The Department of Kinesiology and Community Health
College of Applied Health Sciences
Kinesiology and Community Health
Concerned about the quality of life of people with disabilities, Ian Rice is developing a research program to examine how the combination of training and ergonomics affects wheelchair users. This combination of motor learning theory with the ergonomic principles of wheelchair configuration is a unique approach to understanding the problems wheelchair users encounter, particularly upper limb injuries and pain. Dr. Rice, who received his doctoral degree in rehabilitation science and technology from the University of Pittsburgh, has previously investigated the effectiveness of two different training systems for manual wheelchair propulsion with a grant from the National Institutes of Health.
In that research, Dr. Rice trained long-term wheelchair users how to use the chair correctly. It was, he said, a "teaching an old dog new tricks" scenario. "I wanted to attack the most difficult scenario first," he said. "If I could retrain long-term users, then the chance of impacting new users, who haven't yet developed bad habits, was greater." With both real-time biofeedback and an automated video presentation, participants learned proper propulsion techniques based on biomechanics and motor learning theory.
In his current research, Dr. Rice is examining how the ergonomics and biomechanics of wheelchair fitting impact wheelchair propulsion. Although the design of wheelchairs has progressed from a "one size fits all" approach to more individualized fittings, the chairs are often configured incorrectly, which can neutralize all the advantages of better design. Configuring a wheelchair correctly, which involves manipulating the chair so that the user's center of mass is in the right place, minimizes rolling resistance. In addition to inadequate wheelchair fitting, Dr. Rice says few users receive training on how to propel the chair properly. Taken together, these phenomena can result in upper extremity pain and injury, which currently affects nearly 70 percent of wheelchair users.
By tackling the issues of wheelchair configuration and propulsion training within the same study, Dr. Rice hopes to determine the optimum combination of training and fitting to reduce injuries and prevent the development of secondary health problems.