Way back when I was in elementary school, my first wheelchair did not have any headrest. A headrest is important on a wheelchair for individuals with certain conditions in which the person must on occasion rest their neck muscles.  While under most circumstances, I did not need to use a headrest, when I traveled in our van or when I was very tired, a headrest was needed for those occasional uses for my wheelchair. Without the headrest, when in our vehicle, my head would sometimes be thrown harshly backward in the event our vehicle accelerated or decelerated too quickly. Unfortunately at the time, medical companies only carried very clinical looking headrest that were intended to be mounted permanently to a wheelchair. As they were designed to work with any wheelchair and for people with a wide range of conditions, they had lots of ugly looking brackets and were designed for a person to rest their head upon at all times. The headrest were designed to hold a person's head strait forward and had only a small area in which the person could rest their head. This was not ideal if the person fell back onto the headrest as your head could miss the small padded head pad. The permanent headrest also had another serious drawback that prevented me from using one. Once attached to a wheelchair, the headrest would not clear the doorway to our van that we used for transporting me. The typical solution to this was to raise the roof of a van, something that would of cost several thousand dollars out of pocket. At the time, that was not an option. As I was going to elementary school at the time, the last thing I wanted was to have some Frankenstein looking medical headrest attached to my wheelchair. I wanted something that could be quickly attached and removed, something that was very light and portable. Something that could be attached to the chair when in our van so I could rest my head.


My dad and I came up with the idea of creating a headrest out of PVC pipe that could be quickly attached to the wheelchair that could easily be removed and carried.


Please Note: The reason I call this a temporary wheelchair headrest attachment is because this is ideal only for use for a short period of time until you can find a more permanent headrest. While I used mine for many years without incident, the PVC pipes can detached if the individual's head hits hard upon the headrest and there is the possibility of neck injury. This is ideal for a temporary solution. Please use at your own risk and read the safety precautions at the end of this instructable.

Step 1: Step 1: Parts List

You will need the following parts. Please keep in mind, every wheelchair is slightly different, and therefore you may have to modify some components to work with your particular style and brand of wheelchair. The first step is to identify what style of wheelchair seat configuration you have based upon Illustration 1A. There are typically three types of backrest configurations. The first has no handlebars, just two upright pipes that support the chair's back. The second has the bars that support the chair's back curve into handlebars. The third has both upright bars and handlebars.

For my particular wheelchair, I used 2”inch diameter PVC pipe. The size of pipe you will use will depend upon your particular model of wheelchair and where you plan to attach the headrest. This particular headrest, depending upon configuration, can attach to either the upright bars that make up the backrest of the wheelchair or the wheelchair's handlebars that are used for pushing some wheelchairs. The diameter of the PVC pipe must be slightly larger than the diameter of either of these bars on the wheelchair. So, for example, if your wheelchair is configured with a Style A sort of seat configuration, you will need to measure the diameter of the two upright poles. For a wheelchair with Style B configuration, you will need to measure the diameter of the handlebars. For Style C wheelchair configuration, you can use either the handlebars or the upright bars for attaching the headrest. If your wheelchair does not correspond to Style A, B, or C, to make this PVC pipe headrest work, two upright poles will have to be attached to the back of the chair extending at least two inches above the backrest to make the chair similar to Style A. The length of straight PVC pipe needed depends upon the width of the backrest of the wheelchair. In most circumstances, a single PVC pipe is sufficient.

You will need 2-4 T style PVC pipe connectors depending upon whether you plan to attach the headrest to the upright bars of the backrest of the wheelchair or to the wheelchair's handlebars. Attaching the headrest to the handlebars is the ideal configuration for this particular design as it provides added structural stability and is less likely to become detached in the event the individual in the wheelchair throws their head back hard against the headrest. If you plan to attach the headrest to the upright bars of the backrest as in Style A in Illustration 1A, then you will only need 2 T style PVC pipe connectors.

If you can not find 4  45degree pvc pipe connectors, you can substitute 2 “L” shaped connectors instead. The headrest won't look as cool... but it will work just the same.

For this project, you will need to use a ruler to make measurements, ideally with the individual who uses the wheelchair in the chair to determine the proper height for headrest placement. It is very important to very carefully make all measurements before putting this item together. Even a minor miscalculation will mean that the headrest will not fit together properly. Measure twice before every cut.

You will need a saw for cutting the PVC pipe. Please wear proper eye protection and take standard safety precautions when using a saw blade.

You will also need heavy duty PVC glue to glue the pipes together, foam pipe insulation for padding, and material to cover the headrest.  Scissors, marker, and duct tape is also required.

Excellent work, well thought out and documented.
Thank you so much!

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