Power vs. Manual: Why Timing Can Be Crucial

When it comes to choosing between a manual and a power wheelchair for a newly injured client, one of the biggest challenges is timing. Just because a client with a C5 or C6 spinal cord injury does not present with enough strength to push a manual wheelchair some three to six months post injury does not necessarily mean that he or she will not have enough strength and coordination to push that chair in nine to 12 months.

Therefore, be sure to talk with the client’s team as to where the client is in the rehabilitation process. Important questions to answer may include:

  • What were the goals for the client upon initial injury? How has he/she progressed (quickly vs. slowly) in meeting those goals?
  • What are the current short- and long-term goals?
  • What is the plan of care for therapy post discharge?
  • What will the client’s environment and activities look like once he/she is in the community? Items to consider include terrain, distance, speed, length of time anticipated being out and about, etc.

Thanks to the technology that is available on the market today, if a client has the ability to push a manual chair but does not have the energy or level of function needed to self propel for extended periods of time, or the client has a change in function (loss or gain), there are alternatives to simply a manual wheelchair or power wheelchair.

A power-assist system provides clients with a boost of power during manual propulsion of a wheelchair that may allow the client to more efficiently and effectively propel.

This article originally appeared in the January 2013 issue of Mobility Management.

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