Introduction: Temporary Wheelchair Headrest Attachment

About: Check out my online DarkRubyMoon Store at ... * DarkRubyMoon Store CafePress: * DarkRubyMoon Store Zazzle: * DarkRubyMoon Store Print…
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.

Step 2: Step 2: Layout and Measurement

Illustration 2B lays out how the PVC pipes and connectors will be assembled. Before cutting the parts, you will need to determine the exact measurements for each of the straight pieces of PVC pipe. As every model of wheelchair has its own specifications, you will have to carefully measure the backrest of the wheelchair. The length of the backrest will determine how long the straight PVC pipe numbered 1 and 2 must be. Once connected, parts 13 & 14 A or B will have to line up perfectly with either the backrest upright bars or the chairs handlebars. For this reason, it is a good idea to measure multiple times to ensure an exact fit.

The straight PVC part 1 should be at the height of the base of the individual's head such that if the person in the wheelchair fell backward, the pipe cushions the person's head just above the neck as shown in illustration 2C. The straight PVC pipe 2 should be positioned just below the top of the persons head so that the individual can rest their head comfortably upon both diagonal pipes when they lay back. The length of pipes 4, 11, 15 and 16 determine the location for where the individuals head will rest upon these pipes and should be adjusted according to the individual's height.

Use part 13 A if you plan to attach the headrest to the handlebars on the chair. 13 A is a T- shaped PVC pipe connector that will slide over the handlebars. The diameter of the PVC pipe must be slightly larger than the handlebars. For a firm connection, you will wrap the handlebars with tape to ensure a tight fit. Alternatively, you can use a straight pvc pipe (13B 14B) that will slide over (or into) the upright bars of the back of the chair. Again, this must be a very tight fit, so the diameter of the PVC pipe must be slightly larger to fit over the upright bars OR slightly smaller to fit inside the upright bars. Often these upright bars have a protective cap which may have to be removed for a firm connection.

Step 3: Step 3: Cut the Parts and Check for Fit

After you have carefully measured the length of the PVC pipes and have marked them with a marker, carefully cut the straight PVC pipes to the desired length. If you are uncertain if you got the lengths exact, it is better to cut the parts slightly too long than too short. After you have cut the PVC pipes, you will need to temporarily put all the parts together to make sure that the headrest fits onto the chair securely. To do this, simply slide the parts together, but keep in mind you will have to take them apart again later to glue.

Once you have assembled the basic PVC frame of the headrest, attach it to the chair by either sliding it down over the upright bars of the back of the chair, or sliding it onto the chair's armrest. The headrest should fit tightly such that it takes some effort to pull the headrest back off the chair. To ensure a tight fit, you can apply tape around the handlebars or around the upright bars at a later time. For now, the headrest should at least slide on without too much effort and the pipes should line up correctly. If the pipes do not line up properly, you may have to saw down some of the parts or re-cut.

Step 4: Step 4: Glue, Padding and Fabric.

Once you are certain that the frame of the PVC headrest fits securely onto the wheelchair, you will need to glue the parts together. It is advisable that you use heavy duty PVC glue. Keep in mind, wheelchairs go indoors and out doors in all sorts of weather, and these PVC pipes need to remain together in the event the person's head lands hard onto the headrest. Apply a generous portion of glue and firmly connect all the parts together. When you are finished, the headrest should look something like Illustration 3A. Allow for the glue to dry. At this point, it might be a good idea to try to attach it to the wheelchair once again to make sure it fits. If it doesn't fit... curse a few times and start again.

Generously wrap duct tape around all the connections of the headrest. This is a preventive step so that should one of the connections break loose, the pipes will not fully disconnect causing the headrest to break when the person's head hits it. After applying duct tape, wrap the entire headrest except for the portion that goes over the handlebars or over the upright bars of the chair with foam insulating pipe. Foam insulating pipe is a fairly stiff foam that provides excellent cushioning for the head. Cut the foam padding so that it covers the entire head rest. Use duct tape to secure the foam padding in place.

After the padding, a final optional touch is to cover the entire headrest with material. For my chair, I did this using Vinyl material as it is durable and won't fade in the sun or get too damaged by rain. To cover the pipes, simple take long rectangular pieces of the vinyl and hand stitch the material around the pipes.

Step 5: Step 5: Proper Fit

After you have assembled the headrest, it is very important to make sure it attaches very firmly onto the wheelchair. If you are connecting the headrest to upright bars on the backrest of the chair, you need to make sure that when the pipes are pushed into these upright bars, that the headrest will not pop back out if the person's head hits the headrest with force. To ensure a tight fit, wrap the smaller pipe with tape until the connection is tight enough that it takes significant force to remove the headrest. If you are connecting the headrest to the handlebars, you need to make sure the headrest slides very firmly over the handlebars and that it won't slide off if the person's head hits the headrest. Again, use tape around the smaller bar to ensure the fit is tight. If the headrest is too far from the person's head, particularly when attaching to the handlebars, you may need to sew a pillow to attach to the headrest to bring it forward enough that the person's head rest comfortably.

Step 6: Step 6: Safety

This headrest is intended for individual's who have wheelchair's that do not currently have a headrest and who on normal circumstances do not require a headrest. It is ideal for short term use. Because of the light duty of this headrest, over prolonged use, the pipes can break which could result in neck injury. In addition, while this headrest is better than no headrest at all... hitting the headrest hard with ones head could break the headrest which again could result in neck injury.

Step 7: Visit DarkRubyMoon

Be sure to check out my artwork on all sorts of fantastic items from T-shirts and prints to clocks and camcorders at my DarkRubyMoon stores following web locations.

* DarkRubyMoon Store CafePress:
* DarkRubyMoon Store Zazzle:
* DarkRubyMoon Store Printfection:

Humana Health Challenge

Runner Up in the
Humana Health Challenge