Like most longtime manual wheelchair users (53 years and counting), I have been dogged by chronic shoulder pain for decades — rotator cuff tears, acromioclavicular joint pain, frozen shoulder syndrome. I have managed to stave off shoulder surgery by occasionally easing up on activity, accepting help loading and unloading my chair from my vehicle, having periodic cortisone injections and getting physical therapy when symptoms worsened. Also, recently, chronic low-dose opioid use has given me some relief.
I have also found that regular at-home workouts with bands or hand weights and stretching exercises can help balance out harmful effects of overused muscles, reduce pain and partially restore healthy functioning shoulders — but only if I am dedicated, consistent and know how to engage specific underused muscles. Studies have shown that another helpful activity is reverse wheeling: taking time to regularly wheel backwards up a moderate incline, but there is only so much of that you can do.
But what if a wheelchair existed that could be propelled by pulling back on the rims instead of p