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A History of Comfort Technology – Has Cushioning Really Changed?

The technology of cushioning has progressed very little even though mankind’s need for comfort while sitting or lying has existed since the beginning of time. History shows various methods of man attempting to find comfort through all the generations and with many types of material.

Biblical references to cushions:


Proverbs 7:16 “I have woven my bed with cords, I have covered it with painted tapestry, brought from Egypt.”


Mark 4:38 “And he was in the hinder part of the ship, sleeping upon a pillow; and they awoke him and say to him: Master, doth it not concern thee that we perish?”


cush·ion / Kooshen/ – n. a pillow or pad stuffed with a mass of soft material, used as a comfortable support for sitting or leaning on. Something providing support or protection against impact.


The Romans made pillows out of stone to hold their heads up so they did not mess up their hairdos while they slept. –


Primeval Egyptians, who believed the head to be the “seat of life”’ not only spent profusely on extravagant cushions for themselves but they also kept them in the burial chamber of their dead to pay respect to them.


A cushion (from French caisson, cousin; from Latin culcita, a quilt) is a soft bag of some ornamental material, stuffed with wool, hair, feathers, wood chips, straw or other natural material. It may be used for sitting or kneeling upon, or to soften the hardness or angularity of a chair or couch.


The cushion is a very ancient article of furniture found in the palaces and great houses of aristocrats. The presence of a cushion and the type of cushion many times determined one’s rank in the courts. Cushions were often covered with leather and firm enough to serve as a seat.


From Biblical times to the early 20th Century the material used inside the cushion cover or bag changed very little. Foam was invented in the 1920’s and became a popular material for cushioning. Much of its popularity was because foam would not move within the cover as happened with most other stuffing materials. Also, foam was inexpensive and now cushions could be made in various shapes and sizes very easily.


In 1966, two scientists with the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) developed memory foam. Its original intent was to protect astronauts from the G-forces experienced in space flight. While it is questionable whether memory foam was ever used in space, NASA sold the technology to private industry. In the early 1990’s memory foam began to appear in mattresses and other cushioning products.


However, even with the invention of foam and memory foam in the 20th Century one finds that all cushions reacted in the same way when weight is introduced as they have since Biblical times. The addition of weight simply sinks into the cushion to the extent allowed by the thickness of the cushion. Typically one hits bottom on any cushion filled with any of the original materials (wool, hair, feathers, wood chips, straw or other natural material) as well as on any of the foam-type materials.


Enter cushioning by air. Air, like water, is a fluid in scientific terms. While it does not truly cushion, air is displaced when weight is introduced and allows the weight to immerse into the air-cushion. The compressed air under the weight becomes a bottoming out for the person sitting on the cushion. As such, one sitting on a cushion filled with any of the original cushioning materials from history, feathers, hair, wool, wood chips, straw, foam, memory foam or air will find themselves “hitting bottom”.


Hitting bottom, or bottoming-out can best be described as the compression from an individual’s weight will compress no further. Additionally, cushions shape themselves around the individual’s posterior giving no special treatment to the pressure points within – such as ischial tuberosity’s (butt bones), coccyx (tailbone), trochanters (hip bones) and in some cases the sacrum.


So even with the technology of the modern world, cushions have worked the same today as in Biblical times.


People who are confined to situations where they sit or lay for long periods of time, such as one who is in a wheelchair or bed-ridden, need cushioning that provides much more than the typical cushion that will bottom out causing both comfort and health problems.


This need for better cushioning technology is what drove two scientists in the early 1990’s with a thorough understanding of structural engineering, to develope a cushioning product around the concept of buckling columns. At the time, they called their cushion invention Intelli-gel. The buckling column cushion was evaluated by the Rehabilitation Engineering and Applied Research Lab at Georgia Tech University against a standard foam cushion, a Reflexion foam (incorporating visco-elastic foam otherwise known as memory foam) cushion and a commercially available inflatable bladder (air) wheelchair cushion.


The data collected from these evaluations indicated advanced pressure redistributing characteristics of the buckling column cushion. Interface pressure was found to be

transferred from the ischial tuberosity (IT) area resulting in lower recorded pressures than the inflatable bladder wheelchair cushion. Pressures at the IT site were measured at approximately 33% lower than the Reflexion foam and 47% lower than the standard reference foam.


The net finding from these tests suggests that for many people, the buckling column cushion is more effective at reducing peak pressures index values than the other cushions tested. In addition when tested on five residents in a nursing home, the buckling column cushion was reported to provide increased comfort, improved sitting posture and tolerance.


Another evaluation of the buckling column cushion performed by the Tissue Viability Consultancy Services, Ltd, involved 5 residents in a nursing home, all with pressure ulcers up to Stage 2. The only intervention in their care was the exchange of their existing pressure relieving cushion with the buckling column cushion. Both visual inspection and ultra sound measurements showed healing at day 14 for all cases, with particular significance for those with Stage 2 pressure ulcers. At the end of the trial, there was no evidence of pressure damage for any of the volunteer residents.


The cushioning products for wheelchairs currently using the buckling column technology are all EquaGelunder the trade name EquaGel® and are produced by EquaPressure, LLC of Alpine, Utah. There are four models of the EquaGel® Wheelchair Cushions – Straight Comfort, General, Protector and Adjustable Protector. The EquaGel® General Cushion is recognized by Medicare as an excellent cushion for extended comfort. Both the EquaGel® Protector and the EquaGel® Adjustable Protector cushions are recognized by Medicare as cushions providing not only the extended comfort, but also providing superior protection for skin integrity.


So in one major leap, the technology of cushioning has now progressed far beyond from what was available during biblical times and even 20 years ago. A new standard in cushioning has now been set.


The EquaGel wheelchair cushions are distributed nationally by GelTechCo, LLC of Denver, Colorado