Should You Use a Power Wheelchair?

should you use a power wheelchair title blog graphic

My name is Mason Ellis. I’ve been a C5 through C7 quadriplegic for over five years. Since recovering from my accident, I started making YouTube videos to help others with spinal cord injuries live life just like they would’ve able-bodied.

Over the years, various people have asked me why I decided to use a power wheelchair. Why don’t I switch to using a manual wheelchair full-time? I have several reasons why I choose to use a power wheelchair. In this article, I’ll explain why.

The Number One Reason Why I Use a Power Wheelchair

I have a power wheelchair and a manual wheelchair. My power wheelchair is a Permobil C300, and my manual wheelchair is a TiLite Aero T. I use both of my wheelchairs, although I tend to use my power wheelchair most of the time.

The number one reason why I use my power wheelchair over my manual wheelchair is because of long-term health issues.

Two common health issues that may result from using a manual wheelchair are:

  • Carpal tunnel syndrome
  • Shoulder injuries

As a quadriplegic, I don’t have finger function, so carpal tunnel syndrome is not as much of a concern for me. However, shoulder injuries are a significant concern.

mason in his power wheelchair

Shoulder Pain and Manual Wheelchairs

The reason that wheelchair users have shoulder problems is because of weight-bearing, which happens during:

  • Transferring to and from your bed, chair, vehicle, etc.
  • Loading and unloading manual wheelchairs before and after transfers
  • Performing pressure reliefs by pushing yourself up off the seat of your wheelchair, bed, or chair
  • Wheeling, which involves a repetitive motion to push the wheels forward in a manual wheelchair

Between 60% and 70% of manual wheelchair users experience shoulder pain in their life. The average wheelchair user makes 2,000 to 3,000 pushes per day. That can mean between 730,000 to 1,095,000 pushes per year, which is a lot of repetitive motion. Unfortunately, our arms are just not meant to do the same kind of repetitive work as our legs.

Additionally, people with quadriplegia are affected more with shoulder problems than people with paraplegia because fewer muscles can be used. Therefore, the usable muscles can get overused, causing more shoulder and joint strain.

If an able-bodied person gets a shoulder injury, they can just stop the activity that they are doing. However, if a wheelchair user gets a shoulder injury, they can’t just stop using a wheelchair because they need it to get around. Wheelchair users could stop using manual wheelchairs, but they still need to use their shoulders for other things, such as transfers.

mason in his manual wheelchair

Benefits and Drawbacks of the Two Types of Wheelchairs

Many people say that pushing a manual wheelchair is good exercise. That is true if you don’t exercise any other way. If you don’t have an exercise routine that you do each day, then pushing yourself around in a manual wheelchair is essential so you can get exercise.

Personally, I use a power wheelchair most of the time, and I get my exercise in every day by doing my daily exercise routines rather than pushing myself around in my manual wheelchair.

Power wheelchairs are beneficial for exercising because you can lift weights and use resistance bands without the wheelchair moving. Power wheelchairs also allow for different positions, such as leaning back, depending on its features.

I have a feeling that a lot of people, both wheelchair users and non-wheelchair users, look at people in power wheelchairs to be more disabled. However, I feel more disabled in a manual wheelchair because I feel less independent. Plus, it makes everything more difficult for me.

Manual wheelchairs also take longer to get from Point A to Point B. Some electronic-assisted wheelchairs and attachments, such as the E-Motion wheels and the SmartDrive, may allow you to get more distance out of one push and put less strain on your muscles and shoulders. However, those options are not for me because I prefer a power wheelchair since I am more independent and feel less disabled.

mason in power wheelchair driving his adaptive vehicle

Which Type of Wheelchair Should You Use?

Ultimately, when it comes to what type of wheelchair you should use, it comes down to your physical ability and personal preference.

Personally, when I’m at my house, I prefer using my power wheelchair because of the thick carpet and the rough and hilly terrain. I can also drive my vehicle from my power wheelchair because it has the EZ-Lock system installed to hold my chair in place. However, out in public, it’s often easier to use my manual wheelchair to maneuver tight areas, such as restaurants. It can also be pushed over curbs or doorways that my power wheelchair is unable to get over without a ramp.

The main reason that I don’t use a manual wheelchair all of the time is because I don’t want to experience shoulder problems. I like to use a power wheelchair as my primary and a manual wheelchair as a secondary for when it’s needed.

What are your thoughts on using a power wheelchair versus a manual wheelchair?

Don’t forget to check out my video on YouTube about this topic here: https://youtu.be/9ilV9qepvx8. Also, if you enjoyed this article, check out my YouTube channel for spinal cord injury-related videos and subscribe so you don’t miss out on future videos!

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About the Author
Mason Ellis was injured in a car accident on January 19, 2015. He is now a C5/6/7 quadriplegic paralyzed from the neck down. Since his accident, he has connected with others with spinal cord injuries, as well as family members, friends, and caregivers of someone with a spinal cord injury, therapists and doctors, and able-bodied individuals too. His motto is to "live life just like I would've able-bodied."