Guest Author - Monica J. Foster
For manual wheelchair users, the hands are the machines that keep them moving. The hands serve as the steering wheel, the gas pedal, and brakes, as well as reverse when maneuvering in a wheelchair. As a result, the hands (not to mention shoulders, too) take a real beating.
A manual wheelchair users hands are constantly experiencing friction and heat generated by pushing, stopping, turning and repetitive wheelchair transfers in and out of the wheelchair. Hands and fingers can become numb or desensitized in chilly or rainy weather, as well. Wheelchair users, who are consistently more active, athletic even, are particularly vulnerable to injuries and pain caused by constant use and exposure to the elements. In fact, many wheelchair users experience blisters, abrasions, and lacerations to their hands and fingers. Many more develop thick, rough calluses over time with repetitive use.
According to studies performed at the Human Engineering Research Laboratories, Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, School of Medicine, University of Pittsburgh, nearly 60% of people with parapalegia showed signs and symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome. The study made these findings:
"The interaction among symptoms, physical examination, and nerve conduction study findings is complex. Carpal tunnel syndrome and median mononeuropathy are highly prevalent and functionally significant. This study highlights the need for primary prevention and patient education for preserving upper-limb function."
Human hands were not designed to withstand the repetitive impact and constant contact with wheelchair push rims, and many researchers now strongly recommend the use of properly designed wheelchair gloves to minimize hand injury. Remember, that for manual wheelchair users, the arms and hands are like the legs and feet, keeping them mobile and independent. So, it is important to keep them protected.
Many assume any kind of glove while maneuvering a wheelchair will do. Of course, you have a choice to go for regular gloves, but gloves specifically designed for wheelchair users offer more specific benefits for the unique needs of a wheelchair user.
Properly designed gloves, specifically for wheelchair users, can provide:
protection against skin damage
protection against injury
improved manual dexterity and wheelchair rolling skills
comfort in cold or wet climates
The majority of wheelchair glove have the ends cut out. This enables the user to have better manual agility to perform other things without having to take off the gloves. It also keeps the hands cooler, minimizing perspiration. However, there are full gloves available. These are usually designed for cold weather.
The preferred design for wheelchair gloves really can depend on the individual and the type of protection needed. Which gloves to choose depends more so on the wheelchair user's circumstances and lifestyle which gloves are useful.
Just as the requirements of a wheelchair athlete can be different from a reasonably active person who uses a wheelchair in cold weather, a person with limited hand function will have different needs from someone who experiences greater vibration or impact to the hand.
Features to consider include:
palms with built in gel-like padding in the palm (reduces impact
force to the hands)
palms with texture for better hand-to-wheel grip and traction
padding in the thumbs and palms to provide further safety, protection
and shock absorption
easy to wear, remove, light weight and flexible (particularly for
someone with limited hand function)
breathable stretch material for comfort
Gloves specifically for a wheelchair user will be a good investment. They will last longer since they are for the particular user. Many wheelchair and medical supply shops have gloves for manual wheelchair users to try out and choose the pair with the right purpose and fit. Gloves designed for wheelchair users in mind are typically priced anywhere $30 - $40, so choose wisely the gloves that will work best in your situation.