Photograph courtesy of the VA.

Photograph courtesy of the VA.

Minneapolis VA Develops Ergonomic Wheelchair

A team of clinicians and engineers at the Minneapolis VA Health Care System has developed a manual ergonomically-friendly wheelchair designed to reduce wear and tear on patients’ shoulders.

A reported 1.5 million Americans use manual wheelchairs and according to one study, as many as two-thirds of persons with spinal cord injury who use current manual wheelchair designs experience shoulder pain.

That’s because manual wheelchair users rely on their upper extremities for all daily activities such as wheelchair propulsion, transfers, pressure relief and household chores.

More power, less fatigue, less overuse injury

Thanks to funding from the Mike Utley Foundation, the Rehabilitation Engineering Research Program at the Minneapolis VA has designed a new ergonomic wheelchair system that allows for independent positioning of the hand rims from the drive wheels of a manual wheelchair, permitting improved shoulder biomechanics during propulsion.

Gary Goldish, M.D., Director of Minneapolis VA Extended Care & Rehabilitation and Andrew Hansen, Ph.D., Director of Minneapolis VA Rehabilitation Engineering Research Program, led the development team of Eric Nickel, M.S., Stuart Fairhurst and Steve Morin to fabricate a working prototype of the new ergonomic wheelchair.

“The location of the hand rims can be set to promote the best positioning of the wheelchair user’s shoulders,” Goldish explains. “The expected benefit of this change is a reduction in shoulder pain resulting from manual propulsion of the wheelchair.”

The gear size can be adjusted to optimize wheeling resistance to the patient’s individual comfort and use an optional second hand rim for faster wheeling.

Uncompromised maneuverability

The design still allows wheelies when needed for clearing thresholds and curbs. Quick release hand rims on the new ergonomic wheelchair system also allow users to place the wheelchair directly next to a bed or other transfer surface, making transfers easier and safer.

Removable hand rims also makes it easier to access tighter spaces such as narrow doorways. Since the hand rims are not in direct contact with the tires, hand hygiene is also improved.

The development team intends to do further research to confirm the benefits of this new wheelchair design.