9 Factors to Consider When Selecting Back Support

By Lee Ann Hoffman, O.T., MSc. Rehabilitation

August 5, 2017

Topics: Wheelchair Lifestyle

The use of a combined seat cushion and back support system combined will serve to provide holistic support for both the pelvis and trunk. In my last Roll Rev guest post, I provided seven steps for selecting a seat cushion and discussed the importance of a seat cushion and back support system working in unison. The following are factors to consider when selecting a back support system, and may help you make sure that all of your posture and skin integrity needs are being met.


1. Height of Back Support

Based on your individual level of need, the height of the back support can play an important role in your comfort, stability and balance. Factors such as your sitting and functional ability will help to determine your back support needs.


2. Comfort

Finding a backrest that meets your specific needs depends on several factors which affect comfort, namely; the height, width, and shape. It is also important to consider the composition of materials and the adjustability of the back support, as this will assist in meeting your postural needs.

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3. Stability and Balance

It is essential that the external support you are receiving from your back support promotes postural stability and balance in your upper body. For example, you may have weakness on one side and a back support which provides you with good contact and support that can potentially help correct your position. If correction is not achievable, then can the back support be adjusted to accommodate your needs and provide comfort. With a good back support may provide you with a stable base for function, and you may find that certain tasks, such as reaching with your arms, easier to perform.


4. Moisture Control and Microclimate

Since the back support is in close contact with your body, it may be helpful for you to  consider the design of the back shell and if the fabric and materials used will promote heat dissipation and provide moisture control.


5. Skin Integrity

The positioning and support provided by a back support must meet your skin integrity needs and promote good redistribution of pressure over the surface area. Ensure that your back support is a good fit and is not causing any potential points of contact that could cause redness and marking.


6. Weight of Back Support

Several factors affect the weight of the back support such as the composition and weight of the materials used, in addition to the weight of the mounting hardware.

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7. Carbon Fiber

You may come across some back supports that are made of 100 percent carbon fiber, which may be a great option for you depending on your positioning needs. Be sure to ask about the composition of the back support, as the key to carbon fiber performance is in its specific construction. In order to provide optimal performance, including suspension and flex, the back must be made with solid carbon fiber throughout. Individuals have reported that they’ve experienced a better seating endurance due to a reduction in vibration, better positioning of the trunk during activities, and in turn a reduction in the use of pain medication.


8. Adaptability, Positionability, and Removability

Make sure that your back support is adaptable and will serve to meet your postural needs. Your body may experience change, and it is helpful when your equipment can continue to meet your needs. Make sure that you can reposition your back support if you feel that it needs to be more forward or more backward, slightly open or more closed in angle. This includes the ability to adjust or remove the hardware yourself or with the assistance of a caregiver.

9. Accessories

If you require accessories to achieve postural stability and balance in sitting, you may need to make use of accessories such as a head supports, lateral thoracic supports, or an anterior support to help keep you both stable and balanced in a sitting position. Be sure to look for a back support which will help meet your positioning needs.

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Lee Ann Hoffman, O.T., MSc. Rehabilitation

Lee Ann Hoffman, O.T., MSc. Rehabilitation

Lee Ann qualified as an Occupational Therapist in 1999 in South Africa. She completed a post graduate certificate in Posture Management for complex disabilities in 2010, and obtained a Master of Science degree in Rehabilitation: Posture Management, 2015 in the United Kingdom. Lee Ann has experience in working with children and adults with complex disabilities and adopts the 24-hour approach to postural management. She is currently a clinical educator for Invacare USA.

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