Safety or Restraint? The Debate Surrounding Wheelchair Belts

Written by Claire Bonneau
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If you are a wheelchair user or a caregiver of someone in a wheelchair, you may have wondered, “Are wheelchair belts considered restraints?”

Even though wheelchair belts are the least restrictive option, they are considered to be restraint devices. 

They are not classified as potentially harmful and actually help you stay safe and secure in your wheelchair, so the categorization shouldn’t be too concerning. 

Read on as I discuss potential issues with wheelchair belts and other types of restraints you or a loved one might need to be safe.

Key Takeaways:

  • Wheelchair belts are used to provide additional support and safety and can also be considered a type of restraint.
  • Wheelchair belts should be used appropriately depending on your needs, preferred seating position, and preferences.
  • A wheelchair belt must fit properly in order to work effectively without restricting movement or causing discomfort.

Are Lap Belts in Wheelchair Restraints?

Yes, lap belts are part of a wheelchair restraint system. They are DESIGNED to help ensure that the user does NOT slip down in the seat or lean forward and out of the chair. [1]

Depending on the TYPE of chair being used, different types of lap belts are available. Some are adjustable, while others are REMOVABLE for easy cleaning.

How Are Wheelchair Belts Different Than Other Restraints?

Wheelchair belts are generally considered LESS restrictive than other types of restraints, such as chest or bed straps. 

They are designed for COMFORT and don’t restrict movement in an unreasonable way.

They work in a similar manner to vehicle seat belts, providing SAFE and adequate seating for wheelchair users. 

While it is a type of physical restraint, it doesn’t cause excessive restrictions to the user.

They are also easy to undo if the user NEEDS to get out of their chair, which makes them a preferable choice for many situations.

Take a look at this video of wheelchair belts:

The use of wheelchair restraints is legal as long as you and your family/caregiver agree to it and use it appropriately. 

It’s important to remember that NO ONE should be forced into using a restraint system if they do not want to.

Pro Tip: It’s important to check that any restraints in power wheelchair seating options are fitted properly and are of suitable quality for the user.

What Are the Benefits of Wheelchair Restraints?

Wheelchair restraints are often BENEFICIAL in helping you to stay safe and secure in your chair. They’re also comfortable and can help REDUCE the risk of falls or injuries.

Additionally, wheelchair restraints are adjustable and can be adjusted to suit different body shapes and sizes and people with physical disabilities.

If you’re concerned about your elderly loved one slipping out of their wheelchair, be sure to check out our article on “how to keep elderly from sliding out of wheelchair” for helpful tips and strategies.

Are There Any Issues with Wheelchair Restraints?

The main issue with wheelchair restraints is that if they are NOT fitted properly or are too tight, there can be a RISK of breakdown to your skin. 

It’s, therefore, important to ensure that any restraint system used is comfortable and is never fastened too tightly.

These concerns are PRIMARILY seen within nursing homes where such restraints are used regularly. 

In this environment, healthcare professionals would be EXPECTED to be trained in how to work with safety restraints.

Any physical restraint services PROVIDED by outside caretakers should be done by someone with training so that you and your family members can have peace of mind. 

Pro Tip: It’s essential to regularly check the condition and quality of the restraints to ensure that they are in good working order and are still suitable for the user.

What Are the Dangers of Using Restraints?

Restraints are not necessarily DANGEROUS, but they should be used with caution and only when absolutely necessary. 

There are potential risks of skin DAMAGE and other injuries if the restraints are too TIGHT or are used inappropriately.

Furthermore, restraints can be a source of DISTRESS, so it’s important to consider this and discuss it with caregivers before opting for ANY restraint system.

It’s also important to ensure that any restraint system is regularly checked and replaced if it becomes worn or damaged.

What Devices are Considered Restraints?

There are several different types of restraints. In this section, I explain what they are and what they are used for in more detail.

Lap Belts

Lap belts are the most COMMON form of restraint used along with wheelchairs.

They are designed to keep you secure in your chair, but they are fully ADJUSTABLE and are generally not considered as RESTRICTIVE or harmful.


Bedstraps are another type of restraint system that is used to help keep you in bed safely. 

These are more restrictive than lap belts and are generally only used when other measures are NOT suitable enough.

Chest Straps

Chest straps are another type of restraint system. They are more restrictive than lap belts and bed straps, limiting a person’s movement further. 

These are generally only used in more involved medical cases where other forms of restraint are not suitable or SAFE.

Lap Trays

Lap trays are also considered a type of restraint system, as they are designed to keep the user SECURE in their chair and to limit movement.

Tilt-in Space

The use of a tilt-in-space may be necessary for certain conditions and is considered a restraint system.

When a tilt-in-space is used, it makes it difficult for someone to get in and out of their wheelchair independently.

How Do You Know if the Use of Restraints is Appropriate?

The use of restraints should be considered when absolutely necessary and after discussing the situation with the user and their family/carers. (2)

The decision should ensure that the least restrictive restraint is used to keep the user safe. 

It is IMPORTANT to ensure that the restraint used is comfortable and does NOT restrict movement any more than is necessary for the specific condition and concern.

Pro Tip: Make sure to check the condition and quality of the restraints to ensure that they are in good working order and are still suitable for the user.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is a Wheelchair Belt Safe?

A wheelchair belt is safe when used correctly and not overly tightened. It’s important to regularly check the belt to ensure it’s in good condition.

Is a Wheelchair Belt Comfortable?

A wheelchair belt is comfortable when used correctly and adjusted properly to fit the user. It should be regularly checked for signs of wear or damage.

In considering the answer to the question, “Are wheelchair belts considered restraints?” I have learned that the issue can be complex.

Wheelchair restraints are an IMPORTANT part of keeping people with physical disabilities safe and secure.

An essential part of using any restraint system is ensuring that it is comfortable, doesn’t restrict movement excessively, and is ONLY used when necessary.

Furthermore, it’s crucial to regularly CHECK the condition and quality of the restraint system to ensure it remains suitable for the user.

Ultimately, the use of wheelchair belts should be based on the individual needs and preferences of the user and strike a balance between safety and freedom of movement.

a kid sitting in a wheelchair while wearing a belt


1: Chaves ES, Cooper RA, Collins DM, Karmarkar A, Cooper R. Review of the Use of Physical Restraints Occurred and Lap Belts With Wheelchair Users. Assistive Technology. 2007;19(2):94-107. doi:10.1080/10400435.2007.10131868

2. Rader, Joanne RN, MN, FAAN; Jones, Debbie PT; Miller, Lois L. RN, PhD. Individualized Wheelchair Seating: Reducing Restraints and Improving Comfort and Function. Topics in Geriatric Rehabilitation 15(2):p 34-47, December 1999.

About Author

Claire Bonneau
Claire is a registered nurse with experience in freelance medical writing. She is very passionate about geriatric nursing and seniors care and education (it is her favorite area of nursing). She worked with many seniors in a variety of medical settings to provide high-erLATEST POSTS. Learn more about her HERE.

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