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One often tends to believe that what most affects the manoeuvrability of a wheelchair is the weight of the person who uses it, and the material with which the frame is made. However, there are other factors related to the friction of your wheelchair on the terrain that will be performing most of the time, or to where the centre of gravity is locate (depending on the size and position of the wheels) which can be changed through certain adjustments.
If these factors are taken into accont in your next assessment, you will not only make the best choice of your manual wheelchair, but also improve significantly your mobility.
Manual wheelchairs: how to make the right choice
You will have chosen the best wheelchair adjustments once they provide you with great mobility, as well as the maximum functionality and comfort. An inadequate wheelchair not only tends to make problems arise in the long term, but it can also make you feel uncomfortable and contibute to a bad posture, among others. In order to avoid these problems, let a professional make the pertinent adjustments and let the wheelchair to fit yourself, and not differently.
Once the assessment has been properly performed and a wheelchair is providing you with the best mobility level, you will need to take into account four factors: how much wight are the wheels supporting, where the centre of gravity is located, the terrain on which it will be mostly used, and the some other biomechanical aspects (size, material, wheel type).
1. The weight distribution between the front and rear wheels
When we talk about weight distribution of a wheelchair, we are referring to the ratio in which the weight is splitted between the front and rear wheels. As a general rule, the greater the weight proportion on the front wheels, the greater friction. This will demand more effort from the user to self-propel. The advantage we can find in this set-up is that the stability increases.
For example, typically of geriatric or standard wheelchairs, the weight is divided on equal shares between front and rear wheels. This set-up makes the user to enjoy more stability, but on the other hand, more effort to self-propel. Instead, if the weight is splitted e.g. having an 80% distribution on the rear wheel and 20% on the front one, the result would be a more active wheelchair, but less stable. That is the reason why this set-up is most recommended for people leading an active life and having enough strength in the upper limbs.
2. Centre of gravity adjustment
This factor has a lot to do with the previous one, since you will achieve the most suitable weight distribution for you by adjusting the centre of gravity. In general, lightweight and active wheelchairs allow any adjustments in the rear wheels position: forwards, backwards, upwards and downwards.
For instance, the effects of positioning the center of gravity up and backwards are, that the weight is distributed in a way that rear wheels are supporting the most of it. The results are more mobility but less stability and being more likely for the user to tip backwards.
3. Biomechanical factors of the wheelchair
Wheels are almost the most important element when trying to improve a wheelchair mobility. Here we need to take into account three variables: friction, size and ground adaptability. For instance, pneumatic wheels are very adaptable to the ground, and they easily absorb any shock if there is any terrain irregularity along the way, but they When choosing a material, pneumatic ones are more comfortable and allow shock absorbers, but produce more friction. Instead, other stronger materials are worse at adapting to the ground, but they facilitate mobility as the friction is reduced. As for the wheels' size, the smaller they are, the less friction they is. This is because it exists less contact surface with the terrain.
In order to decide which materials and wheel size could fit you better, you should know in which type of ground the wheelchair will be used the most on.
Another biomechanical factor that will influence your wheelchair mobility is the footprint of the chair. The more distance there is between front and rear wheels, the larger the footprint (or wheelbase), the more stability. On the contrary, the smaller the footprint, the greater the maneuverability .
4. The terrain on which the wheelchair will be used
Regarding the use of your wheelchair indoors or outdoors, if you are going to move about indoors or play sports, it is better that the front wheels are smaller, because they allow faster turns. Outside or on rough terrain, it is better that the front wheels are bigger because the contact surface with the ground is bigger and thus the imperfections of the terrain can be avoided.
Has this information helped you discover which manual wheelchair is the best for you? Opting for an active and adjustable wheelchair will give you greater mobility, comfort and, ultimately, quality of life.
That's why at Sunrise Medical we offer a wide range of active manual wheelchairs where you can choose the one that suits you best. Contact us for personalised advice from one of our experts.