I want to bring here some information from research that may help you understand this important part of a wheelchair and suggestions on how to make the best use of it.
A wheelchair footrest is a front rigging, a hanger connected to a base where the wheelchair user can place their feet.
Most of the footrests available in wheelchairs or the market as accessories are removable and swing away to the side to avoid accidents when the user leaves the chair or during transfers.
Despite the basic appearance and the basic purpose of supporting feet, the footrests have a very important role in the overall health of the wheelchair user (if born with limbs or non-amputee).
We will see more details here in the article.
Are Wheelchair Footrests Important?
They do look basic on the standard wheelchairs, electric or manual. But the word “basic” does not do justice to how important wheelchair footrests are.
Wheelchair footrests are extremely important to any wheelchair user as they assist the user in setting up the optimum sitting position, improve posture, and promote better blood circulation of – mostly – legs, buttocks, back, and elbows.
Proper feet positioning avoids back pain, digestive issues, pressure sores (also known as pressure ulcers), and others.
Pressure sores are dangerous and critical stages can lead to death.
Learn more about this topic and how to prevent it right here in this article from the American Cancer Society.
It’s worth reading.
Are Footrests ready to use or… Do they require adjustments?
Regardless of whether you plan to use the standard footrest that comes with your wheelchair or if you plan to buy a different type to install, you will need to adjust them before use.
It is very important as one of the many methods utilized to help prevent pressure sores.
Wheelchair footrests require adjustments, as there is no universal size or height positioning.
Many factors must be considered, such as the height of the wheelchair user, comfort, footrest ground clearance and the overall function and maneuverability of the wheelchair.
Footrests cannot be too short or placed too high on the chair’s frame. This will cause discomfort and increase the risk of pressure sores.
This happens because the knees are positioned too high, elevating the thighs of the wheelchair transferring most of the weight onto the buttocks.
This is especially dangerous to wheelchair users with no feeling in the legs or from the waist down.
In this case, the keen eyes of caregivers are extremely important to help with properly adjusting the footrests.
Types of Wheelchair Footrests (people also know them as Leg Rests)
You will not find many types of footrests in the market if you plan to replace your existing ones or needs to replace the ones of a new wheelchair you are about to purchase.
Wheelchair footrests can be found in a few different types:
- Two-piece footrests
- One-piece footrests
Variations on the existing one-piece & two-piece footrest types are available with slight differences based on makes and models.
Some come in different formats, such as:
- Elevated footrests
- Swing-away footrests
- Sidekick padded boards
- Angle Adjustable
- Height adjustable
Footrests can be either articulated or elevated.
Both of them have the role of helping the wheelchair user spread out the weight for pain relief and swelling prevention.
Check the options in the market based on your wheelchair make/model. You most likely will find the right item for your chair.
Important to check with your doctor before making any purchase and explain why you plan to do so.
The doctor will re-evaluate possible leg swelling scenarios, blood circulation issues, and other problems and let you know the proper leg support to purchase if that is the proper solution.
Important points will be in discussion before getting to a final decision on the leg rest to purchase:
- Proper leg rest angle (70, 80 or 90P based on your pelvic and sitting positioning needs
- Ability to maneuver the wheelchair. Depending on the type you adopt, this may represent a challenge in smaller spaces (which could be your own home)
- Powered devices
- Manual devices
This type of footrest is most indicated for wheelchair users who have no problems placing their feet flat on an even surface or on the footrest itself.
It is important to place the feet flat as this is very important to maintain good posture and avoid serious health issues like pressure sores.
Two-piece footrests are usually seen in standard wheelchairs, and most of them are replaceable.
There are options in the market that you can quickly purchase and do the replacement yourself, with no need to use tools.
Their format varies from swing away to flip-up footrests.
All that to make sure the footrests stays out of the way (to the side with the swing away type, or up and out of the way with the flip-up version) and make transfers possible, avoiding accidents in case the wheelchair user needs to stand up for short walks, if capable to.
This type of footrest is a more solid option for wheelchair users that require more care, and transfers in and out of the wheelchair are more challenging.
You can find other names, such as wheelchair footboards or foot panels.
A minimum requirement to make possible and feasible the use of a two-piece footrest is the ability to place the feet flat on the floor, flat on the footrest.
Some wheelchair users may find it very challenging to use standard two-piece footrests due to numerous physical disability levels, and for those cases, a one-piece footrest might be the ideal choice. (I.e., Leg length differences or feet malformations keep the user from placing the foot flat down on any surfaces).
Some wheelchair users need to rely on footrests to help transfer in and out of the chair.
One-piece footrests might be good solutions.
Sports wheelchairs are usually equipped with one-piece footrests, with the plate bent in the front to protect the toes.
Check with your doctor before adopting one-piece footrests, especially if you plan to add the device for transfers.
Accessories related to footrests and related items
You will certainly find an enormous variety of items in the marketing if you look for improving the overall posture of the wheelchair user, legs and feet comfort, prevent pressure sores and other issues.
Let’s take a look at some of them in case you do not know all of them, not only to feet related but legs as well:
- Sidekick or Drop Stop pads: Good options for wheelchair users that have no control or sensation on the legs, keeping the feet in place avoid drops specifically to the sides
- Padded calf support: for comfort, prevent leg swelling. Perfect to be used when the footrests are raised.
- Footrest elevation kits: for comfort, prevent leg swelling
These elevation kits usually come in bundles of several pads (the sample below is a 14 blocks solution) and help the wheelchair user keep the ankles in a correct and comfortable 90º angle for optimal posture.
- Leg Rest extender: for comfort, prevent leg swelling
- Footrest covers: for comfort, help to prevent pressure sores and to provide relief
Again, always talk to your doctor when purchasing a wheelchair or accessories that significantly change for the format of the wheelchair or the posture of its user.
Changes with no instructions from a professional could lead to serious health problems or unexpected accidents.
So, be cautious.