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.ACE_5087

“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.


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Published on Nov. 4, 2015

Estimated reading time is 1.8 min.

Views to date: 182


  1. John Tubbs November 11, 2015 at 12:08 am

    I LOVE it when and where can I get one!!!!!

  2. Roger L. Hansen November 7, 2015 at 5:33 am

    WoW! What a great idea, and something that I can use in my home where my power chair just does not get the job done as there are too many tight places. This would be perfect for me to use most of the time when I’m at home, when I’m out I have to have the power chair because I’m not strong enough to move a regular chair around most places.

    Wonderful Idea and kudos to the developers.

  3. James Singleterry November 6, 2015 at 4:39 pm

    Why doesn’t the fellow in the picture grab the smaller rim for propelling the wheelchair. Larger rim is actually the tire that contacts the ground.

  4. Ed Rodguez November 6, 2015 at 12:11 pm

    Great idea!!! Hopefully the weight would not be an issue. Anything above 25 pounds might be too heavy for many individuals.

  5. Roger Ford November 6, 2015 at 5:33 am

    This is great. I have degenerative disc disease and headed that way soon. Thank you for finding better ways to help those who need it.

    • Micheal Moses November 7, 2015 at 2:24 am

      I’m right there with you Roger…I know where you’re coming from!

  6. Paul G. Samson November 5, 2015 at 4:38 pm

    What an awesome job!!!

  7. DannyG November 5, 2015 at 12:26 pm

    I have said it before; I worked at the Mpls. VAMC, & know that is a top-notch facility! The whole DVA could learn from the Radiology Dept., if the same Director & crew are still there.

  8. Erica Johnson November 5, 2015 at 9:12 am

    Minnionapolis? Good article, but you might want to fix the title.

    • Peedee Wyre November 6, 2015 at 12:02 pm

      Get some minions to do it! :)

Comments are closed.

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