Posture tips for wheelchair and scooter users
Your posture as a wheelchair or scooter user as well as eye contact and attitude will determine how others regard you, and these are factors you can influence. As a wheelchair or mobility scooter user, You can hide in your wheelchair or project from it. Much of how you are seen by others on a scooter or in a chair is up to you.
Being in a wheelchair or using a mobility aid is not a weakness, it is a solution. It is a way to empower yourself and access social, commercial, occupational and travel opportunities. However, it is not uncommon to feel less visible and a bit different from those around you. Don’t put up with that and definitely don’t let the conveyance brand you.
I remember how much fun it was as a student physio in a large teaching hospital when, with my fellow students, we would grab some unattended wheelchairs and take them for a spin racing up and down the corridor, doing wheelies and falling out. We, of course, had the ability to walk away. For us the wheelchair was a plaything, not a necessity, whereas our patients had no such option.
Staying healthy as a wheelchair or scooter user
Now that ‘sitting is the new smoking’ in terms of health outcomes, people relying on wheelchairs and mobility aids need to be conscious or and pro-active with their health. With less incidental physical activity there is a real risk of gaining weight, losing muscle and bone mass, poor blood sugar control (tending to diabetes) among other risks. Vigilance, regular monitoring and a fierce determination to keep yourself healthy is imperative: eat well, stay active, exercise regularly, engage socially, sleep well and you are well on the way.
Active Posture – Don’t Sit Lazy
Postural muscles are anti-gravity muscles, they work to prevent you slumping and slouching making you more efficient when using your eyes, neck and arms. Improved posture is also beneficial for breathing, circulation, and social interaction. You are more able to look people in their eyes, communicate with voice and gesture and speak more strongly if your posture is strong.
To activate your postural muscles simply lift your sternum (breastbone). Don’t poke it out forwards, lift it upwards. Imagine a string from your belly button to top of your sternum and keep the string taut. If the you slump the string sags just like your posture, lift the sternum and the string (and posture) is aligned. Don’t think military-brace posture; more a relaxed tallness whether you are in a chair, scooter or car.
Supported Posture – Build a Platform
Using a lumbar cushion to hollow your lower back when sitting may help. You still need to do some of the work – keep your butt well back in the seat and think tall. A wedge cushion deeper at the back than the front edge will tilt your pelvis forward which complements the lower back curve – these can work together, but neither replaces your own anti-gravity muscles they just give a platform to work from.
Shifting Position – Fidget Often
Too long in the same position, even a cracking-good posture, is fatiguing. We all shift and fidget looking for a more comfortable position that unloads tired muscles shifting the load to rested ones. After a while we shift again. It feels good and feels right, like rolling over in bed to alter the pressure areas. Shift as needed, but after each shift engage your active muscles, sit tall and relaxed until the next fidget.
Useful exercises to stay strong as a wheelchair or scooter user
Being in a wheelchair or using a scooter does not mean you can give up on exercise. Quite the opposite – you need to maintain all your strength and endurance to slow or prevent any further deterioration. For example,
- use the arms on the appliance to do seated press ups – pushing down to lift (or at least unload) your butt from the seat. Repeat until fatigued. Do this daily.
- attach elastic exercise bands to a fixed point, put on your brakes and do arm pulls from the front (to fatigue, daily)
- wrap the band behind your back rest and use both hands to push forward and punch.
- wrap it beneath your seat (or butt) and push upwards.
- All of these should be done while elevating your sternum to strengthen your posture.
- Use dumbbells or cans from the kitchen as hand weights to lift overhead, chest press when lying down, arm curls and more.
Whether you have arrived in a wheelchair or mobility scooter by choice or necessity, what happens next is up to you. You can consider it a step backwards or a platform from which to move forward and maintain your activities, participations, connections, and influence. You will be seen by others according to the attitude you project, and strong posture is an asset for us all.
Your wheelchair or mobility scooter may not become a racing vehicle that you can enjoy with your mates, but it doesn’t have to be something that you accept as part of ageing, frailty or infirmity. It’s just your new set of wheels.
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This article is sponsored by Independence Australia, a social enterprise that provides choices for people living with a disability or other personal need, enabling them to regain and retain their independence within a supportive community.