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The origins of the wheelchair are a bit hazy. A quick check of Wikipedia, reveals a depiction of Confucius in a wheelchair (which would date the mobility device back to somewhere in 6th century BC). A chair was made for Phillip II of Spain in 1595. In 1655, a paraplegic watchmaker built a self-propelling chair on a three wheel chassis.
In 1783, John Dawson designed a wheelchair that outsold all others through the early part of the 19th century. While the wheelchair clearly has a long history, it has also (thankfully) had an incredible period of innovation; today’s chairs are lighter, more maneuverable, and more comfortable than ever before, and for many people, they are the tool that allows them to reclaim some mobility and greatly improve quality of life.
It’s estimated that 80-90% of wheelchair users are in a chair that doesn’t fit their body. That’s like wearing the wrong size shoes every day! And yet it happens more often than it should. Why?
But different types of wheelchairs offer different options for how they feel, how they fit, how they respond, and what they enable you to do. Choosing the right one can mean the difference between maximizing your mobility and experiencing chronic discomfort, or worse, additional medical problems. That’s why today we’re going to cover Wheelchair 101 – the nuts and bolts of these wheeled devices that can help get you from point A to point B, and from limited mobility to maximum comfort.
Let’s start by making an even finer distinction here and ask, what are the benefits of a properly-fitted wheelchair?
“In some ways a wheelchair is like a bicycle: there are many designs and styles to choose from including imports, lightweights, racing models, etc.” ChristopherReeve.org
We love that quote because it makes wheelchairs sound exciting, and indeed they can be, because what they are is a specialized piece of equipment, designed to optimize performance. But just as a novice athlete might not know the right bike to tackle the Tour de France, selecting the right chair, especially for a first-time wheelchair user, can be confusing. Let’s start with the easy stuff.
Wheelchairs are either manual or electric.
Manual wheelchairs are lighter and require physical force to move them.
Electric wheelchairs are heavier and have motors, powered by large rechargeable batteries, to propel them.
A little over a generation ago, the standard chair was a chrome-plated behemoth that weighed about 50 pounds. Today, chairs come in a rainbow of colors and a dizzying array of styles. There are platform-model power chairs with a captain's seat. There are three- and four-wheel configuration scooters. There are folding models for travel and rugged, off-road ready models for adventures in the open air. There are reclining chairs and standing chairs, smart chairs, and chairs made for specific sports.
Wound Care carries a wide selection of chairs, infinitely customizable to meet the differing needs of patients. Check them out here.
Whatever your situation, there is a wheelchair configuration that will work for you. Work with your doctor or medical professional to determine the best option. Start by answering these questions to narrow down the scope:
Then consider fit. (Remember we said in the beginning that 80-90%of wheelchair users are in a chair that doesn’t fit their body? Let’s make sure you’re in the 10-20%.)
The ideal sitting position for most people in a wheelchair follows the 90-90-90 rule.
The 90-90-90 Rule:
A 90° bend in the hips.
A 90° bend in the knees.
A 90° bend in the ankle.
The person’s bum should be all the way back in the seat, making contact with wheelchair back. Their thighs should be parallel to the ground and their knees should be in line with their hips (not above or below).
Proper fit can ensure optimal posture, swallowing, and breathing while preventing pressure wounds, hip and pelvic problems, and general discomfort so it’s worth spending some time getting it right.
Not every chair requires all the bells and whistles, but extra features and accessories that help customize a chair can improve comfort, increase mobility, and prevent injury.
Wound Care Solutions has a full range of wheelchairs and accessories to suit every need, all
designed with prevention in mind, keeping patients at home, healthy, and out of the hospital. Visit us today to learn more.