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  • THE ERGONOMICS OF WHEELCHAIR

    CONFIGURATION FOR OPTIMAL SPORT

    PERFORMANCE

    Barry Mason

    A Doctoral Thesis

    Submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the award of Doctor of

    Philosophy of Loughborough University

    May 2011

    © by B.S. Mason (2011)

  • i

    Abstract

    Within court sport wheelchair design there are numerous components that can be configured in a variety of ways, yet the effects of different configurations on the ergonomics of sport wheelchair performance remains to be seen. The present thesis investigates the effects of manipulating key areas of the wheelchair-user combination on the mobility performance of highly trained athletes and explores whether optimal configurations can be established.

    The first study adopted a qualitative approach to investigate the influence of wheelchair configuration on mobility performance. Disparity amongst participants’ perceptions highlighted rear-wheel camber as the primary area of configuration in need of evidence based research. Wheel size, seat position and coupling at the wheelchair-user interface were also perceived to affect mobility, yet methods for identifying optimal settings were limited. The need for customised equipment was established in Chapter 4 when the effect of glove type was investigated. Gloves modified to meet the specific requirements of the user improved maximal linear sprinting and manoeuvrability performance compared to other generic gloves, due to a proposed improvement in coupling between the user and the hand-rims.

    During sub-maximal propulsion, external power output (PO) and physiological demand were both affected by camber (Chapter 5). External PO, oxygen uptake ( OV 2) and heart rate (HR) were all elevated in 24° camber compared with 15° and 18°, although gross mechanical efficiency (ME) improved with greater camber (20° and 24°). Chapter 6 extended this work during maximal effort, over-ground propulsion. The 18° setting significantly improved linear sprinting performance compared to 24° and manoeuvrability performance to 15° camber.

    Different wheel sizes with fixed gear ratios also affected PO and physiological demand during sub-maximal wheelchair propulsion (Chapter 7). Increased PO, OV 2 and HR responses were identified for 24” wheels compared with 26” wheels, yet improved ME. Hand-rim kinetic data established that in order to maintain a constant velocity, smaller wheels required greater force to be applied. Chapter 8 extended this work into a sports environment. Favourable reductions in 20 m sprint times were revealed for 26” wheels compared with 24” wheels, without negatively affecting initial acceleration or manoeuvrability. Optimal settings based on disability were not identified, although the 26” setting enabled favourable responses to sub- maximal and maximal effort propulsion for the highly trained athletes investigated.

    This thesis revealed that manipulating areas of the wheelchair-user combination alters the ergonomics of sub-maximal and maximal effort sports wheelchair performance in highly trained athletes. Larger camber (24°) and smaller wheels (24”) appeared unfavourable due the greater PO required, increased physiological demand and decreased maximal linear sprinting performance. Hand-rim kinetic data obtained from the SMARTWheel (Chapter 7) provided a valuable insight into injury risk in different wheel sizes and the inclusion of such data is encouraged in future configuration studies.

    Key Words: Wheelchair propulsion, wheelchair athletes, physiology, biomechanics, kinematics, kinetics, sports performance.

  • ii

    Acknowledgements

    The past four years have proven to be extremely enjoyable and challenging at the

    same time and there are a number of people who I wish to thank for helping me through both.

    First of all to my supervisory team, I owe a great deal of gratitude towards Dr Vicky Tolfrey

    for not only giving me the opportunity to complete this research work, but also for her

    calming influence and words of encouragement throughout the entire process. She has

    enabled me to develop tremendously as both an academic and as a person. I am also

    incredibly grateful to the support and vast expertise provided by Professor Lucas van der

    Woude. Without Luc’s knowledge and experience of the topic area and the gracious manner

    in which he shares it, the completion of this thesis would not have been achievable. Thanks

    must also go to Dr Lorna Porcellato and Dr Keith Tolfrey for the expert assistance they

    provided with the qualitative and statistical methods adopted.

    Research of this nature obviously requires a substantial amount of financial support, to

    which I am indebted to UK Sport, the British Paralympic Association and the Peter Harrison

    Centre for Disability Sport for their continued support throughout. Russel Simms from RGK

    wheelchairs, Peter Carruthers from Bromakin wheelchairs and Tom McKee from Manchester

    Metropolitan University have all contributed towards the novel equipment used during

    testing. Their technical expertise has been invaluable and extremely well appreciated. The

    input of Mr John Lenton must also be acknowledged for the numerous hours of his own time

    he surrendered to assist with data collection and analysis throughout my PhD. Finally, I am

    also grateful to Mr Nik Diaper from the English Institute of Sport for his mentorship, words

    of advice, loaning of equipment and equally importantly......rounds of golf.

    The completion of such a demanding task is also not possible without the support of a

    close group of colleagues and friends, who have helped with relaxation away from the PhD.

    Thanks in particular must go to Mel, Louise, Steve Patterson and Amanda for some fun times

    and memorable nights out and to Lewis for the not so memorable nights out! There are

    numerous other colleagues, past and present that have helped me throughout my PhD, too

    many to mention, however John Hough and Marta must be thanked for their technical aid.

    I could not sign off without thanking the athletes, coaches and support staff from the

    Great Britain wheelchair basketball, wheelchair rugby and wheelchair tennis squads for

    volunteering (or reluctantly agreeing) to participate in my studies. I hope to continue to work

    with you all in the near future and wish you all well in your build up to London 2012.

  • iii

    Dedication

    This thesis is dedicated to my family, in particular to my Mum and Dad for their

    continued support and belief in me, even when the inevitable “lows” were reached and I am

    forever grateful for this.

  • iv

    Preface

    The research presented throughout the current thesis has been peer reviewed through the following publications and communications:

    Publications

    Chapter 3:

    Mason BS, Porcellato L, Woude van der LHV, Goosey-Tolfrey VL (2010). A qualitative examination of wheelchair configuration for optimal mobility performance in wheelchair sports: a pilot study. Journal of Rehabilitation Medicine, 42, 141-149.

    Chapter 4 (pilot study):

    Lutgendorf M, Mason BS, Woude van der LHV, Goosey-Tolfrey VL (2009). Effect of glove type on wheelchair rugby sports performance. Sports Technology, 2, 121-128.

    Chapter 4:

    Mason BS, Woude van der LHV, Goosey-Tolfrey VL (2009). Influence of glove type on mobility performance for wheelchair rugby players. American Journal of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation, 88, 559-570.

    Chapter 5:

    Mason BS, Woude van der LHV, Groot de S, Goosey-Tolfrey VL (2010). The effects of camber on the ergonomics of propulsion in wheelchair athletes. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 43, 319-326.

    Under Review

    Chapter 7:

    Mason BS, Woude van der LHV, Lenton JP, Goosey-Tolfrey VL. Effects of wheel size on sub-maximal wheeling performance in elite wheelchair athletes. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise.

    Published Abstracts

    Chapter 3:

    Mason BS, Porcellato L, Woude van der LHV, Goosey-Tolfrey VL (2010). A qualitative examination of wheelchair configuration for optimal sports performance. In L.H.V van der Woude, F. Hoekstra, S. de Groot, K.E. Bijker, R. Dekker, P.C.T. van Aanholt, F.J. Hettinga, T.W.J. Janssen & J.H.P. Houdijk (Eds.), Rehabilitation: Mobility, Exercise and Sports. 4th International State-of-the-Art Congress (pp. 415-417). Amsterdam: IOS Press.

    Chapter 4 (pilot study):

    Lutgendorf M, Mason BS, Woude van der LHV, Goosey-Tolfrey VL (2010). The effect of glove type on wheelchair rugby sports performance. In L.H.V van der Woude, F. Hoekstra, S. de Groot, K.E. Bijker, R. Dekker, P.C.T. van Aanholt, F.J. Hettinga,

  • v

    T.W.J. Janssen & J.H.P. Houdijk (Eds.), Rehabilitation: Mobility, Exercise and Sports. 4th International State-of-the-Art Congress (pp. 363-365). Amsterdam: IOS Press.

    Chapter 4:

    Mason BS, Woude van der LHV, Goosey-Tolfrey VL (2010). The influence of glove type on mobility performance for wheelchair rugby players. In L.H.V van der Woude, F. Hoekstra, S. de Groot, K.E. Bijker, R. Dekker, P.C.T. van Aanholt, F.J. Hettinga, T.W.J. Janssen & J.H.P. Houdijk (Eds.), Rehabilitation: Mobility, Exercise and Sports. 4th International State-of-the-Art Congress (pp. 349-351). Amste