Wheelchair-related physical restraints, lap belts, and other alternatives are intended to provide safe and adequate seating and mobility for individuals using wheelchairs. Physical restraints and lap belts are also helpful for positioning people in their wheelchairs to reduce the risk of injury during wheelchair tips and falls. However, when used improperly or in ways other than intended, injury or even death can result. Although widely prescribed, little evidence is available to direct professionals on the appropriate use of these restraints and lap belts and for whom these restraints are indicated. The purpose of this study was to conduct a review of available literature from 1966-2006 to identify the risks and benefits associated with lap belts while seated in wheelchairs. Twenty-five studies that met the inclusion criteria were reviewed. Nine studies reported the frequency of asphyxial deaths caused by physical restraints, nine studies reported the long-term complication and indirect adverse effects of physical restraints and lap-belt use, and seven studies reported the benefits of physical restraints and lap belts with individuals using wheelchairs. Despite the weak evidence, the results suggest a considerable number of deaths from asphyxia caused by the use of physical restraints occurred each year in the U.S. The majority of the deaths occurred in nursing homes, followed by hospitals, and then the home of the person. Most deaths occurred while persons were restrained in wheelchairs or beds. Based on that, caution needs to be exercised when using restraints or positioning belts. In addition, other seating and environment alternatives should be explored prior to using restraints or positioning belts, such as power wheelchair seating options. Positioning belts may reduce risk of falls from wheelchairs and should be given careful consideration, but caution should be exercised if the individual cannot open the latch independently. Also, the duration of use of the physical restraint should be limited. Therefore, several factors should be considered when devising a better quality of physical-restraint services provided by health care professionals. These efforts can lead to improved safety and quality of life for individuals who use wheelchairs.
Review of the use of physical restraints and lap belts with wheelchair users