If you’re shopping for an adaptive seating system for the first time, you’ve probably already discovered the incredible number of options that are available. Choosing the best seating solution for your loved one’s specific needs can be a little overwhelming, especially when you’re unsure how your decision will affect the intended user’s comfort level.

One question we get asked a lot when assisting customers concerns the choice between reclining or tilt-in-space seating systems. After all, one sounds sort of technical and the other sounds like something someone does just before settling in to watch their favorite television show. So what difference will one or the other make in the comfort and function of a wheelchair or stroller? Let’s take a look.

Just a note: As we always tell our customers, it’s important to talk with the clinician or therapist working with your loved one and obtain proper measurements before making a large purchase like an adaptive seating system. The following are general rules you can use to better understand your options.

First, The Similarities

Before we explore the differences, let’s talk about how similar the two types of systems are. Both tilt-in-space and reclining seating systems provide added comfort by allowing a caregiver to adjust the way the user sits within the system. This adjustment relieves pressure from the lower back and redistributes it to different areas of the body. These systems can also give the head, neck and trunk a much-needed break, too, which is especially important for users that spend a prolonged period of time in their stroller, push chair or wheelchair.

Sounds great, right? However, keep in mind that, while similar, the different ways these two different systems provide comfort can have both a positive and negative impact on how someone uses the chair.

Reclining Seating Systems – Pros and Cons

Viper Reclining WheelchairReclining systems are easiest to explain because most people have used one before. Like your dad’s favorite chair or a lounge chair at the beach, a reclining seat allows the user to lie back (or, in technical terms, open the seat-to-back angle) and sometimes elevate or extend their lower legs (open the knee angle).

A reclining seating system can be useful in a lot of ways. They are typically easier to adjust than tilt-in-space systems. It can also be easier to transfer someone into and out of a reclining chair. In addition, if the person using the chair uses a tray or something similar for work, eating or therapy, a reclining chair will allow them to shift position without disturbing their setup.

Many reclining seating systems also allow the user to recline a full 90 degrees and lie flat, which can come in handy when a nap in a wheelchair is necessary. This can also make personal health and hygiene tasks such as diaper changing or catheterization easier to accomplish. The more open hip angle created by a chair can also assist with bowel and bladder function, as well.

Unfortunately, the threat of sheering and sliding can be a major drawback when it comes to reclining seating systems. While reclined, gravity can cause a user to slide down the back of the chair. This movement, as well as any corrective movement to re-position the user, can sometimes lead to skin-irritating shearing or worse – a user falling out of the chair and on to the floor.

Tilt-In-Space Seating Systems – Pros and Cons

Karman Tilt-In-SpaceWhile a “tilt-in-space” seating system may sound more technical, it really isn’t. Instead of letting a user lie back, a tilt-in-space system allows a caretaker to adjust the orientation of the entire seat to provide pressure relief and redistribution while maintaining the user’s hip, knee and ankle angles. In simpler terms, the user’s body position stays the same, just tilted backwards.

Because most people have experienced a reclining system before, a tilt-in-space chair may not seem like the most comfortable option at first glance. This is certainly not the case, though. Tilt-in-space can actually provide even more comfort than a reclining system in the way it helps maintain posture and body alignment. Tilt-in-space systems prevent sheer entirely, too, so you don’t have to worry about skin irritation.

Another important benefit of tilt-in-space seating is the way it can inhibit extensor muscle spasming. In fact, most pediatric patients with abnormal muscle tone require tilt-in-space seating to stave off future orthopedic problems as they continue to grow. Often, children with these kinds of conditions feel safer and more secure in these types of systems, as well.

The drawbacks of a tilt-in-space seating system usually involve the caretaker. These chairs can often be very heavy and not quite as portable, making transportation and storage a bit more challenging. Many tilt systems also sit up much higher than reclining strollers or wheelchairs, making it difficult for a caretaker to seat the user at a table or desk for feeding or other activities.

The Best Of Both Systems

Sometimes when choosing between reclining and tilt-in-space seating systems, it’s better not to choose at all. Many newer wheelchairs and strollers like the Convaid Rodeo or the Ormesa Bug offer a combination of tilting and reclining features for maximum versatility. Be advised, however, that it may still be best to choose a dedicated reclining or tilting seating solution. Once again, speaking with a clinician or therapist, getting proper measurements and taking into account the specific needs of the user will provide the most insight into the perfect choice.

And don’t forget: the staff here at eSpecial Needs is also available with information and suggestions to help you in your decision. Contact us with any questions you might have via our website, Facebook or Twitter. We’d be more than happy to assist you in finding the best adaptive seating solution possible.