The purpose of this study was to investigate whether wheelchair propulsion biomechanics differ between individuals with different magnitudes of shoulder pain. Forty (age 36 ± 11 years) manual wheelchair users propelled their own daily living wheelchair at 1.11 m·s for three minutes on a dual-roller ergometer. Shoulder pain was evaluated using the Performance Corrected Wheelchair User’s Shoulder Pain Index (PC-WUSPI). Correlation analyses between spatio-temporal, kinetic and upper limb kinematic variables during wheelchair propulsion and PC-WUSPI scores were assessed. Furthermore, kinematic differences between wheelchair users with no or mild shoulder pain (n = 33) and moderate pain (n = 7) were investigated using statistical parametric mapping. Participant mean PC-WUSPI scores were 20.3 ± 26.3 points and varied from zero up to 104 points. No significant correlations were observed between kinetic or spatio-temporal parameters of wheelchair propulsion and shoulder pain. However, lower inter-cycle variability of scapular internal/external rotation was associated with greater levels of shoulder pain (r = 0.35, P = 0.03). Wheelchair users with moderate pain displayed significantly lower scapular kinematic variability compared to those with mild or no pain between 17 and 51% of the push phase for internal rotation, between 31-42% and 77-100% of the push phase for downward rotation and between 28-36% and 53-65% of the push phase for posterior tilt. Lower scapular variability displayed by wheelchair users with moderate shoulder pain may reflect a more uniform distribution of repeated subacromial tissue stress imposed by propulsion. This suggests that lower scapular kinematic variability during propulsion may contribute towards the development of chronic shoulder pain.
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