fits the natural curve of your spine so that the lower back isn't working quite as hard to keep the rest of the body upright.
Without lumbar support, somebody who sits for extended periods of time will be 100% responsible for keeping their posture upright. After hours of trying to sit up straight with no assistance, you may start to feel tired or fatigued and begin to slouch as a result.
Add a Seat Cushion to Your Wheelchair
In addition to adding lumbar support to your wheelchair, you may want to consider adding padding to the seat.
A gel-infused memory foam cushion is a great option for padding your wheelchair. The cushion will help ease some of the pain or discomfort that sitting in a wheelchair causes. Since wheelchairs are stiff and usually don't offer any padding, the lack of support may cause the hips and lower back to ache over time.
The memory foam cushion will help support your weight in the wheelchair so it's not all coming down on a flat, hard surface.
A gel-infused memory foam cushion is also an excellent option because it helps keep your seat cool and ventilated. The memory foam has holes meant to ventilate the cushion which will keep you from getting hot and uncomfortable in your wheelchair.
Additionally, memory foam is meant to conform to your unique body shape.
Standard seat cushions will get hot, collect sweat, and not conform to your body shape. Over time the cushion will start to smell and feel uncomfortable, so you're not getting your money's worth. If you're going to add a cushion to your seat, it's best to add a memory foam cushion that has gel infusion.
Add Arm Support to the Wheelchair
Did you know that a lack of arm support can also cause back pain in your wheelchair?
The reason arm support is vital for a wheelchair is that without it, you may end up slouching or hunching over. When you sit in a wheelchair all day, it can be hard to support the weight of your upper body without any assistance. This is why after a long day of sitting up in a wheelchair, users often start to slouch out of fatigue.
When you have the proper arm support in your wheelchair, you can use your elbows and the rest of your arms to stabilize your weight. So, rather than slouching forward and letting arms and shoulders hang forward, the arm support will naturally pull your posture up and cause your shoulders to sit further back.
Add Head and Body Aids
If you're in a wheelchair and you have limited mobility of your upper body, you may need an aid to keep your head and upper body in a comfortable position.
In a wheelchair, your head should always be sitting upright to avoid any strain on the lower back, hips, and upper back. This is where head stabilizers and reclining features are an asset. Having the ability to recline when your upper body starts to feel fatigued will help you recover the strength to hold your head and upper body up.
If you struggle to stay upright even with breaks from a reclining feature, a head stabilizer will hold your head in place so you don't have to worry about it at all.
Add Support for the Feet
Even your feet need to have some sort of stability when you're sitting in a wheelchair all day.
Remember, when we mentioned that the body works sort of like a machine and lack of support in one area would cause a domino effect for body pain everywhere? That's right, not even your feet are excluded from this idea.
The reason that foot support is important in a wheelchair is for stabilizing the rest of the body. If your feet are hanging all day, eventually the weight of your feet and legs are going to start to pull your entire posture down. This means your head, neck, and shoulders will start to slump from the weight of your lower body.
So, make sure there is a shelf, peddle, or some other aid for your feet to sit on in your wheelchair. Not only will this improve your posture, but you'll notice your body building the strength it needs to carry the rest of your weight.
Part of maintaining the correct posture in a wheelchair is building the strength to hold your body upright.
If you don't have enough strength in your back, core, shoulders, or arms to support the rest of your upper body, your body will slouch as a natural response. So, how can you build strength in a wheelchair? Well, there are plenty of ways!
This exercise, as the name suggests, is going to help you build strength in your shoulders.
This is a simple exercise to do and it requires no weight or equipment, so you can do it from anywhere. To start, position your arms at a 90-degree angle at the shoulder level. Your palms should be facing toward the ground.
Next, close your fists as if you're holding onto a bicycle handle. With the arms raised and the hands clenched, begin moving your hands forward so both of your arms are parallel in front of your body.
From there, pull the elbows back until they're a little further back than they were at the 90-degree angle. You'll know that you've pulled your elbows back far enough when you can feel your shoulder blades pinching together.
Repeat this for as many reps as you'd like. If this is too easy, feel free to add a resistance band.
A chest squeeze exercise uses your hands and arms to strengthen your chest.
If you have a medicine ball, hold it between your hands in front of your body. While tightening your abs, start to squeeze the hands together, squishing the medicine ball. The harder you squish the ball, the higher up your elbows will move, working the chest muscles.
If you don't have a medicine ball, feel free to use a towel, sweater, or other fabric that can be formed in the shape of a ball.
For the ab twist, you're going to get into the same position that you did with the shoulder retractions (arms at a 90-degree angle at shoulder height).
However, instead of moving the arms, you're going to begin twisting your upper body. Move your entire upper body side-to-side slowly. This is going to engage your core and ab muscles. Repeat as many reps as you feel comfortable with.
If you don't have the mobility of your legs, feel free to ignore this exercise.
However, if you're an elderly person who can still move their legs slightly in the wheelchair, this is a great leg-strengthening exercise. Strengthening your legs is a great way to ease the work for your upper body while sitting in a wheelchair.
So, to start, make sure you're sitting up as straight as you can. While you're going to be primarily working your legs in this exercise, squeeze the abs so they can benefit from this exercise as well.
With a straight posture and the abs engaged, begin reaching your toes up toward the ceiling without moving the rest of your legs. Reach the toes back down to be flat on the foot support part of your wheelchair. Repeat this as many times as you'd like.
You'll start to feel the muscles in your calves and quad muscles working as you repeat the reps.
Are You Ready to Live Pain-Free?
Being in pain is not only uncomfortable physically, but it can take a toll on our mental health as well.
If you find yourself suffering from lower back and hip pain every day, there are plenty of ways to combat it. For more questions about making your wheelchair as comfortable as possible, reach out to us today!