More MS news articles for Oct 2001

Leg-Propelled Wheelchair May Offer Advantages for Some Patients

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) Sept 26 - A new style of wheelchair that users propel with their legs rather than their arms was easier for many patients to use and may provide added health benefits, a team of Canadian researchers reports.

"Using this new wheelchair, people can go faster with less effort," Dr. Richard B. Stein, professor of physiology and neuroscience at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada, told Reuters Health. "By using the larger leg muscles, this uses about half the amount of effort it takes with your arms."

The leg-powered wheelchair allows patients who have some use of the legs to use their leg muscles to propel the chair forward. In addition, the wheelchair can be worked by those with severe spinal cord injuries, using functional electric stimulation (FES) to contract leg muscles.

"The disabled need to exercise their legs to keep them in good shape," Dr. Stein explained. "Few do, and adding an exercise burden is not practical. Our goal has been to make it part of their daily life so they get benefits naturally."

The researchers tested the leg-propelled wheelchair on three groups: 13 students with no known disabilities; 9 people with spinal cord injuries who used FES; and 13 people with disabilities such as stroke, spina bifida and balance problems, who used a wheelchair but still had some control over their leg movements.

The researchers measured how much the participants' heart rates and oxygen consumption went up in relation to the distance they traveled in the new wheelchairs, traditional wheelchairs and by walking. The results are published in the September issue of the Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation.

The investigators found that for the non-disabled group and the group who used FES, the leg-propelled wheelchair took half as much energy to move as the traditional arm-propelled wheelchair did. "It turns out to be a remarkably efficient way of getting around," Dr. Stein noted.

However, those people with weakness or spasticity in their legs did not have an easier time using the leg-propelled chair.

Dr. Stein next plans to measure whether the wheelchair improves leg muscle functioning and prevents bone loss in the long term.

Arch Phys Med Rehabil 2001;82:1198-1203.

Copyright © 2001 Reuters Ltd