Fall-related fractures in persons with spinal cord impairment: a descriptive analysis

SCI Nurs. Spring 2003;20(1):30-7.


Falls are a significant cause of injury, disability, and death in the elderly, but little is known about the risk of wheelchair-related falls. The purpose of this study is to describe the incidence, etiology, location of fracture, treatment, and health care utilization of fall-related fractures in persons with spinal cord impairment (SCI). A retrospective review of 45 medical records of patients with SCI who sustained fractures, nonconcomitant with the onset of their initial injury, was completed at a Veterans Health Administration (VHA) SCI service over a 10-year period. Of the 24 veterans who sustained fall-related fractures, three (12%) were found to have repeated falls with fractures. Falls were sustained during activities (more than one wheelchair activity contributed to a fall; e.g., transfer activity with brake failure in a van) including transfer (44%), reaching (11%), propelling (15%), moving in bed (22%), transferring or riding in a vehicle (30%), and showering (7%). Factors contributing to falls included loss of balance, equipment failure, muscle spasms, excessive speed, not wearing protective straps, and narcolepsy. Among the 31 fractures sustained in 27 fall episodes in 24 subjects, lower extremity fractures accounted for 97% of the injuries and a fractured 7th rib accounted for one injury (3%). Tibial fractures occurred more frequently than femoral or ankle fractures. Four (15%) fall episodes resulted in bilateral fractures. The treatment of choice was to immobilize the fractured extremity with a soft, well-padded splint. Surgical fixation was performed in only two cases. Over 80% of the patients with fall-related fractures were admitted for inpatient stays with a mean of 66 inpatient days per patient. Hospital days were most often the result of home inaccessibility, inadequate support at home, or surgical intervention.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Accidental Falls / statistics & numerical data*
  • Activities of Daily Living
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Equipment Failure
  • Female
  • Florida / epidemiology
  • Fracture Fixation
  • Fractures, Bone / epidemiology
  • Fractures, Bone / etiology*
  • Fractures, Bone / therapy
  • Hospitals, Veterans
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Risk Factors
  • Spinal Cord Injuries / complications*
  • Splints
  • Transportation of Patients
  • United States
  • United States Department of Veterans Affairs
  • Veterans / statistics & numerical data
  • Wheelchairs / adverse effects*