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Quick Guide to Stand-Up Wheelchairs

Updated on April 1, 2014
Missouri surgeon, Dr Ted Rummell, who returned to the operating room after suffering paralysis from the waist down.
Missouri surgeon, Dr Ted Rummell, who returned to the operating room after suffering paralysis from the waist down. | Source

Stand Up Wheelchairs

You may have seen a lot of publicity about stand-up wheelchairs in the news and on social media lately following the viral video of Missouri surgeon, Dr Ted Rummell, who returned to the operating room after suffering paralysis from the waist down, and continued operating thanks to his stand-up wheelchair

What is a Stand-up Wheelchair?

A stand-up wheelchair is designed to incorporate an extensive range of functions and allows the user unparalleled flexibility and comfort in their day-to-day living. They are either operated manually, or have power operated wheels and manual lifting mechanisms, or are fully powered with hydraulic lifting mechanisms.

Powerchair without standing capabilty
Powerchair without standing capabilty

Many powerchairs without a standing capacity are fully powered and have a wide range of functions including tilt-in-space, seat raise/lower backwards/forwards seat slide and side transfer functions.

Balder F290 stand-up wheelchair
Balder F290 stand-up wheelchair

However, standing electric wheelchairs, such as the Etac E890 (capable of carrying up to 120kg) and E895 (capable of carrying up to 150kg,) have the additional power-assisted functions of sit-to-stand and lie-to-stand. Top of the range standing wheelchairs, including the Balder F290 powered wheelchair, even allow the user to drive around safely in a standing position whilst on flat ground.

What Disabilities is a Stand Up Wheelchair Suitable For?

Standing wheelchairs can be used by people with mild to severe disabilities including:

  • Spinal cord injury
  • Brain injury
  • Cerebral palsy
  • Spina bifida
  • Muscular dystrophy
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Stroke
  • Paraplegia
  • Quadriplegia

There are a variety of standing electric wheelchair options available from various manufacturers, which can accommodate mild to severe disabilities. It is essential that every wheelchair user undergoes a professional assessment to ensure that they get the correct seating support and alignment. The assessor will also ensure that the wheelchair is the correct dimension to fit to each individual’s body measurements and postural presentation.

A stand-up wheelchair allows the user increased independence and improves quality of life.
A stand-up wheelchair allows the user increased independence and improves quality of life.

The Health Benefits of a Stand Up Wheelchair

A stand up wheelchair has the ability to radically improve the quality of life of the wheelchair user and enable them to reach goals they might not have thought possible.

It can help individuals to realise their full potential both at work and in the home to inspire a sense of achievement, promote inner confidence and give that extra bit of independence to improve day-to-day life.

There are also naturally occurring health benefits just from changing posture.

When someone is forced to sit in the same position for an extended and extreme period of time health problems can occur. It has been well documented in medical publications that the benefits of using standing powerchairs can include the following:-

Physical Benefits of Standing Wheelchairs

Circulation – Sitting in one position can cause the blood to stagnate and reduce circulation to other places of the body. Changing the posture from seating to standing can help the blood circulate around the body

Breathing – by standing the thoracic cage is extended and the chest wall and diaphragm are able to contract and expand normally. Lung capacity and oxygen intake can be improved increasing the oxygen supply to the brain and other organs.

Digestion – Standing means that the abdomen is not compressed allowing the digestive system to work more effectively.

Muscle tone and circulation - Because the chair allows for more movement and flexibility both muscle tone and circulation can be improved. This can reduce problems such as swollen ankles and feet and as skin tone is improved it reduces the risk of leg ulcers.

Bladder and Bowel – Standing increases the volume in the abdominal area and the gravitational pull on the bowels can increase both the bowel and bladder function.

Pressure Sores – Pressure sores occur from constant pressure on one area of the body. Being able to stand up in a wheelchair helps distribute your weight and improve the healing of pressure sores.

Stiffness– Sitting for long periods of time may cause the joints and muscles to become stiff and /or spasm. Standing allows the muscles to get stretched and exercised, decreasing the amount of stiffness in joints and muscles and can prevent and reduce spasticity.

Bone Density – There is also evidence to show that standing on a regular basis can strengthen the bones

Psychological Benefits of Standing Wheelchairs

Independence – Standing is the foundation of re-gaining independence. Being able to do day-to-day activities that most people take for granted such as having a conversation at eye-level can allow the individual to feel more socially accepted and able to participate in more social activities, reducing isolation.

Increased cognition – Better circulation often means better cognition. Increasing the oxygen circulated in the blood by standing may help with certain cognitive tasks such as memory and focus.

Fatigue – Muscles may atrophy and quickly tire from long periods of sitting down. Standing up helps to keep muscles moving and can reduce fatigue and increase vitality.

Depression – Gaining the ability to stand, even with assistance, helps reclaim a certain amount of control and can help to reduce symptoms of depression.

Srin in his electric wheelchair
Srin in his electric wheelchair

Stand-Up Wheelchairs Improve Quality of Life

Srin Madipalli, 26 and from central London, is a prime example of how a stand-up powerchair can allow people to achieve their goals and overcome a debilitating, genetic disease. Despite having Type 2 SMA, which causes muscle weakness and a progressive loss of movement Srin has achieved a first class degree in Biochemistry at King’s College in London, qualified as a high-flying corporate lawyer and now manages the highly successful Disability Horizons website, all with the help of his stand-up electric wheelchair.

He uses a highly manoeuvrable Balder F290 powerchair for day-to-day mobility and as this sophisticated, Scandinavian-built powerchair provides sit-to-stand capabilities, Srin is able to engage with fellow professionals at eye level and easily access all resources around his office.

Even though Srin spends the majority of his time involved in legal cases, he still manages to find time to enjoy global travel and past adventures have included scuba diving, flying a plane, wheelchair trekking through the Alps and a camping safari in Africa.

Funding for Stand-Up Wheelchairs

There are various ways of funding your stand-up wheelchair. If you are in work, want to start working or start your own business Access to Work will assess your situation and decide how much you will receive towards the wheelchair based on your individual circumstances.

NHS Wheelchair Services operate a wheelchair voucher scheme, which gives you greater choice in the wheelchair you receive. You're given a voucher to the value of the chair you would have been offered after your assessment (which is determined locally in each individual case). You can then put the voucher towards the cost of a chair that you buy privately or in partnership with the NHS.

There are also charities you can approach for funding such as

  • The ACT Foundation
  • Aspire
  • The Mobility Trust
  • MS Society
  • Motor Neurone Disease Association
  • Caudwell Charitable Trust
  • Cerebra
  • Children Today Charitable Trust
  • Elifar
  • Joseph Patrick Trust
  • Variety Club, The Children's Charity
  • New Life

If you have any more questions and queries regarding stand-up wheelchairs it is best to talk to one of the charities listed above, contact NHS Wheelchair Services, speak to a reputable supplier, such as Etac or Balder as mentioned above, or discuss your situation with your Occupational Therapist or Case Manager.

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