If you’ve recently started using a wheelchair, you may have noticed that your back hurts more than usual, especially your lower back, from sitting for such long periods. You may get pressure sores or pressure ulcers or tingling in your legs. Your arms and shoulders might ache after trying to maneuver your wheelchair all day.
If any of this sounds familiar, you could benefit from having a wheelchair cushion. These cushions can help to alleviate back pain, prevent pressure sores, improve circulation, and more. Read on to learn more about the benefits of wheelchair cushions and what to look for when you’re buying one.
What Is a Wheelchair Cushion?
If you or a loved one are new to using a wheelchair, you may never have thought much about the cushioning on the seat. Many wheelchairs, especially manual wheelchairs, don’t provide much in the way of cushioning. Over time, this can lead to chronic back pain and even more serious health threats.
A wheelchair cushion is designed to provide users with the comfort and support they need to live their lives to the fullest. They can help to improve posture, improve circulation, and keep you more comfortable throughout the day. They can also make maneuvering your wheelchair easier and less tiring
Health Impacts of Being in a Wheelchair
Aside from the health condition that required you to begin using a wheelchair, being in a wheelchair can have its own health effects. For one thing, wheelchair users tend to be at higher risk of developing deep vein thrombosis. This is a clotting disorder that can lead to heart attacks, strokes, and even death.
Sitting in a wheelchair all day can cause your abdominal muscles to get weaker, leading to poor posture. Wheelchair users also tend to be at high risk for osteoporosis, a condition that causes the bones to weaken over time. Both of these conditions can cause significant pain, making it harder for you to go about your day-to-day life.
How a Wheelchair Cushion Helps
One of the primary reasons wheelchair users tend to be at higher risk for DVT is that the blood vessels in their thighs and hips are compressed all day long. This makes it harder for blood to flow properly, which can cause clots to form. But when you use a support cushion, your weight is redistributed, taking some of the pressure off those deep veins and improving your circulation.
Many wheelchair seat cushions are also designed to correct your posture. You will still need to exercise regularly to keep your abs strong, but these cushions can help to relieve lower back pain. And having a cushion under you can help to relieve some of the pain and risk of compression fractures that come with osteoporosis.
What Is Memory Foam?
When you start shopping for wheelchair cushions, you’re going to discover that they come in a variety of different materials. The best wheelchair cushions, however, are made of memory foam. But what is memory foam anyway?
Memory foam is a polymer molded into a high density foam that can be cut into any shape. As the foam absorbs heat from your body, it softens and relaxes under pressure points. This allows it to mold perfectly to your shape, giving its name, since it “remembers” where you were, making it very adjustable.
Why Memory Foam Is Best
That ability of memory foam to soften with heat is what makes it so wonderful as a wheelchair cushion material. Traditional cushions either give far too much when you sit down on them or don’t give at all. Even if they're air cushions, the air pressure may not be high enough to support you correctly. Either way leaves all your weight sitting on certain pressure points, including your hipbones.
But memory foam gives more under higher pressure without collapsing under any weight. This allows it to give you support where you need it without placing more pressure on your hips. In essence, every time you get into your wheelchair, you’ll have a custom-molded seat designed to support your body specifically.
One of the major risks wheelchair users face is developing pressure sores. These wounds occur when pressure is placed on the same points in the body for extended periods of time. The skin in these areas is not meant to deal with that kind of constant pressure and so you begin to get skin breakdown, causing a sore.
Having the right wheelchair cushion can help with pressure redistribution of your weight. This takes pressure distribution off those given points, giving the skin there a chance to recover. Rather than all your weight resting on the same specific points, it will rest evenly across your whole backside, alleviating the risk of pressure sores, as well as improving back and hip pain.
In addition to getting a memory foam cushion, you can get a cushion that uses either offloading or immersion to relieve specific pressure points. Offloading involves contouring a cushion in specific ways to help redistribute weight more evenly. Many memory foam wheelchair cushions include these contours to provide you with maximum pressure point relief.
An offloaded coccyx cushion will have a deeper well in the middle designed to relieve pressure on your hips and tailbones. The sides will be tapered up just a bit to support the outsides of the hips. And the front of the cushion will be angled slightly downward, keeping your weight off your hipbones and distributing it more evenly across your thighs.
One of the other techniques used to manage pressure point relief is called envelopment. This is effectively a look at how a cushion envelops your shape when you sink into it. And as you may have noticed, memory foam is a material very good at handling envelopment.
When you sit on a cushion, it should give in specific ways that conform to the shape of your body. A cushion that sinks down in one solid layers when you sit on it doesn’t provide you with any envelopment. But a memory foam cushion will give way under the highest pressure points and stay firm under the lowest pressure points, enveloping your body and making sure your weight is evenly distributed across the whole cushion.
If you are new to using a wheelchair, you may not think much about the stability of your cushion – at least not at first. But you need to have a stable base in your chair, especially if you have a manual wheelchair. If you don’t, as soon as you begin to move your wheelchair, your arms, shoulders, and back will have to compensate for the added strain of your body sliding around in the chair.
You want to make sure that the cushion you get provides you with a solid base from which to maneuver. It shouldn’t give easily when you lean to the side or forward in your chair. It should also have a non-slip base that will hold it firmly in place as you shift in your chair throughout the da
You’re also going to want to consider the weight of your wheelchair cushion when you’re shopping. If you’re a larger person, you may want a cushion that is a little denser because it will hold up under your weight better. A cushion that’s too light may give way under you and not provide the support you need.
But at the same time, you need to make sure your cushion isn’t throwing off the maneuverability of your chair. Many wheelchairs are designed to provide maximum efficiency of movement as you maneuver. Adding on a few pounds can change that efficiency, so be sure to take that into consideration when shopping.
You may notice when you’re sitting in your wheelchair that your posture is worse and that it’s beginning to cause you pain. Without a proper seat cushion, it can be easy to slump, slouch, or get pushed forward in your chair. But which shape wheelchair cushion you get will depend on what your specific posture issues are.
If you find yourself slouching in your wheelchair, you may benefit from a wedge-shaped cushion to lift you back into a more ergonomic posture. If you slump down in the chair, you may want a cushion with a pommel that sits between your legs and provides you with a little more support. And if you find yourself leaning to one side, you can find cushions that are a little lower on one side than another to accommodate uneven hips.
Seat Cushions for Amputees
If you’ve had to have one or both legs amputated, finding an appropriate wheelchair cushion may seem even harder for you. You need a cushion that can handle your different posture needs and provide support for your amputated limbs. Luckily, cushion designers have got you covered.
You can find wheelchair cushions with separate thigh supports. One will be a little longer to accommodate your amputated limb without leaving it dangling, and the other will be shorter to allow for the bend in your knee. These specialized cushions can alleviate pressure sores, also called bed sores, on your amputated limb and help to correct for posture differences.
The height of your chair cushion is another important factor to take into consideration. Your wheelchair will be fitted to you specifically, with the seat and footrests arranged at the right height to support your body. If your footrests are too high, they’ll shove you back into the corner of the chair, and if they’re too low, they’ll place strain on your knees.
When you get a wheelchair cushion, that extra height is going to change your footrest height needs. This is especially important for more petite people, who may find themselves with their legs dangling. Make sure you take your wheelchair in to get it refitted to you after you get your new seat cushion.
The most common shapes for wheelchair cushions are a wedge and a rounded rectangle. But there are also some more specialty shapes designed to address specific issues with your wheelchair posture. Among these are amputee cushions and no-lean cushions, which we’ve already discussed.
If your pelvis tilts in such a way that you find yourself looking upwards when you’re seated in your wheelchair, you can find anti-thrust pillows that help to correct your hip position. Cushions with a sacral cutout can help to alleviate extra pressure on your coccyx. And pommel cushions can keep you from sliding down in your chair or keep your knees from bumping together.
Adding a Lumbar Support Pillow
As important as your seat cushion is, it will work much better if you pair it with a lumbar support pillow. These cushions sit in the curve of your low back and help to support your spine and the muscles of your lumbar region. They can help to improve your posture and alleviate any back pain problems you’ve been having.
Your spine curves in a few important places, none of which a standard wheelchair accommodates. A seat cushion can help to get your pelvis back into its healthiest position. But a lumbar support pillow can restore the curve in your low back, making sure your body stays in the position it was meant to be in.
Find the Right Wheelchair Cushion for You
Getting the right wheelchair cushion for you can make a huge difference in your wheelchair experience. A wheelchair cushion can alleviate chronic pain and make it easier to maneuver your wheelchair. It can even help to prevent pressure sores and more serious conditions like DVT.
You can get cushions with heavy-duty, removable, washable covers, or even more breathable gel cushions that keep you cool, depending on your needs. If you tend to get overheated, gel wheelchair cushion might be the best choice for you.
If you’d like to find the right tool to keep you as comfortable as can be, check out the rest of our site at Everlasting Comfort. In addition to wheelchair cushions and lumbar supports, we also offer humidifiers, oil diffusers, and more.