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The Evolution of Wheelchairs

For patients with spinal cord injuries or mobility issues, the wheelchair can be their best friend and can also be their greatest enemy.

Wheelchairs weren’t always advanced like they are today, in fact, the first sketch of a person in a wheelchair was from 1595.  King Phillip II of Spain is portrayed in a wheelchair resembling a stationary lawn chair. The first manual propelled wheelchair was first depicted in 1665, it was heavy and appeared to be made from wood.  The industrial revolution during the 19th century is when wheelchairs started to advance; bicycle and carriage makers started making wheelchairs across the USA and replacing wooden wheels with metal, and rubber tires. 

Wheelchairs have come a long way through history and improvements are continuing every day. Today, wheelchairs are made from advanced materials like titanium, magnesium and carbon fiber and can be specially made to allow people to have an increased quality of life.  Engaging in their favorite activities like sports, off-roading, and cycling has become possible with designs and materials always improving.  For example, if a person were professional cyclists before their injury, then it could be considered a necessity to have a cycle style wheelchair in their plan.

Patients with spinal cord injuries can vary in their preference for everyday wheelchairs. Someone with good arm function may prefer a lightweight, foldable wheelchair that is easy to maneuver and transport for maximal independence.  An individual with a high spinal cord injury such as a quadriplegic, someone with cerebral palsy or other condition/injury that affects arm use and mobility may need a higher support wheelchair with power ability, and specific accessories for ease of use. The kind of wheelchair can also vary greatly among age groups.  A child attending school will need different wheelchairs and accessories than an individual nearing the end of life.

When creating a plan for a patient, life care planners look at their individual needs and of course, lifestyle must be considered.

To read more about the evolution of a wheelchair and to see pictures visit the United Spinal Association.