What is a Tilt Wheelchair?

Keith Koons

A tilt wheelchair is a type of mobile pressure reduction device in which the chair's seat may be tilted in zero to approximately 40 degrees while its wheels remain stable on the ground. Although typically made of aluminum or steel, this design makes a wheelchair compact and heavy and does not make it possible for the wheelchair to fold. There are two types of tilt wheelchairs — the manual model, which is pushed by a care-giver, and the electric wheelchair, which is self-operated by the user through a centralized control panel. Unlike other types of wheelchairs, a tilt system addresses the need of patients to frequently change positions to minimize pressure sores caused by prolonged sitting. Ultimately, the tilt wheelchair provides mobility-challenged individuals extended overall comfort and a higher sitting tolerance.

A tilt wheelchair may be suitable for someone with a spinal cord injury.
A tilt wheelchair may be suitable for someone with a spinal cord injury.

Patients enjoy several benefits from a tilt wheelchair that they will not find in other types of medically designed models. For example, without a tilt system, a patient with a forward curve in the upper spine would constantly face the floor. The addition of a tilt mechanism allows him to view his surroundings with ease. In this type of wheelchair, only the physical orientation changes, so a patient still can maintain proper orientation with his communication and electronic medical devices.

The tilt wheelchair also prevents various types of shear, which is the friction on skin tissues caused by dragging across a surface; shear often results in a misalignment of the body on the chair. This benefit makes a tilt wheelchair especially suitable for patients with cerebral palsy or those with head and spinal cord injuries whose movements are highly restricted.

Initially considered a life-saving device that provides paraplegics mobility, the tilt wheelchair has now evolved into a piece of equipment that empowers its users to optimize their abilities in all aspects in life. One of these areas is sports, wherein disabled athletes who participate in races and other competitions have turned their wheelchairs into extensions of their bodies. This has driven the engineering and design of sports wheelchairs to the next level, particularly the racing models.

While patient comfort and safety are the primarily considerations for tilt wheelchairs, mobility and lightweight materials are critical attributes for sports wheelchairs. Clearly, the direction of assistive technology is toward designs that fit the specific needs of individuals. This includes specialized models that tilt in space to racing wheelchairs that can attain speeds of more than 30 miles per hour (about 48 kph).

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