From 1991 to 2003, all injuries treated in the US emergency departments among patients aged 2–17 years, 18–64 years, and 65 years older changed by −0.9%, 22.7%, and 57.3% respectively. During the same period, however, wheelchair related injuries treated in US emergency departments increased by 69.8%, 146.8%, and 108.0% among patients aged 2–17 years, 18–64 years, and 65 years or older. The average annual number of wheelchair related injuries during the early 1990s was about 50
000 cases (fig 1). In 2003, the estimated number of wheelchair related injuries reached 102
Figure 1National estimates of all injuries and wheelchair related injuries treated in emergency departments in the US from 1991 through 2003. Source: National Electronic Injury Surveillance System, US Consumer Product Safety Commission.
Of the affected wheelchair users, 68.9% were individuals aged 65 years or older, and 65.0% were females. The majority of the individuals with wheelchair related injuries were treated and released (81.8%); however, 17.2% of the injuries resulted in admission to hospitals (table 1).
Table 1National estimates of wheelchair related injuries by demographics of injured wheelchair users treated in US emergency departments, 2002–03
Figure 2Between 1.6 and 2.2 million Americans rely on wheelchairs to assist with mobility impairments.
The characteristics of wheelchair related injuries among wheelchair users are presented in table 2. Females accounted for 60.2% and 70.8% of injuries in the 2–5 year olds and 65 year olds or older age groups respectively, while 62.1% of injuries occurred to males in the 6–17 year olds group. The most frequent injury diagnoses were fractures, contusions, and lacerations; however, a higher percentage of wheelchair related injuries among working age adults were diagnosed as strains/sprains (16.6% (95% CI 10.8% to 24.7%) for 18–34 year olds and 13.5% (95% CI 11.3% to 16.1%) for 35–64 year olds) than among non‐working age patients (10.8% (95% CI 5.6% to 19.6%) for 6–17 year olds and 5.7% (95% CI 4.6% to 7.1%) for 65 year olds or older).
Table 2Characteristics of wheelchair related injuries among wheelchair users by age group treated in US emergency departments, 2002–03
The leading injury cause across all age groups was tips and falls, accounting for more than 65% of wheelchair related injuries. Most wheelchair related injuries among 2–5 year olds (84.1%) and 65 year olds or older (94.0%) occurred in homes and institutions/hospitals. However, 57.3% of injuries among 6–17 year olds occurred at other locations.