Maintaining Good Posture in a Wheelchair: Tips From the Mobility Experts
Having good posture when sitting in a wheelchair is important. Maintaining good posture not only helps us to carry out tasks and activities more effectively, but it’s also essential for our own comfort as it helps to reduce undue stress on the body. Good posture also improves the manoeuvrability of a wheelchair, reducing the risk of injury and helping us to maintain our health.
Achieving good posture in a wheelchair is particularly important as it helps to relieve pressure on different parts of the body, such as the neck, spine, thighs and buttocks. To achieve correct posture, each part of your body needs to be in the correct position in relation to the next, from the top of your head right to your toes. Each part of your body has an effect on the next part and therefore it’s absolutely crucial that your wheelchair provides the best posture support possible.
To optimise the effort required to operate the wheelchair, reduce the risk of repetitive strain injuries and ensure you are as comfortable as possible, maintaining good posture is key.
Below, we share our top tips for maintaining good posture in a wheelchair and ensuring your wheelchair offers you the correct posture support.
Adjust your wheelchair to suit your specific requirements
Firstly, it’s important to note that your wheelchair should be adjusted to ensure the correct positioning and posture is achieved. The height, position and size of the wheels can all be adjusted, as well as the seat height, footrest and armrest. Let’s take a look in closer detail:
It’s important that the seat of the wheelchair is neither too wide or too narrow. If the seat is too wide, it can cause the user to adopt a non-symmetrical posture; if the seat is too narrow, it can cause great discomfort and sores. Similarly, the seat must not be too short or too long; each can cause pressure and tension. The base of the seat should be firm enough so that the user does not sink.
The position of the footrest is again important. It needs to be at the correct angle to ensure both the ankles and knees feel comfortable. If it’s too low, it could alter the position of the hips; however, if it’s too high, it can put too much pressure on the buttocks.
It is generally advised that, when sat in a wheelchair, the elbows are supported at 90 degrees. Having the armrests positioned higher can cause stress on the neck and shoulders, whereas having them lower may cause the user to fall to one side. The armrest allows the neck muscles to rest as well as the arms. Depending on the wheelchair user and their lifestyle, the armrests may be replaced by side guards to shield from dirt and splashes.
Ways to ensure good wheelchair posture support
Stabilise the curves of your spine
If the natural curves of your spine are not correctly supported, it can cause discomfort and lead to long-term damage. There are three natural curves in your spine; to stabilise these, make sure you sit upright with your shoulders back and avoid slumping or leaning to one side. If you struggle to maintain this position, this is an indication that your wheelchair is not providing sufficient posture support.
Make sure your feet are supported
If your feet are not properly supported, your body may be pulled out of alignment. Adjusting the height and position of the foot plates will help with this; make sure they are at a height that ensures your weight is evenly distributed and your hips and knees at the right angles.
Centralise your head
It’s important to centralise your head. When sat in a wheelchair, your head should be upright and in the middle, with your chin slightly tucked. If your head does tilt forwards or backwards or to one side, it could pull your spine out of alignment, leading to great discomfort. If you are unable to maintain a central head position, there are additional neck or head supports you can invest in for extra comfort and support.
Make sure your arms are supported
As discussed, the position of your armrests can pull your shoulders down or push them up. This affects the upper curves of your spine and your head position, which is why it’s important to achieve the correct height and ensure your arms are supported. The correct height will support your arms, keep your shoulders level and maintain the natural curves of your neck.
Exercises to improve sitting posture as a wheelchair user
As a wheelchair user, your front chest muscles are working overtime. This can contribute to postural changes and issues, particularly if flexibility and muscle imbalances are not addressed or paid attention to.
Below are three strengthening exercises to help reduce muscle imbalance between the front and back shoulder complex and prevent shoulder aches and pains. Each exercise uses a theraband or resistance band – a latex band that is used for strength training exercises and physical therapy.
Diagonal pull out
Hold the theraband securely in your hands. While sitting tall in your chair and keeping your elbows straight, draw your right hand out and up whilst you move your left hand down to the floor. Then return to the starting position. Complete this exercise ten times (if you are comfortable enough to).
Horizontal pull out (bent elbows)
Hold the theraband in your hands; keeping your elbows bent and close to your torso, draw your hands out to the side using your shoulders. Pay attention to the outside of your hands and your shoulders while completing this exercise. Return to the starting position and repeat ten times.
Horizontal pull out (arms raised and elbows straight)
This exercise is particularly good for strengthening the back and posterior shoulder muscles. It’s similar to the previous exercise, however, you are doing it with your arms raised and elbows straight rather than bent.
Hold the theraband in your hands. Keeping your elbows straight and sitting tall in your chair, draw your hands out to the side using your shoulders. Slowly release, returning to the starting position. Complete ten times.
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