More on Practical Seating Considerations: Posterior Pelvic Tilt

Canadian Clinical Blog by Sheilagh Sherman, BA, BHScOT, MHM, OT Reg. (Ont.) - Sunrise Medical

Hello all!

In last month's article, I wrote about cushion considerations for seating a client with a posterior pelvic tilt. This month, I would like to discuss the importance of the back rest when seating a client with posterior pelvic tilt. In addition, I would like to talk about the role of gravity in assisting with positioning for a client who presents with a posterior pelvic tilt.

As I said last month, adequate support at the posterior pelvis must be provided in order for the cushion to perform as intended. The cushion and back rest work together to position the client who sits with a poster pelvic tilt. For the client with a flexible posterior pelvic tilt, the back rest will help to stabilize and position the pelvis in a neutral position. For the client with a fixed posterior pelvic tilt, the backrest provides support to position the client in an optimal position for him/her.

There are several points to keep in mind about the back rest when seating a client with posterior pelvic tilt. These include the height, shape and angle of the back rest.

In terms of the height of the back rest, it is important to prescribe one that is neither too tall nor too low for the client. If the back rest is too low for the individual client’s needs, inadequate trunk or back support is provided for stability. The client will slide forward in order to gain more support through the back rest. Alternatively, the client may lean to the side in order to gain support from the arm rest. If the back rest is too tall for the individual client’s needs, the client’s trunk may be pushed forward, causing the client to slide into a kyphotic posture. See below for illustration of this.

Back Too Low - Client slides pelvis forward to gain more support. Back Too Tall - Client slides pelvis forward to avoid falling forward.

Shape of the back rest is important as well. As I wrote last month, a client who has a fixed posterior pelvic tilt will have an accompanying increased kyphosis. Adding shape to a back rest allows a client to benefit from contours to secure the trunk in an optimal position and encourage normal curves. Adding shape allows the client’s back to make full contact with the back rest, which promotes better pressure distribution. See below for a picture that illustrates how the addition of various shapes to the back rest provides for increased contact and support provided by the back rest for a client with kyphosis.

Before/After: Adding shape to the back rest

Angle of the back rest is another piece of the puzzle that can be addressed for a client who sits with afixed posterior pelvic tilt. Last month, I wrote about modification to the base of a cushion base to accommodate a fixed posterior pelvic tilt. For some clients, it may be appropriate to consider opening up the seat to back angle to accommodate the client who is unable to sit at a standard 90 degree angle. When the seat to back angle is opened up, both hips are positioned in extension. Opening up the seat to back angle can be achieved through the mounting hardware of the back rest. A fixed recline in the seating configuration positions the client’s centre of gravity behind the base of support to reduce the effects of gravity while accommodating the fixed kypohosis and hip extension contracture.

Lastly, whether the client presents with a fixed or flexible posterior pelvic tilt, gravity can be used to facilitate positioning through the use of fixed tilt, or dump, in the wheelchair set up. For the client with aflexible posterior pelvic tilt in space, gravity assists to bring the pelvis into a neutral position. See the graphic below.

Flexible Posterior Pelvic Tilt. Fixed tilt in space. Reduce the effects of gravity. Upright seating: Pelvis slides into posterior tilt. Fixed tilt in space: Neutral pelvis.

For the client with afixed posterior pelvic tilt, gravity does not alter the shape of the client’s spine and pelvis, but it does assist to prevent further deformity and to improve the visual field for a client. See the graphic below.

Fixed Posterior Pelvic Tilt. Fixed tilt in space: Upright seating does not accommodate deformity. Poor visual field. Fixed tilt prevents further deformity. Improves visual field.

In this article, I have not addressed seating for the client whose cause of posterior pelvic tilt is extensor spasticity. That is a topic for a future Clinical Corner article! As with all seating, clinical reasoning must be used when finding the optimal solution for an individual client’s seating needs.


As always, please provide your comments, questions, and suggestions regarding Clinical Corner. Please email me at Sheilagh.Sherman@sunmed.com. I look forward to hearing from you!


Sheilagh Sherman BA, BHScOT, MHM, OT Reg. (Ont.) - Clinical Education Manager, Canada

Sheilagh Sherman, BA, BHScOT, MHM, OT Reg. (Ont.)

Sheilagh Sherman joined Sunrise Medical Canada in 2010 as a Clinical Educator. Prior to joining Sunrise, Sheilagh gained extensive clinical experience working in a variety of settings, including neurological rehabilitation, complex continuing care, and community rehabilitation. As the Clinical Education Manager, Sheilagh is a clinical resource for therapists across Canada involved in seating and mobility. She leads workshops, seminars, and webinars on the clinical aspects of seating and mobility. In addition, Sheilagh has presented at national and international conferences on seating and mobility.

Sheilagh also has an educational background that makes her well suited to the role of Clinical Education Manager. Sheilagh earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science from the University of Toronto in 1988, which enables her to understand healthcare policy and policy changes. Sheilagh graduated with a Bachelor of Health Sciences (Occupational Therapy) degree from McMaster University in 1994. In 2012, Sheilagh earned a Certificate in Adult Education/Staff Training from Seneca College. She applies adult learning principles to the workshops she leads. Finally, she also has a Master of Health Management (MHM) degree from McMaster University after graduating in 2015. Courses that Sheilagh completed during the MHM degree, such as Knowledge Translation, Evaluating Sources of Evidence, and Quality & Safety in Healthcare, assist Sheilagh in using an evidence-based approach in her work.

In her free time, Sheilagh enjoys running, in addition to practicing yoga.


Date: 2011-05-04


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