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Open Access Open Badges Review

Constraints influencing sports wheelchair propulsion performance and injury risk

Emily Churton1 and Justin WL Keogh123*

Author Affiliations

1 Sport Performance Research Institute New Zealand, School of Sport and Recreation, AUT University, Private Bag 92006, Auckland 1142, New Zealand

2 Bond University Research Centre for Health, Exercise and Sports Sciences, Faculty of Health Sciences and Medicine, Bond University, Gold Coast 4229, Australia

3 Faculty of Science, Health, Education and Engineering, University of the Sunshine Coast, Sippy Downs, QLD, Australia

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BMC Sports Science, Medicine and Rehabilitation 2013, 5:3  doi:10.1186/2052-1847-5-3

Published: 28 March 2013


The Paralympic Games are the pinnacle of sport for many athletes with a disability. A potential issue for many wheelchair athletes is how to train hard to maximise performance while also reducing the risk of injuries, particularly to the shoulder due to the accumulation of stress placed on this joint during activities of daily living, training and competition. The overall purpose of this narrative review was to use the constraints-led approach of dynamical systems theory to examine how various constraints acting upon the wheelchair-user interface may alter hand rim wheelchair performance during sporting activities, and to a lesser extent, their injury risk. As we found no studies involving Paralympic athletes that have directly utilised the dynamical systems approach to interpret their data, we have used this approach to select some potential constraints and discussed how they may alter wheelchair performance and/or injury risk. Organism constraints examined included player classifications, wheelchair setup, training and intrinsic injury risk factors. Task constraints examined the influence of velocity and types of locomotion (court sports vs racing) in wheelchair propulsion, while environmental constraints focused on forces that tend to oppose motion such as friction and surface inclination. Finally, the ecological validity of the research studies assessing wheelchair propulsion was critiqued prior to recommendations for practice and future research being given.

Adapted physical activity; Biomechanics; Constraints-led approach; Dynamical systems theory; Paralympic sport