Information & Advice

Seating & Positioning

Proper seating and positioning is critical for people using mobility devices. Learn more about seating and positioning issues from Ottobock — the expert in mobility solutions for you and your loved ones.

Sitting all day is hard work—something you surely know if you’re a wheelchair user. If you’re an able-bodied caregiver, however, you may not have given it much thought—until an endless car trip leaves you feeling stiff, aching and exhausted. Read on to find out more about seating and positioning issues.

Seating & Positioning Issues

Seating & Positioning Issues

Seating & Positioning Issues

1. Posture

Poor posture brings on fatigue by making poor use of the skeleton’s structure. Muscles tire more quickly because they have to work harder. Prolonged, poor posture creates more strain on the spine, neck, hips and knees. That can lead to a cascade of structural problems—joint pain, reduced flexibility, asymmetrical muscle tightness, and deformity.

If you suffered a loss of bone or muscle below your waist, or have an abnormal spine or pelvis, you may need a special cushion and back support system and may not be able to achieve a level pelvis or level shoulders.

Seating & Positioning Issues

Problems with Posture

When your pelvis.....

  • Tilts back, you may experience problems with: Swallowing, breathing, digestion, reduced volume when speaking, neck and shoulder pain, localized pressure on skin

  • Tilts forward, you may experience problems with: Spinal muscle fatigue, bladder control, foot placement, localized pressure on skin

  • Tilts to one side, you may experience problems with: Instability, limited range of motion, localized pressure on skin

2. Skin integrity—and protecting it

Skin Integrity

2. Skin integrity—and protecting it

Skin that bears weight in a wheelchair lives in hostile territory. Pressure, shear, moisture and heat combine to create ideal conditions for the development of decubitus ulcers. In fact, a landmark study found that at least 20 percent of wheelchair users have a skin breakdown in any one year, which means that virtually every user is likely to encounter a skin problem within four to five years.

Ottobock specializes in seating and positioning products for users at high risk for skin-integrity issues. You are considered at high risk of skin-integrity issues if any of three statements is true as relates to sitting in your chair.

You have a history of redness and/or the presence of open wounds on your seated surface.
You cannot do an effective, independent weight shift on a consistent basis.
You have impaired sensation and don't check your skin daily and don't practice consistent weight shifts.
The good news is that most pressure ulcers—localized injuries to the skin and/or underlying tissue, usually over a bony prominence—are preventable. For that reason, anyone who spends their days in a wheelchair needs three types of skin protection as it relates to their wheelchair seating system.

Skin Integrity

Pressure Redistribution

Pressure in this case is the force on tissue pinched between bone and the external support surface (wheelchair upholstery or wheelchair seating surface). It can cut off the supply of blood and oxygen to an area and eventually cause tissue to break down. Pressure management relies on physics to assist with defending against pressure ulcers. You can reduce peak pressure by spreading the weight over a larger area.

Pressure = Force (body weight) / Area (weight-bearing area)

When you are seated on a firm, flat surface, all of your weight rests on bones on the underside of your pelvis (ischials), making you a potential candidate for decubitus ulcers.

To reduce this peak pressure it might be a good idea to redistribute or share this concentrated load over the whole of your underside surface for example your buttocks, undersurface of thighs and don't forget your feet if possible. Your back may also be able to take a lot of load while you are sitting. Your health care professional should help you with this at the time of your assessment and prescription.

Because those bony curves are your low points, a cushion improves load bearing by allowing you to sink into it as much as 2.5 inches without hitting bottom. Armrests and footplates at the proper height can bear some of your weight. So can back support that matches the curve of your spine.

Skin Integrity

Shear Management

Shear, which damages tissue with distorting forces, refers to the forward-and-back motion of the ischials against tissue under pressure. For active people, recesses or a liquid layer under the ischials allow movement of bony prominences which are intended to reduce high shear forces.

Skin Integrity

Heat and Moisture Management

People who are active or overweight or who have certain medical conditions generate a lot of heat and may perspire heavily on support surfaces. This can be more than uncomfortable: it can create a climate that can help lead to decubitus ulcers. Cushions that allow air and moisture to pass through help skin stay cooler and thereby contribute to a healthier seating environment.

3. Function

To maximize your full potential, you have to be able to reach the world. Seating systems, positioning aids and accessories can help make it possible for wheelchair users to achieve a correct, comfortable and safe seating position in most everyday environments.

Products & Materials

Products & Materials

Seating and positioning products come in a broad variety of types and styles, from simple off-the-shelf wheelchair cushions to custom seating. They’re also made out of a variety of materials.

Products by Level of Need

Three general categories of seating and positioning products meet increasing levels of need.

Products by Level of Need


For those who have symmetrical posture and low to moderate risk of developing sores, standard cushions and backs may provide adequate comfort.

Products by Level of Need.

Custom configured.

Seating to accommodate more complex postures or skin integrity needs that cannot be met with off the shelf seating solutions. Ottobock’s NUTEC Modular Seating is highly customizable and adjustable for kids and adults who have specific positioning requirements.

Products by Level of Need

Custom molded.

Seating to accommodate the fixed asymmetrical posture of people who require significant postural support. For OBSS cushions, Ottobock uses a fitting system with 3-D electronic imaging to capture the user’s shape. Then a computer-controlled digital carver replicates every curve in producing a foam mold.

SHAPE Custom Contoured Seating

Our digital ‘SHAPE’ Seating Systems have been trusted for over 20 years, aiming to prevent further postural deterioration ideally as part of a ’24 hour postural management programme.

SHAPE Seating Systems are the only solution for patients with complex needs as the design and accessories can be fully customised to suit the needs of the user.

Learn more about Custom Seating here.