Effect of reverse manual wheelchair propulsion on shoulder kinematics, kinetics and muscular activity in persons with paraplegia

Objective: Shoulder pain after spinal cord injury (SCI) is attributed to increased mobility demands on the arms and negatively impacts independence and quality of life. Repetitive superior and posterior shoulder joint forces produced during traditional wheelchair (WC) locomotion can result in subacromial impingement if unopposed, as with muscular fatigue or weakness. ROWHEELS® (RW), geared rear wheels that produce forward WC movement with backward rim pulling, could alter these forces.

Design: Cross sectional.

Setting: Research laboratory at a rehabilitation hospital.

Participants: Ten manual WC users with paraplegia.

Outcome measures: Propulsion characteristics and right upper extremity/trunk kinematics and shoulder muscle activity were collected during ergometer propulsion: (1) self-selected free speed reverse propulsion with RW, (2) matched-speed reverse (rSW), and (3) forward propulsion (fSW) with instrumented Smartwheels (SW). Inverse dynamics using right-side SW rim kinetics and kinematics compared shoulder kinetics during rSW and fSW.

Results: Free propulsion velocity, cycle distance and cadence were similar during RW, rSW and fSW. Overall shoulder motion was similar except that peak shoulder extension was significantly reduced in both RW and rSW versus fSW. Anteriorly and inferiorly directed SW rim forces were decreased during rSW versus fSW propulsion, but posteriorly and superiorly directed rim forces were significantly greater. Superior and posterior shoulder joint forces and flexor, adductor, and external rotation moments were significantly less during rSW, without a significant difference in net shoulder forces and moments. Traditional propulsive-phase muscle activity was significantly reduced and recovery-phase muscle activity was increased during reverse propulsion.

Conclusion: These results suggest that reverse propulsion may redirect shoulder demands and prevent subacromial impingement, thereby preventing injury and preserving independent mobility for individuals with paraplegia.