Common Secondary Caregiver Injuries
20 April, 2022
Written by Karma
Caring for someone who is in a wheelchair long-term has been associated with musculoskeletal injuries to the caregiver. These injuries could be anything from the back, neck, shoulder, and wrist damage from assisting wheelchair users particularly from pushing, pulling, bending and overexertion.
The wheelchair user has the wrong wheelchair
As a caregiver, you should have the right equipment to work with. If the wheelchair is not properly maintained, that could make your job as a caregiver more difficult. Here are some things to look out for to help you avoid secondary injuries.
The wheelchair is not properly maintained e.g. flat tyres, faulty brakes, loose wheels, damaged upholstery/frame
- Once a month, check the tyres (especially if you find the wheelchair particularly hard to push, the tyres could be flat).
- If you notice the brakes stop working, you should contact the wheelchair dealer as soon as possible as these faults could be putting not only the user but the caregiver at risk of unnecessary injury.
Modifications or repairs to the chair were not conducted by authorized personnel
- If modifications to the wheelchair were made to the wheelchair by unauthorized personnel e.g. to the frame, the user voids the warranty on that product from the manufacturer. This means if there are other problems in the future, the manufacturer will not fix them under the warranty.
The user is in a wheelchair that is not suitable for them or their environment
- If the user is suffering from pressure sores then it’s possible that they have been prescribed a wheelchair that is not suitable for them. KARMA has a wide range of wheelchairs to ensure that there is a chair to suit a wide range of users. We recommend that the wheelchair you have been prescribed to you by a doctor or therapist to avoid user injuries.
- Finding a wheelchair that is suitable to a user’s dimensions or condition is just as important as finding a wheelchair that suits their lifestyle and environment. For a caregiver, this is is particularly important as you hope the user will be prescribed a wheelchair that will not only make their life better but could potentially make the caregiver’s life more convenient. For example, if the user is unable to regularly reposition themselves, we would recommend a wheelchair with Tilt-in-Space or recline functions. These positioning wheelchairs can reposition the user with little effort from the caregiver.
- KARMA has a philosophy called the KARMA FIT where we encourage wheelchair users to choose a wheelchair that meets their needs, body dimensions, budget, and lifestyle (aka their environment).
Failure to charge the wheelchair battery
- Keeping the wheelchair battery healthy and fully charged will not only benefit the user but also the caregiver. KARMA wheelchairs will show red LED lights to indicate the battery level of the chair. To increase the lifespan of the wheelchair battery, we recommend not letting the battery die but charging it everyday to keep the battery levels up.
When day to day tasks are difficult with a wheelchair
The effort that is involved to push the weight of the wheelchair and the user
- If the caregiver has to push the user then we recommend choosing an ultra lightweight wheelchair to lessen the burden on the carer. If there is no chance of the user propelling themselves, choosing an attendant or transit wheelchair with smaller rear wheels will reduce the weight of the wheelchair even more.
- In extreme circumstances, the user could consider getting a power wheelchair that eliminates the need to be pushed at all.
Pushing the wheelchair long distances
- If it’s a daily struggle to push the user long distances, similar to having to push the user weight as well as the weight of the wheelchair, a simple solution is to get a power wheelchair. This takes all of the strain and pain away from the caregiver.
Helping to transfer in and out of wheelchairs
- Some wheelchair users require to be transferred in and out of the wheelchair several times a day. If the user is heavy, this can cause musculoskeletal strain injuries to the caregiver from carrying out this repetitive action. We suggest getting a Tilt-in-Space or Reclining wheelchair (either power or manual) so that the user can rest in the wheelchair which will reduce the amount of transfers.
- A positioning wheelchair can also make tasks like changing diapers or administering medication easier. The reclining wheelchair can also make bed transfers easier as it can be adjusted to be the same height/ angle as the bed. Even a wheelchair with basic swing-away footrests and armrests can make wheelchair transfers safer.
When the environment is not wheelchair friendly
Soft floors e.g. carpet/uneven surfaces
- Depending on the needs of the user, they could possibly choose a wheelchair with large, self propelled rear wheels to make pushing the wheelchair easier when on carpet. The larger wheels cover a larger surface area, making it easier for caregivers to navigate. The only downside is if there are limitations to the space, which brings us only our next problem;
Tight spaces to navigate
- Choosing a small transit wheelchair to use in the home is a great option but obviously not possible for everyone. The transit chair is narrow, with space saving armrests, and smaller rear wheels. Home adaptations can also be considered to accommodate larger wheelchairs e.g. widening doorways.
Struggling to push the wheelchair up and down ramps
- If the combined weight of the user and wheelchair are the problem, we suggest choosing a lightweight wheelchair to lighten the load. If the carer struggles to frequently push the wheelchair up and down ramps, the user might consider a power wheelchair or installing a stairlift. An attendant control can even be added for the safety and convenience of the caregiver.
Not enough education/information about wheelchair accessibility
- A good wheelchair seller and/or manufacturer should provide a user manual that not only explains the best practice of how to use their products to protect the safety of the user but also achieve the longest lifespan. These days, most wheelchair manufacturers will produce videos or blog posts with helpful information about how to use their products.
When the caregiver is an older adult
The wheelchair is too heavy
- KARMA therapists recommend that caregivers, especially older adults, should not repeatedly be carrying objects weighing more than 10KG, otherwise they risk suffering from back pain. Therefore we recommend choosing an ultra lightweight wheelchair like Ergo Lite that weighs just 8.5KG.
The user has to go to frequent hospital visits
- If the user is frequently visiting the hospital then the caregiver can choose a wheelchair that is easy to transport. Either a lightweight wheelchair with attendant wheels or a self propel wheelchair with removable rear wheels to make transporting the chair in and out of a car easier.
Finding the “right” wheelchair is not just exclusive to the user but also the caregiver. A caregivers job is not easy but if there are some wheelchair features and functions that can assist them then it is worth investigating.