Effectiveness of Group Wheelchair Skills Training

Effectiveness of Group Wheelchair Skills Training for People with Spinal Cord Injury: A Randomized Controlled Trial

Recently, the results of a multicenter study about the effectiveness of Wheelchair Skills Training in groups of people living with spinal cord injuries (SCI) was published.  The University of Miami was one of the participating centers, and was led by Dr. Rachel Cowan.  There is a high number of people with SCI who have to use a manual wheelchair for mobility, and a large portion of those individuals lack the wheelchair skills needed for independence, safety, and upper body preservation.  The reason behind this problem appears to be related to increasingly shortened lengths of stay in inpatient rehabilitation and lack of time/resources.  Previous research has shown that the amount of time spent on developing wheelchair mobility skills is only about 4 hours during an individual’s entire stay in inpatient rehab, compared to their average length of stay in rehabilitation which is approximately 56 days.  Previous studies have shown that wheelchair skills training in small and larger groups can have a significant increase in skill capacity and knowledge.  The purpose of this multi-center study was to evaluate the effectiveness of group wheelchair therapy in those with SCI.

Participants were spilt into 2 groups: 1) the control group who received two group classes on topics of interest to people with SCI and 2) a wheelchair skills training group.  Participants in the wheelchair skills training group were requested to attend six 90 minute classes over an 8 week period (classes offered once a week).  During the first class, each person identified a set of skills they wanted to improve.  The 5 skills most frequently selected included going down stairs (64%), going up stairs (65%), going up high curbs (60%), performing wheelies (59%), and performing floor to chair transfers (53%).  The greatest improvements in wheelchair skills occurred among those with lower skills at the beginning of training (i.e. not being maxed out in skills to begin with) and those who attended more classes.  The authors concluded that people with SCI who participate in group training of manual wheelchair skills can improve their ability to perform difficult skills.

Independence is extremely important from the onset of SCI, but as you age with SCI it becomes even more of a necessity.  So it is important that wheelchair skill training classes, such as what were done in this study, continue to be conducted and hopefully become a standard within the SCI community.  That way when new techniques are introduced for mastering various wheelchair skills, the SCI community will have the tools and the resources necessary to maintain their quality of life and independence as they age with their spinal cord injury.