The footplates support the user in maintaining a correct posture whilst sitting in a wheelchair. If the footplates are in the incorrect position this can cause strain on the user’s back, lower thighs, and hip bones.
If the footplates are too low, then the user will experience unnecessary strain on their upper thighs and behind the knee. If the footplates are too high then there will be extra pressure on the hip bones. Sitting in the incorrect position for long periods of time can lead to lower back pain, excessive pressure on the hip and thigh area as well as problems with digestion.
The consequences of setting the footplates too high or too low. Source: Karma Medical YouTube | How to prepare your S-Ergo 125
What Is the Correct Way to Set Up a Wheelchair Footplate?
The correct position is when the user is sat with their buttocks all the way to the backrest with their thigh parallel to the seat. The angle behind the knee should be less than 90° with the feet flat on the footrests.
How the user’s thighs should look lined up with the wheelchair seat when footplates are at the correct position. Source: Karma Medical YouTube | How to prepare your S-Ergo 125
What if the User’s Legs Have Contracture?
The wheelchair footplates are designed to fulfill most of the user’s body conditions. However, the user with tight hamstrings or contracture might not even be able to put their feet on the footplates. In this case, if the user is forced to lift their legs up too high on the footplates, the hamstrings will be stretched, which can be uncomfortable. The user’s instinct will then be to slide down the wheelchair and collapse their body into a more “comfortable” position.
The solution is to allow the user to put their feet under the chair, to save them from exerting their muscles and keeping their knee angle under 90°. Loosening the leg straps will allow the user to put the legs as far back as possible under the chair.
An alternative option would be to repurpose the legstraps to hang under the seat completely to support the feet this way. This is maybe something you can do at home when it’s not necessary for the user to have their feet on the legrests. It’s important to adapt the wheelchair to the user’s needs.
Adapting the leg straps on Agile and attaching them to another part of the frame will prevent elderly users from sliding down the wheelchair as they will have a more comfortable footrest.
Left: Original position. Right: Repurposed position.
Changing the position of the footplates is just one way to prevent the user from sliding down the wheelchair as well as maintain a good posture. Other functions such as reclining and tilting wheelchairs can also have the same effect, you can read more about these here.