Overuse injuries in manual wheelchair users
by Gene Emmer
Med Services Europe
The hands of a manual wheelchair user are 'the engine', 'the steering', and 'the brakes'. They also take a great deal of abuse.
A wheelchair owner's hands are exposed to constant friction and heat generated by pushing, stopping, turning and wheelchair transfers. They are numbed and desensitised in cold and wet weather. Active and athletic wheelchair owners are particularly vulnerable to overuse injuries caused by constant use and exposure. In fact, at least 18% of all wheelchair users experience blisters, abrasions, and lacerations. Many more develop thick, rough calluses.
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Even more importantly, according to studies performed at the Rancho Los Amigos Medical Center in California, 49% of people with parapalegia showed signs and symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome. Dr. Coopers and Dr. Robertson of California State University report:
"Research in this area suggests that carpal tunnel syndrome may be the result of nerve compression which occurs during forceful exertions with the hand and wrist in hyperflexion or hyperextension. Repetitive strikes of the heel of the hand against the push rim may cause pain and numbness of the thumb and fingers."
Get a grip! Wheelchair gloves can provide relief
Human hands were not designed to withstand the repetitive impact and constant contact with wheelchair push rims, and many researchers now strongly recommend the use of properly designed wheelchair gloves to minimise hand injury.
Properly designed wheelchair gloves can provide:
- protection against skin damage caused by starting, stopping and turning the wheelchair
- protection against injury caused by vibrations and repeated impact
- improved stopping and maneuverability
- comfort in cold or wet weather
The preferred design for wheelchair gloves varies depending on the wheelchair user's circumstances and lifestyle. For example, the requirements of an athlete can be different from a moderately active person who is using a wheelchair in cold weather, while the needs of a person with limited hand function are different from those of a person who is experiencing a great deal of vibration or impact to the hand.
Features to consider include:
- gel padding built into the palm (helps to reduce impact force to the hands)
- textured palms for better traction
- padding to protect thumbs and palms
- easy to put on and take off, very light and flexible (convenient for people with limited hand function)
- breathable stretch material for comfort
- sweat-wipe backing to wipe forehead (sports gloves)
About the author
Dr. Gene Emmer manages Med Services Europe, a marketing company for medical and rehabilitation products. Med Services Europe represents the award winning Colours Wheelchairs and recently launched the RehaDesign wheelchair gloves range in Europe.
Published: July 2006
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