The Weight is Not just Coming from the Frame
We just finished last week’s blog talking about the differences between titanium and aluminium, one of those differences was the weight of each metal. In our continued discussion on shoulder preservation, we know that weight can be an important factor when propelling a manual wheelchair all day. Remember studies show that the average full-time manual wheelchair user completes 2,000 to 3,000 pushes every day! This is an enormous amount of work that we are asking the shoulders to complete. Therefore, weight is important. However, weight does not just come from the frame.
We can have the lightest wheelchair frame, but if we load it down with armrests, heavy cushions and backrests, solid tyres, etc… we just cancelled the weight we saved in choosing a lighter-weight frame. It is important we think about the components that we are putting on the wheelchair. With each component that we add onto the chair, we should ask ourselves, “What is the purpose/goal of this component?”. Let’s think about a few examples when it comes to an individual who is a full-time upper extremity propeller in a rigid manual wheelchair.
One of my favourite ways to decrease weight is to consider the armrests. What are the armrests doing for my client? Perhaps the end-user needs to have armrests to complete a functional activity, but more than often I see that the armrests are placed on the wheelchair for “comfort” reasons. How much weight does this comfort option add onto a wheelchair? It is not just the armrest itself, but also the large brackets required to mount these armrests to the wheelchair.
What about the wheels and tyres? This is another way that we can substantially increase the weight of a wheelchair. We often forget about how much a wheel and tyre can weigh. The position of the wheel and tyre is also a key. The further from the end-user the more impact the weight will have on propulsion. So, now if we think about the wheels and tyres and their location, we begin to understand the importance.
Does this mean that everyone who is a full-time manual wheelchair user should have pneumatic tyres and Spinergy Carbon Blade wheels? No, but it does mean that a discussion on goals and how this relates to the wheels and tyres is crucial. Therapists are often nervous about recommending pneumatic tyres for manual wheelchairs, but we want to help decrease this fear and will have a discussion in the upcoming blogs on the truths and myths of pneumatic tyres.
It is important to remember that even small changes can make a big difference. This should be considered in two ways. First, remember you can slowly start to work on decreasing the overall weight of the manual wheelchair, you don’t have to change the whole wheelchair in one day. This is also important for reason 2. Even the smallest changes could feel like a big change to the end-user. Everyone, whether you are the therapist, dealer, or end-user, has to remember that any change to the wheelchair will take time to get used to and may need further adjustments in the future.
As the therapist or end-user should you have to know all the different components available and their corresponding weight? No! You need to know your goals and/or the goals of the end-user. Then, it is the role of the dealer to help determine which products meet those goals and provide options. The dealer can help to discuss the options to decrease the overall weight of the wheelchair. The less weight on the chair, the less demand we place on the shoulders, right? This is absolutely true and should be considered for all individuals who are full-time upper extremity propellers, but if we don’t have the proper configuration, then even the lightest-weight wheelchair will be difficult to push.
Remember that if we all work together as a team, we can achieve the best results!
If you are interested in understanding more about this topic and how the weight distribution on the wheelchair matters, email me to set up your Materials Science for Manual Wheelchairs course.