Wheelchair-related falls in veterans with spinal cord injury residing in the community: a prospective cohort study

Arch Phys Med Rehabil. 2010 Aug;91(8):1166-73. doi: 10.1016/j.apmr.2010.05.008.


Objectives: (1) To determine the incidence of wheelchair falls and fall-related injuries in persons with spinal cord injury (SCI) living in the community. (2) To predict wheelchair-related falls and associated injuries from specific parameters including characteristics of the wheelchair user, wheelchair type and features, health care practices, wheelchair activities, and physical environment.

Design: This prospective cohort study followed participants monthly over 1 year; data were collected through surveys, interviews, performance testing, observation, and medical records.

Setting: Three Veterans' Administration hospitals.

Participants: Convenience sample of community-dwelling persons with SCI who used a wheelchair as their primary means of mobility (N=702).

Interventions: Not applicable.

Main outcome measures: Self-reports of wheelchair falls and fall-related injuries, Wheelchair User Characteristics Survey, Health Status Checklist, Health-Related Behaviors, Zuckerman Sensation Seeking Scale, Wheelchair and Equipment-Related Behaviors, Wheelchair Characteristics, Wheelchair Skills Test, and Physical Environment Assessment.

Results: Of the 659 subjects who completed the study, 204 participants (31%) reported 553 fall events, and 95 subjects (14%) were injured as a result of wheelchair falls. A logistic regression model for predicting wheelchair falls identified 6 significant risk factors: pain in previous 2 months, alcohol abuse, greater motor function, history of previous fall, fewer SCI years, and shorter length of wheelchair. Eighty-two percent of the variance for wheelchair fall events was explained by these 6 variables. A logistic regression model for predicting injurious falls identified 4 significant risk factors: pain in previous 2 months, greater motor function, history of previous fall, and inaccessible home entrance. These 4 factors were able to explain 81% of the variance for injurious falls.

Conclusions: This is the first study to determine the incidence of wheelchair-related falls in community-dwelling people with SCI who use a wheelchair. Results indicate the incidence of falls was 31% and injurious falls was 14%. Those at greatest risk can be predicted from some readily available information regarding their clinical status, wheelchair features, and home environment.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Accidental Falls / mortality
  • Accidental Falls / statistics & numerical data*
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Architectural Accessibility / statistics & numerical data
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Movement
  • Pain / complications
  • Pain / epidemiology
  • Residence Characteristics
  • Risk Assessment
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Spinal Cord Injuries / rehabilitation*
  • United States
  • Veterans
  • Wheelchairs*
  • Wounds and Injuries / etiology*