The purpose of wheelchair brakes is to hold a wheelchair stationery and keep the user safe. Do you know how to maintain and make adjustments to your wheelchair brakes? Do you know when to replace them? This article will tell you everything you need to know about this vital equipment.
What types of wheelchair brakes are there?
There are a number of types of brakes that wheelchair users can install on their chair’s wheels. They are designed to hold a wheelchair in a safe stationary position. The brakes are usually called wheelchair wheel locks or wheelchair brakes. They can keep a wheelchair stationery when the user is engaged in a task or transferring to another piece of equipment.
What is a wheelchair wheel lock?
The most commonly used wheel lock on a manual wheelchair is the push / pull lock. A lever is pulled or pushed (hence the name) to make a bar press into the tyre of the chair, keeping it steady and stable. Different locks are available to suit people with different degrees of strength and coordination, so test out a few before making your purchase, to ensure you get one you can easily manage.
Scissor locks are designed for more active wheelchair users, but could prove difficult for people with limited fine motor skills. While wheel hub locks have a concealed lever that locks the wheel via the wheel hub instead of the tyre.
Extensions are also available for people who have less strength or limited reach, which can help a wheelchair user to operate their chair independently.
Should you use wheelchair brakes whilst in motion?
Wheelchair brakes are not designed to slow a wheelchair down when it is moving, even though some people use them for this purpose. Users of manual wheelchairs slow their wheelchairs down by using pressure from their hands on the wheel rims, and users of electric wheelchairs use their controls to slow the chair down.
- A power assist wheelchair fills the gap between a manual chair with no brake assistance, and a power chair with brakes. A power assist wheelchair looks similar to a manual one, but comes with clever technology installed, which automatically applies the brakes when the wheelchair user is going downhill. The light electronics detect the hand movement on the rims of a chair’s wheels, and slow or stop a chair according to what they sense.
- Electric wheelchairs also have braking systems that allow the user to slow down and stop without requiring physical effort or careful manual dexterity. Usually operated by the user’s hand or head movements, brakes keep the user safe in a busy world and are a vital aspect of a modern wheelchair.
How do you maintain and adjust your wheelchair brakes?
Carrying out ongoing care and maintenance of the brakes on your wheelchair is incredibly important, so that they last a long time and do not cause any safety or usability issues.
Your wheelchair’s brakes should really be checked once per week. Make sure you look at:
- Whether the brakes are looser or tighter than usual. Are they too loose or tight to operate effectively and easily?
- Whether the brakes are effectively stopping the chair from moving.
- Whether the brakes are easy to lock and unlock.(Do they require some maintenance oil?)
- Are the brakes in a position where they could cause harm or injury? (e.g. are they in a position where the user’s thumb may catch on the brake when self-propelling?)
Always double check your chair’s manual when you want to check how effectively your brakes and wheel locks are working. If they then need to be tightened or loosened, especially when you first get the wheelchair, the instructions are likely to be within the manual. Often, it is possible for the user of the chair or their assistant to do this themselves. Where possible, learning to maintain your own wheelchair is a valuable life skill which can serve you well in times of need. Most wheelchairs come with a basic toolkit which can be used for rudimentary repairs.
If you received your wheelchair from your local health authority then you should be able to make an appointment with them if you have any adjustments which you need carried out on your wheelchair. Failing this, when seeking help with either adjusting or maintaining your wheelchair’s brakes, it’s better to locate a store which predominantly specialises in mobility aids – as they will likely have staff members that are trained in wheelchair maintenance.
How do you put brakes on a wheelchair?
Every set of wheelchair brakes will come with instructions as to how you assemble them and attach them to the frame of your wheelchair. The positioning of the brakes will depend a lot on:
- What type of wheelchair brakes they are
- What type of wheelchair you have
Not every type of wheelchair brake will be appropriate for every wheelchair. It would therefore be best advised to only purchase the same brakes which originally came with your wheelchair, if the old brakes are needing replaced. Most sets of brakes will be positioned on the same part of the wheelchair as the previous set – and can be attached using the toolkit provided when originally receiving your wheelchair.
There are many ‘how to’ videos on YouTube – often specific to different types of wheelchair (such as the Kuschall range). These video guides can be great to follow along with, especially if you’re unsure about how to make any changes or adjustments.
If uncertainty persists, it’s best to seek professional help. This can be either through your local health authority, occupational therapist, or at a local mobility store. Some bike stores may also be able to help – however, wheelchairs tend not to be their ultimate area of expertise, so be careful.