Seat Cushions Are An Easy & Inexpensive Method Of Reducing Pain & Increasing Comfort
Sitting for extended periods of time is associated with low back pain and stiffness as well as poor posture and aggravation of problems like tailbone pain. By using different materials and strategies, there are seat cushions available to serve many functions.
Distribution of pressure points and areas of concentrated compression are focused in vulnerable regions of the spine and pelvis. This not only increases damage, but can alter spinal dynamics that lead to problems like degeneration. Discs are especially vulnerable as pressures in the disc are greatest during sitting compared to standing or lying down.
A good seat cushion can help with many problems associated with sitting. Air is often used to provide an active motion to help avoid static pressure for long periods. A cushion like the Active Seat can provide a barley perceptible motion in the spine, which is beneficial to the discs and muscles.
Seat cushions that provide motion help to increase nutrition to the discs of the lumbar spine and it is this motion that is the only form of nutrition available to the discs. Ligaments require proper tensile activity to avoid damage and hypertrophy or overgrowth and laxity or loosening. Motion also increases blood flow to muscles that can become stiff and fibrotic or become infiltrated with scar tissue from micro-injuries over a long period of time.
One of the most difficult problems to deal with while sitting is coccyx or tailbone pain. A cushion with a special cutout at that area helps to relieve pressure and allow pain reduction as well as provide an environment for healing. There have been technical upgrades over the standard donut inflatable cushion used for years for coccyx pain as well as conditions like hemorrhoids and pilonoidal cysts.
The newer type donut pillow uses foam like memory foam to provide a more comfortable experience. Many of the coccyx cushions provide contouring and or inclination like wedging that offers better ergonomic seating that promotes better posture. So, these cushions are versatile by the fact that you do not have to suffer tailbone pain or other conditions to see benefits. Reducing pressure points and improving posture can help the spine, which is beneficial for both back and neck pain.
Seat cushions are also made for wheelchairs and have particularly useful materials like gel, foam and air cells. We often recommend cushions for wheelchairs to avoid skin breakdown. We focus mainly on head support for wheelchairs, however, most wheelchair users require extra support offered through cushions that are especially designed for that purpose.
Using seat cushions help, however, you still need to use ergonomics principles and they are not a substitute. They can be used in combination with a good back support to transform your chair to better support spinal health, reducing pain and decreasing risks of future problems.
- A 2021 study in the Journal of Physical Therapy Science found that posterior tilting, which reduces the natural lumbar spine curve, and pelvis while sitting reduces respiratory function through it’s effects on the thoracic spine. Respiratory function was measured by spirometry. The expansion volume ratio decreased significantly in response to 10-30 degrees of posterior pelvic tilt. A positive correlation between thoracic expansion volume ratio and respiratory function was found at 30° posterior pelvic tilt sitting.
Posterior pelvic tilt during sitting can be reduced by using a forward tilting seat wedge. This is a low solution to help support and reinforce the lumbar lordosis and improve respiratory function.
- A 2020 study in the journal Work led the authors to conclude, “This research work found that a seat’s shape based on human anatomical features (buttocks and thighs), compared to a completely flat seat, creates a higher reduction of body pressures and an increase in the body contact area, with the intent to increase comfort and reduce musculoskeletal pain.”
- A good seat cushion may help absorb or decrease vibration from offending vehicles. A 2020 study in International Journal of Occupational Safety and Ergonomics notes that whole body vibration is one of the leading risk factors for developing lower back pain, pain in neck and shoulders, as well as blood pressure, digestive problems, and diabetes.
- A 2021 study in the International Journal of Occupational Safety and Ergonomics found that whole body vibration is a significant risk factor for musculoskeletal disorders, especially when combined with awkward postures.
Properties of Seat Cushions
Total elimination of pressure using cushions is not reasonable or possible. The idea of cushioning is pressure redistribution. Many focus on pressure reduction by off loading from one area to another in order to reduce tissue injury or irritation. Depending on design, this can be full or partial. An alternating pressure cushion may be optimal for those concerned with skin breakdown.
Immersion refers to the ability to sink into the material determined by construction and firmness/softness. Usually, the softer, the more envelopment or ability to conform around the body contours. Envelopment and immersion are properties that are often seen together in combination of sinking and surface contact with body contours.
The design also includes angling or inflation to help with alignment and stabilization of the spine and pelvis, increasing the surface area to decrease pressure and shearing forces or to increase activation of stabilizing muscles. These are some of the factors involved, so it depends on your specific needs and goals because comfort is subjective.
- A 2021 study in PLoS One notes discomfort in prolonged sitting for drivers. The authors indicate enhancing seat design for reduced discomfort by combining a soft seat cushion to reduce pressure peaks, a firm backrest to support the trunk, and a suspension system to minimize vibrations.