Manual wheelchairs are great! But…
Long term manual wheelchair (MW) self-propulsion causes prevalent problems such as shoulder pain due to subacromial impingement (42-66% incidence), wrist pain due to carpal tunnel syndrome (49-73% incidence), and general upper limbs muscular pain. The current
approach to prevent such injuries is: appropriate and timely provision of wheelchair, and skills training. For long term MW users that already have injuries and pain, the current treatment approach is: physiotherapy, pain killers, surgery or switching to an electric wheelchair. Power assist devices use motors that drive the wheelchair back wheels to help the users self-propel with demonstrated reduction of effort, pain and injuries. We interviewed nine MW users regarding their needs and expectations on adding assistance for propelling their wheelchairs.
We also reviewed the power assist devices available. We have found that although MW users understood the benefits of using powered propelling assistant devices, the technology is not widely used due to lack of awareness and unaffordability. A high quality, affordable, open source, fully mechanical and lightweight assist device is needed. While waiting for researchers to create such high quality affordable device, we recommend MW users to use tricycles or lever drive propulsion, when possible, instead of the standard inefficient handrim propulsion.