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A new study exploring two different types of wheelchair back supports and how they help people with spinal cord injuries has been published by Craig Hospital.

Craig Hospital is a US-based neurorehabilitation hospital for people who have sustained spinal cord and/or brain injuries.

Published in The Journal of Spinal Cord Medicine, the study – ‘Wheelchair backs that support the spinal curves: Assessing postural and functional changes’ – was conducted by a team at Craig Hospital in coordination with a team from the Center for Rehabilitation Outcomes Research at the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab.

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Having researched how wheelchair components support the best functionality and mobility outcomes for patients with limitations, the team from Craig Hospital developed a study to evaluate 50 adults between the ages of 18 and 60 living with complete spinal cord injury and who use a manual wheelchair for mobility.

The study notes that wheelchairs help people with spinal cord injuries remain independent. Spinal cord injury patients might need complex rehabilitation technology to help them remain independent, which includes manual and power wheelchair systems, adaptive seating systems, alternative positioning systems, and other mobility devices that require evaluation, fitting, configuration, adjustment, or programming.

In the study, participants were provided two types of wheelchair backs – one upholstered wheelchair back cushion and one of solid material – and then evaluated for postural and functional outcomes, pain, and satisfaction with each.

While most participants predicted that the soft back would provide better comfort and functionality, the study found that the more rigid backrests had the greatest benefits, including increasing vertical reach, aiding a stronger push, improving posture and providing more comfort.

“At Craig, our daily approach to patient care, including involvement in research, is focused on improving quality of life for patients and helping them get back to being as independent as possible after their injury,” said Maggie Dahlin, Craig Hospital Physical Therapist. “To prove that minor things make a big difference in a person’s daily life – like the material of the wheelchair back – is really fulfilling. We take these findings directly to our patients and get to see the benefits in real life.”

The study found five key positive outcomes from using a solid backrest:

  • More upright posture: Posterior pelvic tilt, or “sacral sitting,” was reduced by an average of 9.16 degrees.
  • Improved upward reach: Vertical forward reach increased by an average of 2.04 inches, which is twice as much as what this outcome measure considers a meaningful change.
  • Increased push distance: One-stroke push test distance increased by an average of 9.69 inches, which is twice as much as what this outcome measure considers a meaningful change.
  • Faster propulsion up a ramp: Ramp ascent was faster by an average of 6.82 seconds.
  • Better overall satisfaction: Participants overall reported the solid backrest was favourable with 85 percent reporting they would choose to use it on a daily basis (compared to four percent for the upholstery back).

You can view and purchase the full study here

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