MEDLINE and Researching Wheelchair Related Topics

  • Are you looking for information to help you understand the implications of a diagnosis?
  • Has a question about your long term health as a wheelchair user been on your mind?
  • Do you wonder if you need better information to help you or your students make a more informed clinical decisions?

If any of these questions sound like you, using MEDLINE (Medical Literature, Analysis and Retrieval System on Line) could be just what you need. MEDLINE is a database of over 11 million references articles from the life sciences containing the findings of clinicians and research scientists.

A related resource is MEDLINEplus, a database within MEDLINE that offers health information tailored for consumers. In addition to an encyclopedia of medical terms, MEDLINEplus contain about 4,000 articles on diseases, tests, symptoms, injuries and surgeries. All of these can be important resources for beginning to learn more about a medically related topic.

Using the peer-reviewed medical or life science journals contained in MEDLINE gives access to the primary sources of new peer reviewed findings. "Peer-reviewed" means that the scientific work contained in the article has been critiqued and passed by other scientists with similar research interests and expertise in research design and statistical procedures. The public can place greater confidence in findings reported in a peer-reviewed journal.

Medline uses a vocabulary of subject headings called MeSH (Medical Subject Headings). The MeSH vocabulary is the NLM's dictionary or thesaurus of all the current biomedical subject headings, subheading and supplementary chemical terms that are used in their many databases. MeSH terminology provides a consistent way to retrieve information that may use different terminology for the same concepts. For instance, if you search on the word " "wheelchair" you will find that the MeSH terms is "wheelchairs" which is within the category "self-help devices."

The National Library of Medicine ( has two free web-based services that allow you to search MEDLINE.

  • PubMed is the primary means of getting access to MEDLINE. It includes basic as well as advanced search options. The advanced options include the ability to preview the number of search results before displaying citations and to refine search strategies by adding on or more terms one at a time. A full overview of PubMed is available on the site.
  • Internet Grateful Med offers access to more information in addition to Medline. This includes other NLM databases on molecular biology with 3-D structural data, AIDS, bioethics, history of medicine, toxicology, health service research and additional topics. Grateful Med will be gradually retired in the year 2001 and replaced by the new NLM Gateway, which does simultaneous searching in multiple NLM databases.

A Trial Search

So lets go ahead and do a search. Suppose you are interested in the topic of manual wheelchair propulsions and rotator cuff injures. We have already established that "wheelchairs" is a MeSH term. Lets see what MeSH uses for the kind of shoulder injury often called a "rotator cuff tear." After clicking on "MeSH Browser" type in the phrase "rotator cuff tear." The browser reports that there is no exact match and gives some options for improving or refining your terminology. Let choose "cuff, rotator" and "injury" and go back to the "Journal Browser" and type in our search term: "wheelchairs and rotator cuff injury." This linking together of search terms produces the journal articles that match.

You can click on the articles and read their abstracts and print them or save them if you wish. The abstract is the summary of the findings contained in the long research article. If you want to read the entire article, you will need to get it from a library that has the journal in its holdings or order it through the Lonesome Doc services. Some of the larger journals are available in full text online. If the article falls into this category you will be able to print or read the entire article on the WWW at no charge to you.

If you are interested in storing the results of several searches you can use the NLM feature called "cubby" to create a personalized cubby hole for yourself. Full directions for registering for this free service and updating searches are available on the site.

Additional Training

If you are interested in delving deeper in the NLM research, free classes are available through the National Online Training Center. These classes are scheduled across the US through out the year. Course descriptions and schedules of regional training are posted on the website at There are also online self training manuals or workbooks for developing your skill with PubMed and Internet Grateful Med that are available for download and use.

There are additional research related resources on the WheelchairNet site within Wheelchair University under the research heading. Take a look if this topic interests you.

If you want to ask questions about research and wheeled mobility be sure to make use of the discussion resources on WheelchairNet.

Written by:
Mary Ellen Buning, MS, OTR/L, ATP

Last Updated: 3-2-2006

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 © Copyright 2006 University of Pittsburgh. All rights reserved.
No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WheelchairNet and the Department of Rehabilitation Science and Technology.

Please note: This information is provided a archival information from the Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center on Wheeled Mobility from 1993 to 2002.

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