Wheelchair Brakes Or Wheel Locks?

There are different types of wheelchair brakes/locks. There are manual, auto-lock, and disc brake systems. In this article I will discuss a few of the various kinds stated to give you a better understanding of the differences and the specific use.

Wheelchair locks are meant to keep the wheelchair in “park” while the user transfers in or out of the chair. Wheelchair brakes help to slow or stop a wheelchair when descending or turning.

Many consider locks and brakes to be the same thing. I feel they are, but then again I am not a wheelchair user. It is a good idea to have them installed on your chair to avoid over exertion and fatigue when trying to stay in one location in buildings or when performing your daily tasks, such as studying at a desk or doing the dishes. Unnecessary counterbalancing to maintain a specific position can cause increased health risks and complications in the future.

Those who use their chairs for sports sometimes like to remove their wheelchair brakes to avoid getting injured thumbs or hands. This can be dangerous, especially if they don't put the brakes back on their wheelchairs when ready to return to everyday activities. There are special wheelchairs for different sports.

Manual Wheelchair Locks

The push/pull style of lock is standard on most wheelchairs and is positioned in front of the large wheel on most folding wheelchairs. It is engaged by either pulling the lever back or pushing forward until the bar presses in on the tire. A lock system that you pull to lock and push to release is the most common, however, not necessarily the best for you or your client.

You need to be sure you have enough strength, coordination and grip to lock and unlock the levers. Incomplete quads or those with limited grip and fine motor coordination will find that those you push to lock and pull to release may work better.

If you have limited reach you can purchase lock extension levers in various lengths to enable independent operation. Please keep in mind that when using extension levers and swing away foot rests, the levers can be accidentally unlocked. It is best to remove the foot rests prior to transferring in or out of your wheelchair.

The scissor lock wheelchair brakes are used by the more active wheelchair user and is generally chosen on the sportier style wheelchairs. It is mounted on the top rail of the side frame and is stored under the seat when not in use. Very active wheelchair users have been known to sustain hand injuries on the push/pull locks with quick arm movement during propulsion due to the close proximity to the wheels.

Surelock has created the Lock n Roll wheelchair hub locking hub system. It provides a secure and consistent wheelchair locking system by employing a positive locking mechanism that engages at the wheel's hub, not the tire.

The system consists of three basic parts:

Activator Body with lever (mounted to the wheelchair's frame)

Locking Pin (mounted at the end of the wheelchair's axle)

Wheel hub disc with 27 holes that accept the pin

Simply flip the lever, the locking pins spring out to locate on of the 27 holes on each wheel's hub disc locking the chair. Move the lever back and the chair is free to roll.

Another style of wheelchair locks is the foot lock which is installed on tilt wheelchairs that cannot be folded. It is placed behind the seat for the use of the caregiver. The wheelchair user is unable to use this style. This brake is mounted to the lower side bar and is connected to a center bar that is accessible by using your foot to press and lock the brake.

Automatic Wheelchair Brakes

There are older auto lock wheelchair brakes being used in most nursing homes that are not user friendly. These fit on a manual folding wheelchair. Education is an important part of the Occupational Therapy role in fall prevention with the new brake systems on the market today.

Fall prevention also means ensuring the safety of those in wheelchairs who have dementia, Alzheimer’s, strokes or may be taking medications that affect clear thinking. These people are at the greatest risk for fall and do not remember to lock their wheelchair brakes, do not use their call light or ask for assistance.

The latest auto lock brake systems are easily installed on existing folding wheelchairs such as the Everest and Jennings, Invacare, Medline and Drive brands. Jerry Ford Company has developed a Safe-T-Chair System as well as the Safer Automatic Wheelchair Wheel Locks Company.

The advantages are many as approximately 50% of falls in nursing homes occur from wheelchair users not remembering to lock their brakes or using their arms to push up from the chair. These falls can result in the individuals sustaining fractures and costing the health care industry billions in dollars.

Why not invest in a safer method to decrease the chance of a fall from a moving wheelchair? The automatic locking brake systems that attach to the handle of a wheelchair and still allow the chair to fold and easily roll when the individual is walking is a win-win-win solution for the individual, the nursing staff and the facility.

Spring activated levers move and shift fixed gear blocks into contact with gear hubs mounted on each wheel when the individual gets up from the seat. The teeth lock together to prevent the chair from moving.

Disc Brake Systems

The latest in technology uses a patented disc brake system so you can descend ramps and hills, lock your wheels with finger-tip strength and enjoy increased independence.

Wheelchair users of all levels can use this technology to lock their wheels for safer transfers. ADI Disc brake systems have a patented two piece hub design to maintain quick release wheels, uses a deceleration brake when managing ramps, reduces pain by eliminating twisting and repetitive motion, enhances safety and independence by allowing users to roll under desks and tables and lock brakes with ease.

The variable lever allows the user to lock the wheelchair brakes on both wheels with a single lever. This variable lever allows the user to navigate down hills and ramps safely. The two piece hub component is what allows the user to control the chair in four different positions for transfers and maneuverability. It can be installed on most manual wheelchairs to retain quick release and removal of the wheels for storage and transportation.

The paraplegic user has a true braking system utilizing bicycle type brake levers with a lock button for transfers. With good hand function and trunk control the user can use the left or right side for independent cornering and maneuvering. This style reduces stress on the shoulder and elbows by reducing needed repetitive effort. The levers are mounted to the left and right side of the chair frame, operate independently of each other and feature lock buttons for transfers.

E-Brakes use a patented electrically actuated brake system to lock both wheels at the same time. This system uses a single toggle switch located conveniently on the frame. This makes transfers safer and this system can be adapted to fit most rigid style chairs. Although the original design was for those with limited upper extremity strength, many users simply want the best in disc brake technology. This is an ideal system for the active C5-6 quadriplegic user.


The basic wheel lock is referred to by many as a wheelchair brake. It is designed to keep the wheelchair from rolling during transfers or when sitting still. What you need in a brake system will help determine if the standard push/pull locks will be sufficient.

You may need an automatic brake system to decrease the risk of a fall from someone who has dementia or forgets to lock their brakes before getting up or sitting down. If you are an active paraplegic or quadriplegic wheelchair user the latest in disc brake systems may be what you are looking for.

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