Shoulder pain in persons with thoracic spinal cord injury: prevalence and characteristics

J Rehabil Med. 2008 Apr;40(4):277-83. doi: 10.2340/16501977-0173.


Objective: To document the prevalence of shoulder pain, associated patient characteristics, and intensity and interference with shoulder function in activities in wheelchair users.

Design: A cross-sectional survey.

Patients: Individuals with a thoracic spinal cord injury.

Methods: A 3-part questionnaire on patient characteristics, medical history, supplemental questions, and the Wheelchair Users Shoulder Pain Index was administered to 101 patients.

Results: Of the 88 subjects (87%) who completed the questionnaire, 40% reported experiencing current shoulder pain, often chronic in nature. The highest median intensity of shoulder pain was reported for pushing the wheelchair up ramps or inclines outdoors. Reports of limitations regarding the ability to use the shoulder in activities were common. Most subjects used no upper extremity assistive devices during transfer or wheelchair propulsion. Of those with current shoulder pain, 37% had not sought medical attention. Age was associated with ongoing shoulder pain.

Conclusion: Shoulder pain is a common problem in wheelchair users with a thoracic spinal cord injury, it seems more likely to occur with increased age, and is a potential cause of activity limitations. The findings indicate a need to develop programmes of prevention, patient education, diagnosis and treatment, possibly including more frequent use of upper extremity assistive devices.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Activities of Daily Living
  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Pain Measurement
  • Paraplegia / complications
  • Paraplegia / rehabilitation
  • Shoulder Pain / diagnosis
  • Shoulder Pain / etiology*
  • Shoulder Pain / prevention & control
  • Spinal Cord Injuries / complications*
  • Spinal Cord Injuries / rehabilitation
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Thoracic Vertebrae
  • Wheelchairs*