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Interview with ROWHEELS – Laura, Physical Therapist

“I specialise in neurological rehab, so I work with quite a few people who have had some kind of neurological issue. A lot of these people are also wheelchair users.

When I’m working with people who are using traditional wheelchairs, I have to be very careful about remembering their potential for shoulder injury. People who are using a traditional wheelchair are using their shoulders all day long. Often they are using their arms to transfer in and out of the chair. I have to be very careful with the exercises I prescribe them because I don’t want them to have overuse injuries. For a forward propelling wheelchair these are typically pretty small muscle groups, and putting a lot of stress on those tiny little muscles can cause damage, so that’s just something I’m always thinking about when working with someone in a wheelchair.

When someone is using the ROWHEELS type of wheel, instead of pushing forward they’re pulling their arms backward and so it’s more of those larger scapula stabilising muscles in their back than the other muscles when they’re pushing forward. Especially when they’re going up a little bit of an incline, when they want to push forcefully they’re leaning forward in their chair – if we put them in a ROWHEELS chair, if they want to push forcefully they’re actually pulling themselves back. Because of the way the wheels work, they’re actually getting themselves into a better posture with each stroke.

What I would like to see is people starting to use these at a much earlier age. They are different to push forward wheels and they do take a bit of learning, but if we could start people off with those as their first wheelchair, we wouldn’t have to be battling years of neuroplasticity. We would be training them right off the bat to be going with the rowing motion instead so that they don’t assume these hunched forward postures and they’re not sustaining over-use injuries of the smaller muscle groups by the time they’re in their teens or twenties.”

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