Perth Scooter Gran gets scientific seal of approval

Scooter Gran Barbel Rogrig. Picture: Ian Rutherford
Scooter Gran Barbel Rogrig. Picture: Ian Rutherford
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SHE became an internet sensation last year after video clips of sprightly “Perth Scooter Gran” Barbel Roerig, whizzing around her home city on her fold-up scooter, were first posted on Facebook.

The 74-year-old grandmother of two attracted a following of thousands of admiring fans from as far afield as Colombia, Pakistan, New Zealand, Mexico and Afghanistan as her scootering antics went viral

The retired architectural technician explained back in October that she had taken up her odd mode of transport to get around, while carrying her Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles shopping bag, as a cure for sore knees.

Now a team of experts in muscle, bone and joint disorders at Glasgow’s Caledonian University have revealed for the first time that the pensioner’s conviction that taking to the scooter was helping ease her painful joints is based on scientific fact.

The Institute for Applied Health Research and the School of Health & Life Sciences borrowed a child’s scooter and used a volunteer member of staff to mimic Mrs Roerig’s movements in a series of carefully monitored laboratory experiments.

They were astounded by the results which have shown that the pensioner’s unusual means of getting around can lead to a staggering reduction of almost 70 per cent on the load on the leg being used to propel a scooter along the road.

Martijn Steultjens, a Professor of musculoskeletal health at the university, explained that he and his colleagues had decided to try the experiments after reading about Mrs Roerig’s antics.

He said: “We noticed that she had stated that she had used the scooter because it reduced the pain in her knees and we were intrigued because that is mainly our area of research.

“And one of the ways that knees get painful is because they are overloaded because the load on the knee is too high.

“We were interested to see if scootering could reduce the load on the knee and conducted a series of experiments to see if that was the case.”

A volunteer member of staff, using a scooter borrowed from a child of one of the team, studied video clips Mrs Roerig in action so he could accurately copy her movements in the university’s “gait” laboratory. A computer simulation of the volunteer “scooting” in the laboratory was generated to track the movements and display the loads.

Prof Steultjens said the team had been staggered by the findings. He said: “What normally happens if you walk, as soon as your foot hits the floor, you get quite a big jolt through the knee and at that moment you are bearing about one and half times your body weight. But what we saw with the scootering is that that big jolt almost completely disappears.

“We found that the load on the leg being used to propel the scooter – the stepping leg so to speak – was reduced by as much as 67 per cent. We were not surprised that it reduced the load to some extent but we were really surprised just how much it did so.”

But Prof Steultjens cautioned against hordes of pensioners with painful knees following Mrs Roerig’s lead, adding: “It might be suitable for people who don’t have any issues with balance or control of their movements.”