New wheel design aids rehabilitation of wheelchair users

28 Feb 2011

UK engineering consultancy Frazer-Nash, in partnership with University College London (UCL) and the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital Trust (RNOH), has developed a prototype wheelchair that could prevent users from suffering shoulder injuries.

Wheelchair users are committed to using their arms for mobility, so there is a lot of upper-limb activity which causes an increased risk of long-term injury through physical wear.

The aim of the project is to carry out research that will inform future wheelchair designs to protect users from severe accelerated degenerative conditions, such as rotator cuff pathology, which can be caused by such movements.

The wheelchair prototype is based on a previous design called the Powerwheel, which was developed by Frazer-Nash for UK Sport as a training device to improve the performance of Paralympic athletes.

Frazer-Nash is working with the RNOH, led by Dr Simon Grange, to understand the needs of NHS wheelchair users and adapt the Powerwheel’s design principles. Innovations such as integrating spoked rather than carbon fibre racing wheels means that the prototype can be used to benefit the rehabilitation and training needs of NHS patients, minimising secondary injuries. Mr Peter Smitham of UCL will supervise the clinical study at RNOH in collaboration with Frazer-Nash.

The new wheelchair wheelA wheel chair fitted with the new wheel design
The new wheel and a wheelchair fitted with the new wheels

The new wheel design, which is currently undergoing trials at UCL’s PAMELA centre, is fully instrumented and provides real-time feedback to the researcher on indicators such as the user’s push force. Frazer-Nash and UCL are collaborating on this research project to investigate the correlation between muscle activity in the shoulder with the push profile exerted by the wheelchair user. It is hoped that this will provide information on the levels of force and specific manoeuvres that could lead to potential damage to the shoulder.

Alexandra Knight, Frazer-Nash Engineering Consultant, commented: “We are delighted to be supporting the NHS on such an important piece of research, and bring our strong track record in designing innovative medical products to the project. As well as helping focus an individual’s rehabilitation regime, the prototype has the potential to inform the future design of wheelchairs that could ultimately enhance the quality of life for thousands of users.”

The project is funded by a grant from the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) which was awarded to the RNOH.


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