People that make use of wheelchairs need comfort too. It is not a new thing that the type of wheelchair cushions a wheelchair user use influences his or her medical condition and overall wellbeing. For instance, improvements in the comfort of the wheelchairs are remedial and necessary for the prevention of pressure ulcers.
With the increase in medical cases of pressure ulcers, it is not a surprise that wheelchair manufacturers are responding appropriately in this regard; hence, coming up with better solutions.
Pressure ulcers often occur when much continuance pressure is applied to soft tissues of the body causing partial or total obstruction of blood to such tissue and the main purpose of improvement on cushions is to prevent this from happening to soft tissues such as that found in the buttocks.
Wheelchair cushions generally also encourage proper positioning of the body as well as posture control.
Let’s have a look at the type of wheelchair cushions currently available to help you or your loved ones with comfort, pressure injury prevention and posture support.
Types of Wheelchair Cushions
There are different types of wheelchair cushion based on content and material used.
1 – Air Cushions
Air cushions are typically made up of cells inflated using an air pump and are designed to help wheelchair users who have a higher risk of developing other health conditions from prolonged use of wheelchairs. They are mostly useful for those with a fragile skin providing flotation and uniform distribution of pressure.
How Do Air Cushions Work?
Wheelchair air cushions work by using advanced technology to recreate a surface that feels like water hence providing optimum comfort and reducing pain and pressure. They also adapt easily to the natural contours of the body.
Here are some of the top air wheelchair cushions you can get for you or your loved one.
The Roho Low-profile Wheelchair Cushion
This is a comfortable air cushion offered by Roho. It is easy to use and to clean as both its cushion and cover can be washed using a machine.
It is about 18 × 16 × 2.2 inches in size.
My experience with working with people who use wheelchair suggest that the Roho Low-profile Wheelchair Cushion is helpful doesn’t spoil easily, and even when it starts leaking, it can be easily mended.
- High-quality and behind the Roho brand
- Comes with a repair kit
- Can easily be inflated and deflated
- Washable with machine
- It is quite expensive
- It may need regular repair and maintenance
The Drive Medical Adjustable Air Cushion
Measuring 20” × 22” × 4”, this air cushion is offered by Drive Medical.
It serves to prevent pressure sores on the seniors with delicate skin and the incapacitated, by providing optimal pressure.
Drive Medical’s Adjustable Air Cushion is water-resistant and comes with hand pumps and adjustable straps.
- It is of high-quality
- It is lightweight and can be folded
- Beautiful design
- A water-resistant cover
Premium Air Inflatable Seat Cushion
This air cushion is a great alternative to memory foam as it offers comfortable stress-free seating.
It is ideal for travelling as it can easily be deflated and packed and then inflated when the need for it arises.
Premium Air Inflatable Seat Cushion can easily fit into almost any seat.
- A fantastic alternative to the gel and memory foam cushions
- Excellent for travelling
- Easy to clean and pack
- Inflates quickly
- Doesn’t come in many varying colours
- Becomes too firm when overinflated, so you may require trying with different air pressure levels to get the optimum comfort.
Airhawk Trucker Cushion
This is a light air-inflatable cushion also offered by Airhawk Australia.
Even though it comes with a smaller pillow, it is quite comfortable.
Its shape is adjustable; hence, it is ideal for long-distance trips.
Airhawk Trucker Cushion weighs about 3 lbs with a machine washable cover made of Lycra and Nylon.
Our experience with this wheelchair cushion suggests that it doesn’t slip off easily from the chair and provides a good back support, so users claim that ‘it reduces backache’.
- Foldable with a machine-washable cover
- Some people find it’s small
- It needs to be inflated, sometimes quite regularly.
- There have been complaints that it is not durable compared with some other Roho products.
Pros and Cons of Air Wheelchair Cushions
Air wheelchair cushions have their advantages and disadvantages.
They are best suited for users that need cushions with the following characteristics.
- Cushion providing good pressure relief
- Machine washable cushions
- Cushion with a lightweight, and
- A cushion that can be easily adjusted
In likewise manner, they are not the best option for those seeking for wheelchair cushions and have the following requirements.
- Require a low maintenance
- Provide surface sitting maintenance, and
- Require improved positioning.
In addition, remember, air cushions are less stable than gel, foam or hybrid cushions. They also require manual pumping of air.
2 – Gel Cushions
Gel cushions do not only improve sitting tolerance, but they also reduce heat and also protect your body tissues from trauma and injuries.
While it may be true that it does feel like your own fat tissue and minimizes skin shearing, it can also be combined with the air and foam cushion to offer more postural support and to maximize the benefits of shear reduction as well.
Some of the best gel cushions include the below.
The Kieba Coccyx Seat Cushion
This is amongst the best gel cushions and is a great alternative for those that desire a firm pillow-like cushion for lower back support.
Even though it provides support and brings relief to the lower back, it is quite thick and can be too firm for some people.
The Kieba coccyx seat cushion promotes spine alignment, evenly distribution of weight and proper posture.
It provides a good support, can be used on any seat and is ideal for people that use wheelchairs too.
- It is made of a high-quality gel-like memory foam
- It makes the wheelchair comfortable
- It serves for lower back and tailbone relief, so ideal for those with back pain.
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- It doesn’t have many colour options
- Some users find it is too rigid and firm
Drive Medical Gel-U-Seat Cushion
If you are set out to purchase a gel cushion, then you might as well check out this one as it is amongst the best gel cushions.
Drive Medical’s Gel-U-Seat Cushion is explicitly designed to support pressure redistribution and also to prevent the development of pressure ulcers.
The Gel-U-Seat Cushion consists of a high-density foam cushion with a dual-chamber gel bladder embedded into it.
- Can carry a weight of up to 500 lbs (>225kg)
- It features a waterproof vinyl bottom
- It comes with a water-resistant cover and tie straps
- The chair cannot be folded with the seat on
Secure Gel Foam Wheelchair Seat Cushion
This seat cushion is designed to provide you with a certain degree of comfort and relief from pressure. Its inner layer consists of a gel layer that is surrounded by high-density memory foam, which helps to redistribute the weight.
Secure Gel Foam Wheelchair Seat Cushion is an excellent choice for people that are confined to wheelchairs for a long period.
It comes in the size of 18” × 16” × 3”.
It comes with safety straps that allow you to attach it to a wheelchair.
- A water-resistant, flame-retardant cover
- It comes with antimicrobial covert for comfort and hygiene
- Machine washable
- A slip-free cover to prevent muscle pain
- Can be fit into other chairs like transport chairs and home/office chairs.
- The seat cushion could raise you up to the 2 inches higher. Thus, it needs a wheelchair with an adjustable arm, and leg rests.
Pros and Cons of Gel Cushions for WheelChair
Gel wheelchair cushions are usually designed to have vicious gel pouches that are attached to a high-density foam base; thus, they are meant to provide exceptional pressure distribution allowing the cushion surface to conform to its user.
Their gel bladders make for body temperature regulation and enhance blood circulation.
If you are in need of wheelchair cushions with the following needs, then the gel wheelchair is for you.
- Regulation of body temperature and prevention of sweaty skin
- Enhanced posture and sitting stability
- Provision of exceptional pressure relief
- Requires low maintenance
However, gel wheelchair cushions are not ideal for those searching for cushions with the following characteristics.
- Not expensive
- Not susceptible to ruptures
3. Other Types of Wheelchair Cushions
Asides the air wheelchair cushions and the gel wheelchair cushions, there are other types of cushion made of different materials that are also helpful with certain health conditions.
Cushions can be classified based on the users’ needs, based on their function and based on the type of material they are constructed with.
There are the foam cushions, fluid-filled cushions (air, gels, water) and the hybrid models. Asides the gel and air cushions we already reviewed, we also have the foam, honeycomb, hybrid and alternating pressure cushions.
We will look at of the best ones of ‘other type cushions’ that are useful for postural support, weight redistribution, comfortable and helpful with the prevention of pressure ulcers.
Dr Tushy 100% Memory Foam Cushion
Physicians, physical therapists and chiropractors recommend Dr Tushy’s Memory Foam Cushion because it allows the coccyx to float freely and provides full coverage to cradle the hips hence alleviating leg pain and numbness in that region. All thanks to its unique cut-out design.
Dr Tushy’s Memory Foam Cushion is an excellent option for office chairs and can also serve as a car seat to ease soreness.
If you enjoy the feel of memory foam, then you should go for this as it reduces Lower Back Pain and Injuries.
Its cover is of velour material, and it comes with a washable pillow.
It is an excellent choice except that it reduces in volume over time, just like every other memory foam.
- It relieves Lower Back Pain
- It made of 100% memory foam
- It has a removable and washable cover
- It is effective for prolonged sitting
- Limited colour options
- The cushion flattens over time so not recommended for long-term use.
NY Ortho Wheelchair Comfort Seat Overlay
This is rated amongst the best when it comes to seat cushions because you get everything you need and even a bit more too.
NY Ortho’s Wheelchair Comfort Seat Overlay provides the required padding for your arm, back and thighs. However, they are not moveable; hence, are intended for wheelchairs alone. They also form a better alternative for people with sensitive skin or severe painful ailments. Its seat overlay features straps that serve to hold everything in place.
- It comes in different variants and options
- It protects your body and skin
- Features straps for holding it in place
- The cushion is cumbersome and not moveable
- It is difficult to set up
- It is expensive
- Durability questionable
Comfort Company’s Curve Wheelchair Cushion
Ranking high in comfort, material and design, it is amongst the best cushions in the foam category.
It has lots of features that make it a great option even for individuals with a tight budget.
Comfort Company’s Curve Wheelchair Cushion is a foam-positioning cushion that is made from high-density polyurethane foam. It has a contour shape for increased user stability.
It is lightweight with a height of about 2.75 inches both in front and in the rear and can bear the weighs between 250 to 400 pounds (115-180kg).
Comfort Company’s Curve Wheelchair Cushion comes with a mild anti-thrust shelf at the rear of the cushion and a medial thigh separator for more stabilized posture.
- It is supportive and comfortable
- It comes in 13 adult sizes with anti-thrust shelf for postural support
- The medial thigh separator supports good posture and helps keep the legs parallel
- A lower height cushion
- Fluid-resistant cover option
- Its front contour may be a problem
- Its cover can be slippery
Roho Hybrid Elite Dual Compartment Cushion
This is a hybrid type of cushion best suited for individuals with a history of soft tissue breakdown, skin grafts or any stage of a pressure injury.
Roho’s Hybrid Elite Dual Compartment Cushion is also useful for those at the risk of the cases as mentioned earlier and even for those that require increased stability and alignment for their lower extremities.
- It has soft pockets
- Helps to prevent pressure sores and skin breakdowns
- The chair back (ADI) seems to extend a little too low
- It may not prevent forward sliding movement
How To Identify a Quality Air Cushion For a Wheelchair?
One might be wondering, “why to choose air cushion over others?”. It all depends on your needs, which I have tried to guide you with.
Air cushions are uniquely designed to help patients with higher risks of developing certain health conditions such as pressure ulcer from prolonged sitting on wheelchairs. It also serves to prevent the discomfort that might arise from positioning problems.
One of the significant advantages of air cushions is that they are adjustable. Thus, its seat support can be customized according to the user’s preference. While they may not provide as much stability as other wheelchair cushions, they offer exceptional pressure relief when they are properly inflated.
However, not to forget that air cushions for wheelchair users require high maintenance. Hence, if you are looking for low maintenance cushions, they may not be the best option for you.
Air cushions tend to develop leaks and may require monitoring on a regular basis for air pressure.
Generally speaking, they are ideal for those in need of cushion that fits the following criteria.
- Can be adjusted
- Provide postural support and pressure relief
In my view, they are not suitable for those in search of low maintenance and surface sitting stability.
How to Choose the Best Air Cushion For a Wheelchair?
For certain people, their wheelchair is just like those pair of shoes you put on. When choosing your pair of shoes, you would want to go for one that is the right size and offers comfort because you’d be putting them on for the most part of the day. This applies to those who use wheelchairs for the most part of the day too.
Sitting on a wheelchair with thin cushion for a few minutes may not be an issue, but it can bring discomfort when the individual has to use the wheelchair for almost all or a greater part of the day.
Therefore, the effort you put in purchasing a wheelchair is not too far from (arguably 100 times more) that which you put in purchasing your pair of shoes.
Here are the features of quality air cushions you should be mindful of.
- The air cushion should be effective for shielding pressure points and should ensure that its user feels comfortable.
- They should reduce the risk of pressure sores and ulcers.
- Their seat pads should be specially designed to alleviate pain, especially in elderly people.
- Air cushions are also rated based on their durability. The best ones ought not to leak as easily as others do.
- They should last for at least two years before requiring you to purchase another one.
- They should redistribute pressure throughout the cushion.
- The inflated air should not bottom out.
How to Identify a Quality Gel Cushion For a Wheelchair?
Whether a new wheelchair or an old one, the padding is is still subject to wears and tears and can begin to cause pain when one sits on it for a prolonged time.
The best and quality wheelchair cushions are meant to provide comfort and relief irrespective of how long one sits on them. Having the right wheelchair cushion can make a whole lot of difference as it can make ones day or ride either a comfortable one or a painful one.
Here are the characteristics of a quality gel cushion.
- They provide relief to specific areas and strategic points where one is likely to experience pain and pressure.
- They are designed in such a way as to redistribute the weight of the user.
- A quality gel cushion reduces shear force hence preventing undue stress to the skin and pressure sores.
- Stability and support are basic requirements of wheelchair cushions and every quality gel cushion should be able to provide those.
- They consist of a foam shell with a gel insert sealed on the inside thus forming two layers that are meant to create a stable base and advanced positioning.
- They are not lightweight because the gel pocket adds weight to the cushion.
- Generally, high-quality gel cushions for wheelchairs contain silicone gel and should provide optimum comfort.
Wheelchair seat cushions have come a long way over the years, and with the various options available, one might be confused on the right choice to make.
Here in this article, I have put together and reviewed some quality cushions that would help prevent pressure ulcers and also make for comfortable sitting. The pros and cons of each type of cushion were also highlighted.
Depending on your specific demand, which may be a budget limitation, maintenance process, your physical ability, pressure ulcer needs, posture needs and comfort needs, you will find one that best suits you.
Not to forget, some wheelchair cushions such as the air cushions require constant adjustment of the air pressure, some are difficult to clean while some do not require much maintenance.
When choosing the best wheelchair cushion, you should also check out for factors like temperature control, friction, life expectancy and warranty, moisture control, maintenance schedule, infection control and pressure redistribution.
I hope you found this article helpful? So, tell me a bit about the wheelchair cushion you use and if you are happy about it? Our readers would love to hear about your experience too.
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Awesome post Shani. I love your honest review about this product. I can recommend “The Kieba Coccyx Seat Cushion”.
My girlfriend fractured her back. She used to always complain about pain while sitting, and she hasn’t mentioned it using the pad, ever since she got this particular cushion. It’s kept it’s shape, even after having it a while and vacuuming it.
Thank you for compiling this article. I am sure that there are people who are in wheelchairs and this will help them decide what cushion to get. My favorites were the memory foam cushion and the entire seat overlay. I feel like people in wheelchairs will generally have a hard time because I’m having to sit all the time. Maybe it would be good if they would lay down flat more often on their back to take the pressure off their spine, or practice doing pull-ups and hanging from a pull-up bar with their hands to actually decompress their spinal joints.
For me, the most important factors would probably be durability and warranty. For a good return policy at least in case I get the cushion and find out I just don’t like it for some reason. When a product has a good return policy it always helps me be willing to try purchasing it and sometimes I appreciate that because it gives me a chance to try something.
Thanks for the comment and you raised some valuable points.
As the article notes, the memory foam cushions have their own pros and cons. Not being able to use a cushion for years, but for a few months, is always a concern for a long-term user. Again, if you need to use the wheelchair for only for a few months, then the memory foam is absolutely a good fit.
Similarly, the Seat Overlay has its benefits and gaps. It will not be suitable for someone with overweight or obesity. Also, the breathability of the material and air circulation is questionable. Remember, poor air circulation could promote pressure ulcers.
Yes, as you said, anyone with limited mobility should be encouraged to move every hour, if not every 30 minutes. Depending on personal health circumstances and range of mobility, a Physiotherapist or Occupational Therapist could advise on appropriate manoeuvres. Some may able to do the activities you noted, and some may not.
Like with any item we purchase, warranty period plays an essential role with a purchasing decision. However, given these products interfere with and used very close to skin and genitals, most manufacturers have strict money-back return and warranty policies. The idea is, once one used the item even for a day (week/month), the manufacturer would not be able to re-sell that item. However, like in any industry, there are very generous manufacturers and resellers within the wheelchair cushion industry too.
I am glad you found the article useful.
Very informative article. I didn’t realize there were so many options. I do think that contour and temperature would be my predominate needs. I have spent some time in a wheelchair and the cushions tended to get to warm and uncomfortable after even just an hour of time.
The pro’s and con’s will make it much easier to facilitate making a decision for those who are looking to do their research before purchasing a cushion.
I also like the referrals to actual products on Amazon, very handy instead of having to search endlessly, you’ve made it easy to find them.
As an aside, I’ve use a knee pillow for many years, similar to the ConfiLife product featured on your website. I have two of them and whenever I travel, I bring one of them with me. Wouldn’t want to be without it.
Great article..thank you for the depth of information.
Thanks for stopping by and sharing your experience as someone spent some time in a wheelchair.
As you said, contour and temperature features are important features and should be in mind of anyone searching for a comfortable wheelchair cushion.
Thanks for mentioning about knee pillows. We are currently researching on this topic and will add a link once we publish that article.
P.S. Have you read our article on Tips for Air, Sea and On-road Travel with Diabetes? It is one of our popular posts, and contain some valuable tips for anyone planning to travel, regardless of their diabetes status.