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Handbikes reduce injuries to wheelchair users

Those people who do not have full use of their legs are better off using a handbike than an ordinary wheelchair, according to new research conducted at the VU University Amsterdam. Handbikes reduce the risk of injury due to overloading joints and improve the physical health and mobility of people who are wheelchair dependent.

While it is widely known that physical activity is healthy, not all physical activity is equally healthy, and it is important to exercise the right way. Too much or overly stressful physical activity can lead to pain caused by overloading of joints. Because they are dependent on their arms for all movements, people who are wheelchair-bound have a very high risk of this type of overloading. In fact, more than half of all wheelchair users have shoulder pain.

Riding in an ordinary wheelchair increases the risk of injuries due to overloading, partly because it requires a relatively large amount of energy to move around. As a result, people increasingly use alternatives such as handbikes for outdoor activities such as shopping and transportation to work, sports or training.

These findings arise from the doctoral research of Ursina Arnet. In the laboratory, Arnet compared riding in a wheelchair with riding a handbike. She found that handbiking is not only more efficient and less tiring, it also significantly reduces the burden on the shoulder joint.

Arnet also examined various settings on the handbike to see how different positions affected strain on the shoulder joint, finding that it is best to use a position with a relatively straight back and a relatively far back position of the hand pedal relative to the shoulder.

Arnet’s full doctoral thesis, "Handcycling: a biophysical analysis," can be accessed here.

Source: VU University Amsterdam

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Carly Blair

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