Pitt Study Shows Wheelchair Breakdowns Common and Cause Problems for Spinal-Cord Injured Users

PITTSBURGH, – Nearly half of all individuals with spinal cord injury have to repair their wheelchairs in a six-month period due to a breakdown, according to a University of Pittsburgh-led study.

Such breakdowns can negatively impact wheelchair users’ health and quality of life by threatening safety and decreasing community participation. Of those users who reported completing repairs, almost 20 percent experienced one or more adverse consequences, such as being stranded, getting injured, and missing work or important appointments.

The study is published in the December issue of the Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation.

“Just imagine the outcry if half of all cars broke down every six months,” said study author Mike Boninger, M.D., chair of the University of Pittsburgh School Medicine’s Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation (PM&R).

“Many wheelchair malfunctions can be avoided by reforming health insurance reimbursement policies, mandating compliance with national wheelchair standards and improving patient and clinician education,” said Dr. Boninger, who also is director of the UPMC Institute for Rehabilitation and Research.

The study describes survey results from people with spinal cord injuries who use their wheelchairs at least 40 hours per week. Out of 2,101 individuals who were able to recall the specific number of repairs completed on their wheelchairs in the previous six months, 20.3 percent completed one repair, 16.6 percent completed two to three repairs and 6.2 percent completed four or more repairs. In addition, 19.7 percent of those who completed at least one repair reported a total of 262 adverse consequences resulting from their wheelchair breakdowns, including 140 reports of being stranded, 47 reports of having to cancel a medical appointment, 42 reports of getting injured and 33 reports of missing work or school.

Additional contributors include lead author Laura McClure, M.P.T., a doctoral candidate in the Pitt School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences (SHRS); senior author Rory Cooper, Ph.D., a professor at Pitt’s SHRS; Michelle Oyster, M.S., and Jesse Lieberman, M.D., of the Pitt School of Medicine’s PM&R; and Steve Williams, M.D., and Bethlyn Houlihan, M.S.W., M.P.H., of Boston University.

UPMC Institute for Rehabilitation and Research

The largest rehabilitation provider in western Pennsylvania, the UPMC Institute for Rehabilitation and Research (IRR) serves as the hub of a UPMC network of more than 70 rehabilitation facilities that combine clinical care and research to help patients regain independence and enhance their quality of life. The IRR’s academic partner, the Department ofPhysical Medicine and Rehabilitation at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, is ranked No. 1 in research funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) among physical medicine and rehabilitation programs across the country. The program, headquartered at UPMC Mercy, is the only one in the region designated as a center of excellence inspinal cord injury by the National Institute for Disability and Rehabilitation Research and is one of only eight brain injury centers which are part of a NIH clinical trials network.

University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences

The University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences include the schools of Medicine, Nursing, Dental Medicine, Pharmacy, Health and Rehabilitation Sciences and the Graduate School of Public Health. The schools serve as the academic partner to the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. Together, their combined mission is to train tomorrow’s health care specialists and biomedical scientists, engage in groundbreaking research that will advance understanding of the causes and treatments of disease and participate in the delivery of outstanding patient care. Since 1997, Pitt and its affiliated university faculty have ranked among the top 10 educational institutions in grant support from the National Institutes of Health.

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