Reclining wheelchair backrests: considerations

Reclining wheelchair backrests: considerations

When considering a wheelchair with a reclining backrest, the following issues need to be considered:

  • Head & upper body support
    The greater the degree of recline the wheelchair provides, the more support the backrest will need to give to your child's upper body and the more vital an appropriate headrest will be.

  • Legrests
    Check whether the leg rests can be operated by your child, who might want to sit with their legs outstretched; most have to be adjusted by someone else.

  • Positioning & Pressure
    The use of recline can cause the loss of good postural positioning and so tilt-in-space may be more appropriate. It may also cause shear forces (when skin and tissue are pulled in different directions), which can lead to the development of pressure areas. It is therefore vital that your child's occupational therapist or physiotherapist are involved in the decision about whether recline is used.

  • Propulsion
    Although some reclining manual wheelchairs have user-propelled wheels, their primary purpose is to improve stability of the wheelchair when the backrest is reclined, rather than for self-propulsion. This is because stability is achieved by having the rear wheels set back further than standard, which makes the chair harder to self-propel.

  • Reclining mechanism
    Check whether the mechanism can be operated by the child or the parent/carer. Children will need to have good upper body strength and balance, or have assistance, as they may need to sit up before the backrest can be moved back to an upright position. If the chair is attendant operated, can the mechanism be operated with the child sat in the chair?

  • Space
    Check that there is enough room in the home/school to manoeuvre the wheelchair. Once the backrest is reclined and the leg rests elevated, the chair is very long. These chairs often have a longer than standard wheel base anyway, to provide necessary stability.

Advice last checked: 26 February 2018 Next check due: 26 February 2021

All advice is either supported by references (cited in the text) or is based upon peer reviewed professional opinion. Our advice is impartial and not influenced by sponsors or product suppliers listed on the site.
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