A wheelchair can give you back a sense of mobility and allow you to maintain important social ties and interests outside of your home. To make a wheelchair work best for you, a wheelchair cushion or pad is an essential accessory. At the minimum, a wheelchair pad will evenly distribute your weight and cushion you from vibrations and any bumps along the way when the wheelchair is moving. You might want it for comfort, but you could also need it for a variety of health reasons. A supportive wheelchair cushion can put your back and hips in the correct alignment to avoid back pain; a specialized wheelchair pad can serve to prevent pressure sores—the same kind of skin ulcers that you’re at risk for when you’re in any one position for a long stretch of time and pressure is exerted over bony areas, irritating the overlying skin. These sores often start as red areas on the skin surface, but can quickly advance to serious ulcerations if you are prone to skin breakdown.
The right wheelchair seat cushion for you depends on your unique needs, and that is how you should go about choosing the material your wheelchair pad is constructed from.
Wheelchair cushions are available in a variety of materials and at a very wide range of prices, from a lightweight and inexpensive foam to a high tech air-cell and/or gel based state-of-the-art pad. And even within these categories, there are many choices to consider. For instance, a foam pad could be designed just like the egg crate shaped bed pads that many people use for greater sleep comfort.
Some pads, like The Invacare Absolute Wheelchair Cushion, offer molded polyurethane construction with a design that supports better body mechanics. The higher front and sides and lower back reduce poor posture and prevent slipping down in the wheelchair. There is firmer foam across the front and under the hips and legs for support, with softer foam under the coccyx for comfort.
Air-filled, gel-filled or a combination of these materials (some with foam as well) are good options for people who sit in their wheelchair for long stretches and are at higher risk of developing pressure ulcers. These designs are meant to allow bony prominences to float and avoid repeated contact with a hard wheelchair seat. The gel or air cells are usually in plastic casings and serve to reduce the pressure on your tailbone and other “sit bones.” Read product descriptions to see how effective the wheelchair seat cushion you’re considering is at helping you avoid pressure sores.
A top choice in this category is the Roho AirLite Cushion, made with 2” high individual air cells for a comfortable, counter pressure environment. The air cells allow adequate ventilation, and the durable neoprene material is flame retardant and helps resist damage from incontinence as well as stains from skin care products.
Another option is the Drive Medical Gel Foam Wheelchair Seat Cushion constructed with a gel bladder surrounded by high-density foam to mold comfortably to your body for support and comfort.
If you need a lighter weight cushion, the Wheelchair Gel Cushion is a low profile pad for users on the move. The 5/8” dry polymer pad is sealed to a 5/8” polyfoam cushion to create a thin, lightweight pad for people who do foot propelling and don’t want drag from a heavy cushion.
For a thicker pad, there’s the 3” thick SimplX GFST Microfiber Wheelchair Cushion with gel and foam construction and covered with Soft Touch microfiber suede-feel fabric that is cooler in summer and warmer in winter to reduce chafing and skin irritation.
To encourage proper posture and help decrease pressure, look at the Support Pro Wedge Chair Cushion made with a 4-chamber gel pad positioned between two layers of high resiliency foam. When used with a reclining back wheelchair, it helps redistribute pressure from your ischial area to the back. If you tend to thrust or slide forward, the Saddle Wedge Wheelchair Cushion designed for support, stability and pressure relief may be a good choice.
As you compare the many designs available, narrow down your search with these other important criteria. The cushion should have a breathable and easy to clean covering—one that can either be wiped down without being removed or easily removed and machine washed. Another factor to consider is the weight of the wheelchair pad. For self-propelled wheelchairs, you may want to add the lightest weight possible so that the pad doesn’t make it harder to wheel. Thickness is also a consideration—you’ll find pads anywhere from one to four inches thick, and you’ll need to balance the comfort of a thicker pad with its added weight. One final shopping pointer: You must know the seat size of your wheelchair and choose a wheelchair cushion that will fit it—be sure it is not too big or too small.