Wheelchair Pad: Choosing the Right One

Wheelchair pad

A wheelchair pad or cushion is an important accessory to have if you will be sitting in your wheelchair for extended periods of time.

Sitting in the same position for a long time can cause back and hip pain, let alone pressure sores, bad posture, and even blood clots. Many studies have been done on the efficacy of wheelchair pads in reducing these ailments, particularly pressure sores. Unfortunately, there is no clear-cut answer as to which type of cushion is most effective. One thing is clear though - studies have found that a rise of 1.0 C in temperature causes a 10% increase in tissue metabolism (the cause of pressure sores), which implies that a wheelchair cushion that limits changes in skin temperature might reduce the chance of developing a sore.

Each body is different, so it is important that you experiment to find the cushion that works best for you. Here are some options:

Gel Pads

You may have seen television commercials for gel insoles. They are designed to keep the foot cool and redistribute weight as one walks. The same principal is applied to gel wheelchair pads. Gel cushions are cool, self-leveling, and self-adjusting as you move. They are great at absorbing vibrations, though not so great at absorbing major bumps. Many gel cushions are a gel/foam combination for this reason. Make sure you try the gel pad out to ensure it is thick enough to provide adequate support (suspend your bottom) so that you don’t “bottom out” when you sit on it.

Foam Pads

Foam wheelchair cushions come in a variety of densities and thicknesses. Foam is great at conforming to your body and absorbing bumps. The main problem with foam is that it gets hot. Look for foam cushions that have a cool layer, such as gel or air, between your body and the foam, or look for a cooling cover to place over your foam pad.

Air Pads

Air cushions are generally constructed of multiple cylindrical shaped air-filled chambers. They come in varying depths and can be inflated or deflated to match your comfort level. If you spend a lot of time in your wheelchair, or are at a high-risk for developing pressure sores, a thicker air-based chair pad is recommended and will offer more support. Most air pads have a foam base to help the pad better conform to your shape.

If you spend a lot of time in your wheelchair, seat cushions or wheelchair pads can give you a much more comfortable ride and help prevent painful pressure sores. They come in various sizes, colors and material to fit your needs. Because the human body comes in all different shapes and sizes, not one wheelchair cushion can be recommended for everybody. Test any pads in your wheelchair before buying it. Make sure the cushion will remain cool, takes the pressure off of your sit bones (ischial tuberosities), and distributes your weight evenly over your seat.


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