Research on Wheelchair Vibration Offers Consumer and Clinician Insight

A qualitative study published at the 2015 RESNA conference provided consumer and clinician insight on power wheelchair suspension systems.

The researchers — Carmen DiGiovine, Ph.D., ATP/SMS, RET; Amy Darragh, Ph.D., OTR/L, FAOTA; Theresa Berner, MOT, OTR/L, ATP; and Taylor Duncan, Occupational Therapy Division, all of The Ohio State University — looked at whole-body vibrations and outlined considerations for future research and development in “The Effect of Whole Body Vibration on Power Wheelchair Mobility: A Focus Group.”

The study analyzed responses from a focus group comprising 15 consumers and nine rehab specialists. Both groups discussed surfaces and obstacles encountered while using power wheelchairs and then described functional and non-functional features on power chairs.

The research indicated the following commonalities among consumers and industry professionals.

  • End users encounter more than 30 different surfaces and obstacles that result in vibration. These surfaces include uneven grass, cracked sidewalks, transitions and thresholds, gravel, brick, truncated domes and cobblestone.
  • These different surfaces and obstacles take various tolls on the user, resulting in longer trips, loss of wheelchair control, fatigue, pain, discomfort, fear and apprehension, and loss of positioning.
  • From the clinician’s perspective, these mobility conditions were more susceptible to the effects of vibration, shock and motion: spinal muscular atrophy, muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), spinal cord injury, cerebral palsy, spina bifida, stroke, lower-extremity amputations, Friedreich’s ataxia, and brain injury. In individuals with these conditions, greater startle reflex, spasticity and hypertonicity/hypotonicity were a result of vibration.
  • Consumers identified the suspension system as the most important feature of a power wheelchair for reducing shock, vibration and motion. The consumers also wanted the ability to turn the suspension system on and off. Clinicians agreed and also wanted more flexibility to customize the suspension system to the individual user and environment.

In short, the suspension system of a power wheelchair is important to both consumers and rehab professionals. Both groups recognize the issues caused by vibration.

Find the abstract at

This article originally appeared in the April 2018 issue of Mobility Management.

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