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What is Rolling Resistance and How Does it Affect Manual Wheelchair Use?

What is Rolling Resistance and How Does it Affect Manual Wheelchair Use?

Rolling resistance is a critical concept in the world of manual wheelchair use, often overlooked but fundamentally important. Understanding rolling resistance can help wheelchair users, healthcare providers, and manufacturers make informed decisions that enhance comfort, efficiency, and overall health.


Understanding Rolling Resistance

Rolling resistance is the force that opposes the movement of a wheelchair due to the friction and deformation of the tyres as they roll over surfaces. It's similar to the effort you feel when pushing a shopping cart with a stuck wheel; the resistance makes the cart harder to push. For wheelchair users, minimizing rolling resistance means less effort is required to move, which is crucial for conserving energy and reducing the risk of repetitive strain injuries in the upper body. 

Crucial Factors Influencing Rolling Resistance and Tips to Reduce It

Several factors contribute to rolling resistance, and understanding these can help optimise wheelchair performance:

  1. Tyre Pressure

Under-inflated tyres have higher rolling resistance. Regularly checking and maintaining the recommended tyre pressure is crucial. Properly inflated tyres ensure smoother rides and less effort in propulsion.


  1. Weight

The weight of the user and the wheelchair combined directly impacts rolling resistance. Heavier loads increase resistance, making the wheelchair harder to push. It's essential to minimize unnecessary weight and distribute it optimally. Keep the majority of weight over the rear axle with a forward axle position. 


  1. Toe In/Out

Misalignment of the rear wheels, known as toe in/out, significantly increases rolling resistance. Regular maintenance checks to ensure wheel alignment and to correct any excessive movement in the wheels can help reduce rolling resistance.



  1. Surfaces

Different surfaces affect rolling resistance differently. Smooth, hard surfaces like tile or concrete offer less resistance compared to softer surfaces like carpet or grass. Users should be aware of the surfaces they encounter daily and plan accordingly. Reducing the time spent on carpet and ramps can reduce rolling resistance. 


  1. Caster and Tyres Type

The type of tyres and casters used also plays a role. Pneumatic (air-filled) tyres generally offer lower rolling resistance compared to solid or airless insert tyres. Selecting the right type of tyre based on the user's environment and needs is essential.



Perceived Weight Equivalents

Increased force can be thought of as increased weight a user must carry

 *compared to a high pressure pneumatic tire on a hard surface with a 113 kg user and device weight


Benefits of Minimising Rolling Resistance

By reducing rolling resistance, wheelchair users can experience significant benefits, including:

  • Enhanced Mobility: Easier propulsion means greater independence and mobility.
  • Reduced Fatigue: Less effort in moving the wheelchair reduces overall fatigue, allowing users to conserve energy for other activities.
  • Decreased Risk of Injury: Lower resistance reduces the strain on the upper body, decreasing the risk of repetitive strain injuries and pain.


Understanding and minimizing rolling resistance is crucial for enhancing the efficiency and comfort of manual wheelchair use. By focusing on key factors like tyre pressure, weight, wheel alignment, surface type, and tyre selection, wheelchair users can significantly improve their daily mobility experience.

For more detailed information and personalised advice, always consult with healthcare providers and our wheelchair specialists. Their expertise can help tailor solutions to individual needs, ensuring the best possible outcomes for wheelchair users.