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Insights into Seated Comfort: Unveiling Challenges & Coping Strategies Among Wheelchair Users in the U.S
April 2024

A graph representing awareness of health and seating among wheelchair users.

Comfort is a paramount concern for wheelchair users, as certain behaviors and considerations have to be made such as medication management,  changing positions,  exercise, and exploring complementary therapies. These findings delve into data from the wheelchair user population to closely examine the lived experience of wheelchair users, shedding light on the complexities that shape their daily lives.

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A graph representing coping strategies to mitigate feelings of discomfort.

To enhance seated comfort, wheelchair users have adopted a range of coping strategies for handling extended periods of sitting. The intent of these methods is to disrupt, redistribute, or shift constant pressures away from the ischial tuberosities (ITs) and sacrum. Among wheelchair users, a notable prevalence of respondents reported moving from side to side (56%) and repositioning themselves (72%) as common coping mechanisms. Coping strategies such as fidgeting, stretching, slouching, and repositioning themselves, often occur subconsciously as the wheelchair user attempts to alleviate discomfort. Offloading methods are deliberate and aim to intentionally alleviate and redistribute pressure away from sensitive pressure points, particularly around bony prominences. These intentional offloading methods include shifting from side to side, moving front to back, and lifting off the wheelchair. 

A graph representing effects of sitting too long

While able-bodied individuals often unconsciously adjust their posture to alleviate discomfort, wheelchair users face more chronic issues due to challenges in their ability to conveniently adjust their body position whenever necessary. Many of these individuals often endure prolonged periods of intolerable discomfort, ultimately hindering their engagement in basic everyday activities including work, education, and other recreational activities

A graph representing average hours before feeling uncomfortable

An addition to discomfort levels experienced by wheelchair users, the average number of hours before wheelchair users begin experiencing discomfort is 3.7 hours. A notable pattern emerges when comparing the uptick in discomfort reported by the U.S representative population after sitting for 30 minutes to 2 hours (40%)  with a spike in discomfort reported by wheelchair users from sitting 2 to 4 hours (36%).

A graph representing gender breakdown among wheelchair users

In terms of gender distribution, a slightly higher proportion of females (52%) compared to males (46%) were found to be wheelchair users.

A graph representing cushions and seating systems preferences among wheelchair users

Wheelchair users employ a diverse range of cushions and seating systems to alleviate the adverse effects of prolonged sitting, as shown in Figure 8. Among these, distributive/ immersion style cushions including air, foam, or gel cushions are prevalent among approximately two in five wheelchair users.

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