There are several reasons why you may purchase extra cushions for you as a wheelchair user or for the loved one you take care of.
The best way to choose the right wheelchair cushion is by, first and foremost, talking to your doctor or a rehab specialist.
The reason is: there is no “one size fits all” solution, and if you try to purchase a cushion without pre-evaluation, you may end up solving one problem and creating a brand new one.
So, it is never too much to emphasize that the doctor’s input is priceless.
As far as the solutions you are looking for with new cushions for a wheelchair, you will have to consider posture correction needs, pressure sores management, urinary tract infection risks, level of disability or injury, current skin condition, spasticity levels, etc.
We will describe here many types of cushions indicated for each scenario to know what is out there for your decision-making.
Types of Wheelchair Cushions
These are types that have been in the market for a long time, and it is the most known by far.
Made from different materials, from polyurethane to therapeutic foam, memory foam, and others.
Despite being the most affordable in the market, it could end up being the best option based on what your physician prescribes for your needs.
These are very good options if you are looking for pressure sores (also known as pressure ulcers) prevention and staying dry the entire time while using them.
People also use air cushions to help directly in the treatment of pressure sores, not only prevention.
Specialists mostly indicate gel cushions to wheelchair users who need extra attention to body temperature.
One of the gel cushions’ main characteristics is keeping a steady temperature all day long.
Gel cushions also help tremendously in preventing pressure ulcers.
Technology evolves by the minute and brings new things every day to all of us everywhere.
Even in small things like a wheelchair cushion, for example.
Wheelchair cushions are also constantly being developed, and many companies are bringing new ideas.
Thermoplastic urethane honeycomb cushions are a real thing, and it has been recently introduced in the medical devices market.
These are very interesting solutions for wheelchair users that need special attention to pressure management.
As the name already suggests, honeycomb wheelchair cushions construct several small cells in a beehive formation.
This type of formation provides a strong and reliable structure that holds the weight of the wheelchair user and distributes this weight a lot more efficiently throughout the entire area being utilized.
For example, just so you have an idea, let’s think of a water mattress.
If you put pressure on the right side of the water mattress, the water will apply pressure up on the left side.
You can see the same effect on an air cushion with no “hives” or any structures inside that divides the cushion into little cells.
Honeycomb cushions distribute the weight more efficiently because they do not transfer pressure from one specific cushion spot to the other areas.
This means: if you apply pressure on the right side, the pressure stays there.
In comparison, the left side will not be affected by any pressure transfer.
The air circulation is tremendously improved as well.
It is a very interesting option, and it is gaining a lot of popularity due to its technological features.
Shaped wheelchair cushions
Regardless of whether your best wheelchair cushion solution is made out of gel, foam, air cushion or honeycomb structure, you have to consider its format.
The users’ needs and disability levels will ultimately indicate the best option.
I know this could be a simple task, like buying a cushion and done…
But there is a good amount of information to learn.
On the other hand, we do not want to make this rocket science topic.
Your doctor or rehab specialist will certainly make this task a lot easier for you.
Saddle Style Wheelchair Cushion
The main characteristic of this type of wheelchair cushion is its elevation on the front, which helps keep the legs in the right position the entire time.
This helps wheelchair users that have issues with knees that touch each other.
Some saddle-style cushions also come in different configurations.
Some are slightly inclined to keep preventing the wheelchair user from sliding forward.
Others are completely flat to distribute the weight better.
If the wheelchair user is very active and able to readjust posture with no caregiver’s help, the saddle style may limit movements.
Check with your rebab expert for an adequate solution.
Waffle designed cushion
Waffle-designed wheelchair cushions are usually low-profile types with air vent holes for airflow optimization.
Indicated to protect the skin, the main goal with these cushion types is the airflow and the ability to stay dry as it dissipates heat and moisture.
The vast majority of waffle-style cushions come in a pre-inflated option, and warranties vary from company to company.
Good options for pain reduction treatments and pressure sores (or pressure ulcers) prevention or treatment.
Air-filled cellular cushion
These are high-priced items but definitely, a fantastic option if you are looking for an advanced level of pressure ulcer prevention options.
Air-filled cells provide high-level technology where the wheelchair user of its caregiver can control the amount of air that goes into the device.
As a result, not only can pressure points be treated and prevented, but the overall posture will also benefit from it.
Wheelchair users who need a high level of attention and care, posture, and cushion stability may not benefit from this type of cushion.
Pommel Seat Cushion
Wedge cushions are designed at an angle to provide pelvic tilt and proper lumbar curve.
When designed with a pommel, the device assists wheelchair users that require extreme caution and attention to posture.
This cushion contains pommel support to help position hips and legs properly in place.
Pelvic rotation issues and windswept deformities are the main targets for this wheelchair cushion with a pommel.
It is extremely important to check with your physician to make sure you purchase the correct cushion for these types of physical impairments.
It may not be a good option if the wheelchair user is pretty active and able to readjust posture without help from a caregiver.
This type of cushion was designed especially for the coccyx (tail bone) integrity and treatment support where required.
Coccyx cushions usually have the portion at the tail bone cut out.
The main goal is to completely relieve the coccyx from any pressure, improving the overall blood circulation in the area.
It can be purchased in the market in various formats and materials, like therapeutic foam and gel.
Wheelchair Cushion for Pelvic Obliquity
Pelvic obliquity or also known as pelvic misalignment or tilted pelvis, is a postural abnormality where one side of the pelvis is higher than the other, and as a result, the spine develops a serious and uncomfortable lateral curvature.
No Lean Cushions, as known, is the most appropriate type of wheelchair cushion to assist the user with this type of physical abnormality.
Your doctor or physical therapist will certainly prescribe the correct No Lean cushion for your case, based on measurements and level of misalignment.
Not an item to purchase without an expert’s point of view.
Zero Elevation Cushion
These are typical and most common wheelchair cushions that most buyers can purchase anywhere.
It is a good option for very low-risk wheelchair users, relatively active and able to readjust their positioning in a wheelchair without the support of a caregiver.
The most common material is foam, but you will find other options out there in the market.
Amputee wheelchair cushion
These types of cushions are designed to protect the skin from the constant daily rubbing against the wheelchair.
Amputee wheelchair cushions are usually made of a padded seat with a firm base (i.e., plywood) and come with safety straps to secure the seat to the wheelchair.
It can also be found in foam, gel or air-filled options.
Bariatric wheelchair cushion
Bariatric wheelchair cushions are specially designed to hold heavy loads and prevent and relieve pressure points caused exactly by heavy loads.
Some brands can hold up to 750 lbs with no problems.
Also known as heavy-duty wheelchairs cushions, they can be found in different materials like foam or gel.
Or different formats, such as saddle style, zero elevation or pelvic obliquity treatment, among others.
How to Measure a Wheelchair For Cushion Replacement?
Calculating the dimensions of your wheelchair to acquire seating cushions is a simple exercise. Well… as long as you know the parameters involved.
It is indeed really simple. Let’s go straight to the point:
To measure a wheelchair cushion, you must calculate the seating area in 2 directions:
The Width: Start by positioning the wheelchair user sitting on a flat surface for measurements.
A regular flat chair is perfect for this exercise.
Your reference point to measure the width will be the broadest part of the person while sitting on the flat surface.
This part could be the hips or thighs.
Once you determine the measurement from side to side based on the broadest points, add 1 inch to this number.
This will allow an extra area so the wheelchair user can move comfortably without going beyond the area covered by the cushion.
The Length: Still with the wheelchair user sitting on the regular flat chair.
This time, your reference points are the very back of the wheelchair user’s buttocks to the back of the knees.
Once you have this number, you will subtract 1 to 2 inches to the final measurement for the cushion.
This is necessary to avoid skin damage.
If the cushion touches the back of the knee, it will be a problem throughout the day with the surface rubbing against the skin.
If the wheelchair user cannot use the legs to assist with movements, then taking away 1 inch from the initial measurement number is enough.
If the wheelchair user uses the legs to assist in movements, 2 inches must be taken away to avoid skin problems.
As far as the seat’s height, this will depend on the wheelchair needs, which will vary based on pressure sore treatments or prevention, pelvic obliquity assistance, and other different needs.
Just make sure that your wheelchair can adjust the footrest heights based on the adequate wheelchair cushions prescribed for your case.
If you purchase your cushion online, check for items that you can return if it does not fit your needs or the measurements are not quite right.
This way, you have a chance to apply corrections later without losing money.