Published 11/04, Copyright 2004,

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When it comes to air cushions, opinions vary - from those who won't use anything except air, to those who avoid its application.  And, based on the diversity of the marketplace and personal needs, both opinions proved valid over the years.  After all, while air cushions provide among the best pressure relief for some, they can prove an unstable, high-maintenance ordeal for others.  Still, in recent years, great strides have been made, enhancing the overall performance of air cushions.

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While floating on air certainly sounds like a simple ideal, the function of an air cushion is fairly complex.  In contrast to a more traditional foam cushion, a cellular air cushion - commonly looking like an inflated egg crate - allows increased forming and immersion characteristics, molding the surface to your contours, decreasing tissue deformation on individual points, especially protecting at-risk areas of the ischials and the coccyx.  Additionally, air cushions allow control of the cushion's overall "firmness," allowing custom tailoring to your comfort level and weight.

On the downside, air cushions are notoriously unstable.  For example, if you scoot to the front edge of a foam cushion, the padding stays in place, maintaining a firm base.   However, if you scoot to the front edge of a traditional air cushion, the air is likely to transfer away from you, collapsing the area where you sit, causing an unstable base (this inherently makes transfer situations more difficult).  Similarly, side to side movements on a traditional air cushion may also cause exaggerated movements, creating postural instability as you function in your chair.  As one might think with any air-filled product, there's also a risk of leakage, both from punctures and the valves, and consistent air pressure monitoring is vital.

Fortunately, manufacturers have focused on resolving the less-favorable aspects of air cushions.  The Roho Select and the Star Starlock system both use internal chambering to control the airflow within the cushion, reducing stability-robbing air movement.  Specifically, rather than allowing air to migrate throughout the cushion, these systems compartmentalize air within the cushions - in Roho's case, they trap air within four regions, and Star isolates air within individual cells.  The results are air cushions that are more stable than generations past, better controlling the airflow, no matter where you sit on the cushion.  

Systam's dual-chambered Polyair 100 cushion features an in-line pressure gauge, allowing for precise maintenance of air pressure.  What's more, in conjunction with the pressure gauge, Systam provides recommended air pressure levels based on user weight, thereby taking much of the guess work out of fitting an air cushion.

Sure, air cushions still require more ongoing maintenance than other cushion technologies.  Yet, the outstanding pressure-relief properties of cellular air cushions prove the only option for some users.  Fortunately, when you combine the air control technologies of modern cushions with the long-known effectiveness of its pressure management, today's air cushions ideally make you feel less like you're balancing on a balloon, and more like you're floating on air.

Air Cushion Manufacturer Links



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