Strong positioning improves wheelchair users' safety, comfort and function. Not all users need added postural support to achieve that positioning, but some do, either in certain situations or all day. And recent studies only confirm the role of properly-fitted belts in reducing serious injury in situations that could cause falls or tips.
Here are the most common myths we hear -- ask yourself what you would say if you heard this one, then see our response. And whatever your questions or concerns, please reach out if we can help.
Belts prevent pressure shifts
In a belt, your chair will fall on top of you
Belts prevent controlled falls
Seat dump protects you
Active users don't need postural support
Belts are a hassle
Belts attract dirt
The belt that came with the chair is fine
In a motor vehicle, it's the tether that matters
Belts interfere with switch access and alternative drive controls
Wearing a belt prevents effective pressure shifts.
Most users with enough trunk strength to do independent pressure relief can use a buckle such as a Rehab Latch™, our lowest force, airline-style buckle. Postural support can make pressure shifts easier by stabilizing parts of the body for greater trunk leverage.
If you fall while wearing a belt, especially in a lightweight chair, your chair falls on top of you.
The right postural support in a lightweight chair helps maintain your center of gravity, for faster adjustment to any sudden loss of control. For example, if casters slip on a rainy sidewalk or catch on a large crack, postural support maximizes the body’s (and thus the chair’s) ability to return to center, i.e. not to tip so much you fall out. And that holds true whether a user or caregiver is doing the driving.
If you fall out of it, a chair may well tip over the same obstacle that tipped you, or over your body, once you are in its path. But if you stay in the chair, as a belt makes more likely, it's more likely that the chair can stay upright as well -- especially in a lightweight chair.
If you fall without a belt, you have better control over your fall.
"Better control" over a fall onto concrete, into a street or down a hill is likely to hurt you no matter how good your “control” is. This statement resembles the argument that seat belts in cars would worsen injuries in accidents. Decades of research worldwide has shown the opposite is true, since most often the driver or passenger stays in place, protected by the steel cage of the car. The goal is to stay in your chair, and for the chair to stay upright.
Enough seat dump will prevent falls.
The amount of seat dump that would keep your body encased (stuck) in a chair in active use likely interferes with everyday positioning, by putting undue pressure on the back, sitting bones and/or legs. That amount of dump may also interfere with propulsion and increase shoulder damage over time.
The neutral position for seating that facilitates function can be difficult or impossible to maintain if seat dump is the only thing keeping you in your chair.
Active users don't need belts.
Independent, experienced users are not immune to falls, as more than one recent death tragically reminds us.
Among Bodypoint's users are Josh Dueck, a ski instructor pre-injury and thereafter a 2010 and 2014 Paralympics medalist. Josh became the first sit skier ever to complete a backflip in 2012. Another user is Andreas Collin, a member of Sweden's wheelchair rugby team. Adria Barlow, a national para-pickleball pioneer, rocks Bodypoint gear as well, along with many of her fellow pickleballers. Two BP users that we know of, Rachael Morrison (US, club throw) and Rachael Watson (Australia, swimming) earned gold at the 2016 Paralympics, in Rio.
Wheelchair-using athletes don’t use their belts and harnesses just to stay in a chair; they use them to optimize their function and comfort, from lifting objects (including, for some of our users, their kids!) to manual chair propulsion, as they compete and in everyday life.
Belts are hard to keep out of wheels and move for transfers, and snag on everything.
We offer two solutions aimed at the “hassle factor.” However, our users have shared that in general, the fabrics, design and engineering of our belts are less likely to interfere with the operation of your chair than you may have thought.
One solution is called the Evoflex®. Its stiff but padded straps stay upright where you leave them, and rotate out of the way for transfers or any time that you don’t need them. It can be used around the chest, abdomen or legs, with optional gel-filled teardrop pads that fill gaps and improve comfort. It doesn't look or behave like the webbing belts you may have tried.
Another is our (snagless!) 56" Universal Elastic Strap (UES), which some wheelers use for temporary positioning in situations where they are moving outdoors, leaning forward to work, in a bouncy environment or a motor vehicle, just to name a few. The UES can be looped around pretty much any object and body part, with an optional extension strap if more length is needed. It’s also easy to fold, loop and store for easy access.
Belts become dirty and not something you want seen.
All of our supports are machine washable [in hot water, if desired] and dryable.They clean up nicely and they hold the same fit for a long time (see the international standards with which we comply). Our new CORDURA® edge binding entirely eliminates wrinkles after washing, for greater comfort and skin integrity.The "seat belt" that came with the chair is plenty of support.
Since that belt is a minimum safety requirement for wheelchair manufacturers, it may not position you for the highest level of independence and comfort that you can achieve. And if it was installed before you received the chair, it may not be at the right position and angle for you. The best time to find that out is before you need it. This video shows how to double-check the mounting point and angle in 30 seconds.
In a motor vehicle, it's the tether to the vehicle that keeps you safe.
Tiedowns and transit hooks are only one half of a safe ride. There needs to be a connection between the vehicle and chair, but also between the user and the chair. One study, published in the Annual Proceedings of the Association for the Advancement of Automotive Medicine, found that one out of seven wheelchair users, when traveling on public transit, had been injured in a non-crash incident on transit, such as falling out of their chair.
Belts keep you from accessing switches, AAC and alternative drive controls.
Actually, the opposite is true. Postural supports and appropriate joystick mounts and/or handles improve access to self-driving, communication and computing in a wide variety of situations. One of our users, Todd Stabelfeldt, has used our Tri-LockTM Rotating Shaft for over a decade, driving with his chin and putting more than 75K miles on his chair!
*Please note: The content on this Web site is offered as general information only and is not intended nor should it serve as a substitute for qualified medical or technical advice. Please consult a physician, licensed therapist or certified professional for your personal seating and mobility needs.