How to Maintain Good Posture in a Wheelchair

If you’re experiencing strain and tension in your back, shoulders or neck whilst using your wheelchair then you might need to adjust your posture.

Good posture is critical to reducing repetitive strain injury, relieving pressure on your sitting bones, lower back, spine and hips. It also reduces muscle and bone degeneration, eliminates basic aches and pains and makes it easier to operate your wheelchair overall.

Whether you use your wheelchair everyday or intermittently, it’s important to keep your spine supported and Karma Mobility wants to explain how you can adjust your lifestyle and upgrade your wheelchair to aid you in this endeavour.

Adjust your wheelchair

Your wheelchair should feel like an extension of you, built to support your build, posture and individual needs. You are able to adjust certain features on your wheelchair to better carry your posture.

  1. Seat dimensions

Your seat needs to provide the necessary stability and distribute weight to relieve pressure and allow you to sit comfortably without needing to slouch. It should also feel comfortable to sit on your sitting bones with freedom to move your body when performing basic pressure relief exercises.

The width of your seat should be adapted to you; too wide and you’ll adopt a lopsided posture, too narrow and you risk pressure sores. Too long and you’ll need to slide forward, risking a hunched spine, too short and you’ll have too much pressure on your hips, lower back, thighs and buttocks.

Ideally, you should be able to place two fingers on either side of you, and between your legs and the front of your seat for optimum comfort.

It is also recommended that you use an anatomical cushion to relieve pressure on your buttocks and lift your spine, making it much easier to maintain good posture without discomfort or excessive effort.

  1. Footrest placement 

To maintain posture in a seated position, your legs and ankles should ideally be at a 90° angle. However, because your disability is unique to you, this might be unachievable.

This angle can also impact how easily you can manoeuvre your chair, so it’s all about finding what feels right for you.

  1. Armrests

Armrests help provide respite to your neck and shoulders. It is recommended that your arms sit at 90° on your armrests to remain relaxed and prevent strain to your upper body, depending on your comfort level and ability to do this with your individual disability.

  1. Backrest position

The height of your backrest is very important because it stabilises your body and gives you respite from holding your body straight if you are able. This once again depends on your disability.

You may benefit from a Super Head Adjustable Headrest to provide invaluable support for your head, which can take the pressure off your shoulders and neck.

Measuring your wheelchair to support your posture

Before you get your wheelchair, it is important for a specialist to take your measurements so you can ensure they are correct for you. Wrong measurements can impede your ability to operate your chair comfortably as well as maintain good posture.

Measurements should be taken:

  • On a solid surface or somewhere with shallow cushioning to align with your wheelchair seat
  • In the same position you would sit in your wheelchair
  • With consideration for the clothes you usually wear
  • With even measurements of both thighs and calves

At Karma Mobility, we appreciate the importance of taking accurate measurements for your choice of manual wheelchair or powered wheelchair and work with our suppliers to ensure bespoke fitting that suits your disability and lifestyle.

Measuring your wheelchair to support your posture

Body position

Your body position is key to maintaining healthy, comfortable posture during the day. This will avoid pressure sores and unnecessary muscle strain and pressure on your lower back.

If your disability allows, try to:

Keep you head centralised

Keep your head in a central position to support the natural line of your neck. If your head is out of alignment then it can impact the support you receive from your spine.

Most wheelchairs come with additional head and neck support for your comfort, but you can invest in more advanced technology if you feel your existing support isn’t enough.

Support your spine

Your spine has a natural curve that should be correctly supported when in a wheelchair. Your chair should be designed in a shape that moulds to your back to avoid long-term damage.

You need to sit upright with your shoulders back. If you are slumping or leaning then this is probably an indication that you need to upgrade your wheelchair to better support your needs.

Keep your arms supported

Armrests don’t just exist to provide a leaning post for your arms, they are a tool to relieve tension and pressure from your neck and shoulders.

To avoid your shoulders being too high or too low and causing tension and malalignment, your armrests should allow your elbows to sit at a 90° angle.

Exercise regularly

As with anybody, bad posture can be caused by a number of reasons and it is likely that you will experience it at some point due to tension, excessive movement, slouching or fatigue.

One of the best ways to alleviate the strain caused is to exercise on a regular basis. This could be basic stretches or competitive sports.

For more information on How to Keep Active in a Wheelchair, take a look at our guide or find your preferred Adapted Sport for an Active Life.

For more information, advice and guidance or to find like minded individuals, join the Karma community by following Karma Mobility on social media.