Wheelerchair Users: It’s All About Joint Preservation

amys-asrt-shoulderWhen doctors warn you at the beginning of your journey as a wheelchair user, or if you’re born disabled and your doctor tells you this when you’re a kid, let me tell you as a person 20 years post – they weren’t joking.

All of a sudden, you’ll get the injury they warned you about. And coming back from it? Don’t even think about it. Well, think about it, try incredibly hard and never give up, but know it will be a hard, hard road. It’s not easy healing a joint that you still have to use to move through life. Not all of us have butlers who can wait on us 24/7.

I had my first big injury two months ago. I strained the muscles in my shoulders while bracing my balance during a ride on a bachelorette party bus, and it’s still healing. I’m seeing an OT to heal my shoulders, and she’s been brutally honest; she told me I may never get better. Some quads can’t stop all the movement to get the necessary healing, she says. It’s a tough situation.

The notion of joint preservation, however, is hugely important as a wheelchair user. We  overuse our joints every day, and they weren’t meant to be used so much. Rule # 1 is to learn to let others help. If we don’t, we’ll all have wiped-out joints by the time we’re 50.

I’ve been a stubborn bull for years, adamantly trying to do even more than people expect from me. I’ve known quads at my level who can transfer, dress themselves and push themselves in a manual chair – all with no triceps. Truly epic overuse.

It’s awesome they can do all that, but how many years can they pull it off before their arms say no more? It will happen, mark my words, no matter how much Glucosamine they take.

Learning how to receive help and be a “better receiver”  are two of the most important lessons we need to learn.

Pick and choose what you must do on your own, if you can. Cook if you need to eat, but let someone else clean up. The point is to do what’s critical, and not overuse. Always be aware of what you’re doing, and judge if it’s really necessary…or not. It’s not fun, but if you want to stay independent, this is something all of us must do.

Isn’t getting older fun?

How do you practice joint preservation?

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  1. Hi Tiff,

    I know how you feel, I was injured in 1992, and have used a manual wheelchair all this time as a C5/6.

    I too am stubborn, and now have pain in my right shoulder, but am trying to overcome the pain by some strengthening exercises in the opposite muscle groups to my pain.

    We’ll just have to see how it goes!

    Simon :-)

  2. Tiffiny Carlson says:

    Look into FES to strengthen the muscles around your injury. My OT is going to try that on me too.

  3. Gail Rehman says:

    I am still able to walk some with forearm canes and leg braces. But was forced into wheelchair because of pressure sores on heels, and found that my overall pain level was much less and using chair for longer distances is helping my joints. Yes, I accept all offers of help with a smile and gratitude! I have RA on top of disease which caused my paralysis, so joint degeneration is a major concern.

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