Have you ever wondered what makes a famed La-Z-Boy recliner so comfortable? Of course, it's the
reclining aspect, which allows one to recline back, stretching out, all while reducing seating pressure
through better weight distribution.|
These exact principles apply to reclining wheelchair seating,
as well, where a reclining backrest can not only reduce back pain and decrease seating pressure, but
also assist with advanced medical needs like catheterization. However, not all reclining backrests are
the same, with a variety to choose from based on your seating and positioning needs.
From the start, it's important to understand the difference between a "reclining"
backrest and an "angle-adjustable" backrest. A reclining backrest, indeed, operates like a recliner,
allowing the backrest to move from an upright to a reclined position, all at the user's immediate need.
However, an angle-adjustable backrest merely allows the setting of a permanent backrest angle - say,
102-degrees - and isn't typically adjustable without tools. Put simply, if you wish to recline, recline
is the exact feature to specify when choosing wheelchair technology.
most basic of reclining backrests is a limited recline, only allowing up to 115-degrees of recline, mainly
for those who need some form of recline throughout the day, but not for the purpose of pressure relief
(115-degrees isn't nearly enough to reduce seating pressure). A limited recline backrest is typically
found on captain's style seating on power wheelchairs, where a lever on the side of the seat allows user
Full Recline is a term used for seating - both captain's and rehab
styles - that reclines to approximately 170-degrees (technically, full recline would be 180-degrees,
however, anatomically, wheelchair seating doesn't typically allow such an extreme position). Still, if
one is looking for the greatest range, full recline is the right choice.
all captain's-style recline backrests are "manual" - meaning that you pull a lever and recline - the
term "manual recline" actually applies to rehab seating. In high-end rehab recline seating, such as on
power wheelchairs or tilt-in-space manual wheelchairs, manual recline typically defines a backrest that
is attendant operated, where a trigger release mechanism allows a caregiver to reposition the user by
manually moving the backrest. Some manufacturers will relocate the release lever to an armrest, so that
the backrest can be operated but the occupant; however, again, manual reclines are almost exclusively
designed for attendant operation.
Low-Sheer reclining backrests are featured
on power wheelchairs, and are specifically designed to reduce reclining forces on one's back. In simple
terms, imagine sitting in a seat, and reclining without removing your weight from the backrest - as the
seat backrest reclines with you against it, it will tug up on your shirt a bit. The movement of the backrest
against one's back is called "sheering," and can harm the skin of those who can't reposition themselves
to reduce the sheering effect. To address this, a low-sheer recline places the backrest on slides, so
as the canes recline, the backrest portion stays aligned with the user, dramatically reducing sheering.
Not For Everyone
Of course, as with other types of seating and positioning components, reclining
backrests aren't for everyone, namely those with limited range of motion, those who cannot tolerate a
change in position, or those who experience spasticity from an open backrest angle. Therefore, if one
has any question of whether a reclining backrest is appropriate, one's therapist and physician should
Where Similarities Stop and Health Starts
Ultimately, of course, comparing
a La-Z-Boy recliner to a medically-necessary reclining wheelchair backrest is absurd. The fact is, for
many with disabilities, a reclining backrest can increase functionality, reduce seating pressure, and
ease everyday health care. No, disability-related seating isn't inherently meant for falling asleep while
watching a ballgame; however, there's a lot to be said for increasing one's health and function when
using a wheelchair throughout the day, fostering an improved quality of life.
Published 2/08, Copyright 2008, WheelchairJunkie.com