Sitting: I was doing it wrong. Are you?

By Allen McKinley

I hope everyone is ready for Spring and the warmer weather. I know I am and that means making sure I have everything I need to be comfortable and safe to enjoy every single day. We have this nasty habit of trying to solve problems after they occur instead of thinking ahead and trying to prevent them from happening. I am as guilty of this as anyone I know and sometimes I wonder why did I put up with that for so long when the solution was right there in front of me.

Today I want to share a personal story about how a chance encounter changed my life. I was at a trade show years ago, rolling around looking at all the different products on the market. At that point, I had been in a chair for about six years, and I was amazed at how many options there were for people with disabilities. And then I met Judy, a beautiful soul that drew me in instantly.  Our conversation went like this:

Judy: “Hey kid, wanna try a cushion?”

Me: “Is it good?”

“Best you’ve ever had.”

“Is it expensive?”

“First time is free.”

I was hooked. I sat on this cushion and tried a different seat back. I was amazed at how much my posture improved. I sat up straighter and said, “Wow, I’m like 3 inches taller.”

This was an eye-opening experience for me. Until then, I was simply getting through the day using any wheelchair I had and whatever cushion and seat back that was on it. I didn’t know there were options; I figured they were all the same. I was wrong, and my body paid the toll daily. I didn’t realize what a difference a new cushion could make.

I was offered a seat back and cushion in exchange for providing feedback. I switched my cushion and seat back and tried to keep an open mind. (Note: Anytime you make a change, keep a close eye on your skin. Pressure sores are no joke. If you experience any redness, stop using the new product.)

I hit the jackpot. My posture was instantly better, and because I switched from an air-based cushion to a foam one, it gave my body more support. I noticed these benefits immediately, but other major benefits showed up after about four days of sitting correctly, including less back pain. A lot less. I’m a T4 para and just assumed my back would hurt forever. Like many other chair users, I tried everything: opiates (which have their own horrible side effects), muscle relaxers, aspirin and the rest of the usual suspects. I hated taking them, but I hated being in pain more. Once I was sitting correctly and had the correct support, the pain subsided a considerable amount. It was seriously life-changing. I can’t guarantee you the same results, but imagine if you do. Pain-free and drug-free! For many of you, it is possible.

The other problem I deal with on a regular basis is spasms.  I can have them all day, all night and every time I transfer. I’ve noticed that with the correct seating, the spasms have calmed down to a reasonable level. Having fewer muscle spasms is integral to my happiness.  Having three-quarters of your body fight you all day is mentally draining. I know some of you deal with it daily. Doctors give you pills to mask the symptoms. There is a place for these medications; personally, I believe it is at the bottom of a very deep lake. With great equipment, exercise and a bit of coaching by people who know, you can solve seemingly huge problems in a matter of weeks.

My next blog will deal with tone/spasms as well. There are amazing products out there that will make a huge difference.

I currently use the following products and have for years. Not only do they work, but they hold up against the hardest abuse I throw at them. I put more than 4,000 miles a month on my car.  This means a lot of transfers, curbs, rental cars, Uber rides and hundreds of flights. Airlines are VERY hard on wheelchairs. Make sure yours shows up at your destination in one piece.

Motion Concepts Libra Cushion (maintenance-free; you never have to check air pressure or move gel around again). Always take your cushion with you onto an airplane.

Motion Concepts MX2 ultra-light rigid carbon fiber seat back. Weighs less than 1.5 pounds with hardware. Truly amazing.

Ki Mobility Rogue Chair. This rigid chair is extremely lightweight and easy to lift into my car. I pop the wheels off and throw everything in the backseat in less than 45 seconds. (I drive a 2010 Ford Edge with hand controls.)

Body Point calf strap. Spend the money on this. It is guaranteed for life and holds your feet where they are supposed to be. I’ve used the cheap ones; they are a nightmare. My feet would constantly get caught up in the strap when transferring and cause a ton of frustration.

Allen McKinley is an MSL associate who covers North Carolina and South Carolina.

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