Study design: Descriptive self-report survey.
Objectives: To assess activity level, medical history, and the prevalence and intensity of shoulder and upper extremity pain experienced during functional activities in female athletes who compete in wheelchairs.
Background: Previous studies have documented a high incidence of upper extremity soft tissue disorders in athletes who compete in wheelchairs. None of these studies have specifically focused on female athletes who use wheelchairs.
Methods and measures: Forty-six female wheelchair basketball players completed an anonymous survey that included demographic data, medical history data, and the Wheelchair User's Shoulder Pain Index (WUSPI). The WUSPI is a valid and reliable self-report measure scored from 0 to 150, with higher scores indicating a greater intensity of shoulder pain during functional activities.
Results: The average age of the respondents was 33.2 (+/- 9.1) years, with an average of 12.5 (+/- 10.2) years of wheelchair use. Their disabilities included 39% spinal cord injury, 28% various lower extremity musculoskeletal and neuromuscular disabilities, 13% postpolio paralysis, 11% spina bifida, and 9% amputations. Only 14% of the subjects reported shoulder pain prior to wheelchair use. In contrast, 72% of the subjects reported shoulder pain since wheelchair use, with 52% reporting current shoulder pain. Overall, the subjects scored an average +/- SD performance-corrected total WUSPI score of 15.6 +/- 20.5 on a scale of 0 to 150 points, with 0 representing no pain. The highest intensity of shoulder pain was reported during household chores, propulsion on ramps or inclines, lifting overhead, and while sleeping.
Conclusions: Shoulder and upper extremity pain was a very common problem reported by over 90% of the subjects in this study. Prevention of pain and chronic disability in athletes who use wheelchairs should be addressed by coaches, players, and health care professionals.