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Simple Steps to Maintaining a Manual Wheelchair

Posted 8/14/11
Written by Chris Stoeri
Running a business that sells wheelchair parts, I often get asked questions on wheelchair maintenance – from changing tires, bearings, and upholstery, to caster forks and casters. Many times the questions come from people with chairs that are not very old. We love the questions and enjoy helping people fix whatever problem they may be having with their wheelchair. So much so we have written numerous buying guides for parts that include tips, tricks and instructions for many of the parts categories we sell. Some even include how-to videos.
Replacing a tire because you have used it up versus replacing a tire because it was underinflated and as a result it pinched in a doorway and blew out are different in that one of the replacements could have been avoided. The goal of this article is to generate awareness about simple things you can do to keep your wheelchair in top condition and provide years of service.
Here are some easy things you can do yourself (or with someone else) that will keep your wheelchair operating at peak performance:
  • Periodically check the air pressure in your tires if you have air filled tires. Natural air loss through an inner tube is about 25% per month. Even if you don’t use your chair that much, the loss still occurs. Having low air pressure requires more effort on the push rims to get going and to maintain your momentum. It can also pose a safety risk by increasing your likelihood of getting a flat tire. In most cases a bicycle air pump is all that is needed.
  • Inspect your casters and caster forks for debris and clean them as necessary. You may need to remove the caster or the fork to really get all of the debris out. I often see caster wheels and forks with all sorts of hair and debris wrapped around them. Not only does this keep the caster and caster fork from spinning freely, it causes premature wearing of the bearings. Typical wheelchairs have two bearings per caster fork and two bearings per caster wheel – that’s eight bearings on the front of your chair! Most bearings are low in price, but take that low price and multiply it by 8 and suddenly it’s not so low anymore.
  • Inspect your rear wheels for debris wrapped around the axle. The rear wheels are less likely to have hair and debris wrapped around them but should be checked periodically and cleaned as necessary. Rear wheels generally have two bearings per wheel and keeping them clean helps ensure their longevity.
  • If your wheelchair is a foldable type that can be transported, make sure that it unfolds smoothly all the way down into its locked position. If it won’t go all the way down, look for an obstruction like a positioning belt, wheelchair bag or pocket, straps, etc. Using a wheelchair that is not in its down and locked position can put strain on the various parts and may even cause the frame to bend.
  • Check your upholstery regularly – look for rips or tears in the fabric especially around the secure points (screws). Check both the seat and the seat back. Make sure you have proper tension before sitting in it (unfolding the chair all the way down to its locked position).
  • Inspect the wheel locks regularly. When you push or pull on the lever (depending on the type), it should go into the tire enough to keep it from moving. It is possible for a wheel lock to become loose and no longer provide the stopping power it once did. Most wheel locks can be adjusted back and forth with the turn of one bolt (the one that attaches the whole assembly to the chair). In most cases having the locking part set about 1/4 to 3/8 of an inch back from the tire in the open position will ensure it locks properly. Never try and adjust any of the other bolts or screws as they are preset at the time of manufacture.
  • Lastly, keep your wheelchair clean. Wipe it down with a disinfectant periodically. If you have a seat cushion, see if you can remove the cover to wash it.
Now I realize that if you are a wheelchair user, you may not be able to perform these tasks on your own. Consider partnering with someone such as a friend, loved one, or a caregiver to help.

About the Author
Chris Stoeri was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis at age 17, and has spent several years as an active volunteer for the Arthritis Foundation. He founded EnableYourLife.com to help people with all types of diabilities to more easily tackle their daily challenges, providing a wide range of mobility products, self help aids, wheelchair parts and accessories, and thousands of other medical produtcts and supplies.

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