Approximately 65 million people world-wide currently use wheelchairs as their primary means of getting around. For those who use manual wheelchairs, the strain on the upper body can be significant.
The most common ailments seen in wheelchair users reside in the shoulders. Manual propulsion for wheelchair movement can cause strain in the muscles and tendons, especially if the user’s resistance level is higher than what is suitable for their strength. Seating and positioning factors can also play a large role in how a person controls their wheelchair and can often put unwanted stress on the upper body.
The Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine's Rehabilitation Robotics Lab’s EON iCube system provides an immersive, simulated real-world environment for wheelchair users by superimposing the equipment (a manual wheelchair and a built-in treadmill) with an ergometer. This allows users to practice maneuvering their wheelchair through various scenarios, while an ergometer and head movement tracking cameras collect propulsion and position data.
“This 3D space offers a way for researchers to collect metrics that can be used to sequence wheelchair propulsion,” said Nathanial Maeda, postdoctoral fellow in the Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine. “It is equipped with motion capture cameras which can collect propulsion kinematics and head movements.”
The rolling resistance of the treadmill can be adjusted to suit whatever difficulty level is required—whether it’s for a manual wheelchair user with shoulder pain or an elite Paralympic athlete.
The data collected helps researchers understand and better treat common injuries in wheelchair users for they can get back to moving around pain-free.