And if so, what can we do about it?
Back pain is an extremely common problem across the world. It is estimated that at any point in time around 1 in 10 people are suffering from back pain (1). If you are a wheelchair user your risk of back pain is about 5 times higher than the overall population; around half of wheelchair users are affected (2,3).
Back pain tends to occur in the lower part of the back and may be referred to as “lower/low back pain” or sometimes “lumbar back pain” (4,5). Some people’s back pain may be short-lived, whilst for others it can last for months or even years. If you have pain that has persisted or kept coming and going for over three months, it is known as “chronic pain” (6).
Back pain can be extremely limiting to day-to-day activities and can seriously affect your overall quality of life. Unfortunately, the longer you have suffered from back pain without successful resolution, the more likely it is that it will continue to persist (7). The reasons behind a person’s back pain can be complex. However, an important factor to consider as a wheelchair user is “whole body vibration”, sometimes abbreviated as “WBV”.
Research has been done to look at what effect exposure to high levels of whole-body vibration has on the human body. Researchers often study people whose jobs mean that they have high levels of exposure. Workers exposed to high levels of vibration are at a significantly higher risk of suffering from back pain (8).
Due to the effect vibration can have on the body, in the United Kingdom, employers are required by law to ensure that workers are not exposed to excessive levels of vibration at work (9). This can be achieved by adopting measures to reduce vibration intensity or limiting the time that workers use vibrating equipment.
However, another group of people at risk of being exposed to high levels of vibration are wheelchair users. When travelling over uneven ground, vibration can be transmitted from the wheelchair up to the user. Unfortunately, the laws protecting workers against exposure to excessive vibration don’t offer the same protection to people in their everyday lives. Wheelchair users have been shown to be exposed to vibration levels that exceed the threshold at which it is damaging for health (3).
Loopwheels are wheelchair wheels with built-in shock absorption. They are designed to improve the overall suspension capabilities of a chair, reducing the user’s exposure to harmful vibration and jolting. On testing in line with ISO-2631 (the international standard for vibration testing), Loopwheels were shown to reduce harmful vibration by up to 70% (10). In our April 2022 Customer Survey, we asked users why they purchased Loopwheels and how they had benefited from them. 65% of respondents who purchased Loopwheels to manage back pain reported a noticeable improvement.
- Hoy D, March L, Brooks P, Blyth F, Woolf A, Bain C, et al. The global burden of low back pain: Estimates from the Global Burden of Disease 2010 study. Ann Rheum Dis [Internet]. 2014 [cited 2021 Mar 5];73(6):968–74. Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24665116/
- Kovacs FM, Seco J, Royuela A, Barriga A, Zamora J. Prevalence and factors associated with a higher risk of neck and back pain among permanent wheelchair users: a cross-sectional study. Spinal Cord 2017 564 [Internet]. 2017 Dec 28 [cited 2022 May 10];56(4):392–405. Available from: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41393-017-0029-z
- Garcia-Mendez Y, Pearlman JL, Boninger ML, Cooper RA. Health risks of vibration exposure to wheelchair users in the community. J Spinal Cord Med [Internet]. 2013 Jul [cited 2022 May 10];36(4):375. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3758533/
- Linton SJ, Hellsing AL, Halldén K. A population-based study of spinal pain among 35-45-year-old individuals. Prevalence, sick leave, and health care use. Spine (Phila Pa 1976) [Internet]. 1998 Jul 1 [cited 2021 Mar 7];23(13):1457–63. Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/9670397/
- Leboeuf-Yde C, Nielsen J, Kyvik KO, Fejer R, Hartvigsen J. Pain in the lumbar, thoracic or cervical regions: Do age and gender matter? A population-based study of 34,902 Danish twins 20-71 years of age. BMC Musculoskelet Disord [Internet]. 2009 Apr 20 [cited 2021 Mar 7];10(1):1–12. Available from: https://link.springer.com/articles/10.1186/1471-2474-10-39
- The World Health Organization. ICD-11 for Mortality and Morbidity Statistics [Internet]. 2020 [cited 2021 Mar 5]. Available from: https://icd.who.int/browse11/l-m/en#/http://id.who.int/icd/entity/1581976053
- Thomas E, Silman AJ, Croft PR, Papageorgiou AC, Jayson MIV, Macfarlane GJ. Predicting who develops chronic low back pain in primary care: A prospective study. Br Med J [Internet]. 1999 Jun 19 [cited 2021 Jun 11];318(7199):1662–7. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC28145/
- Burström L, Nilsson T, Wahlström J. Whole-body vibration and the risk of low back pain and sciatica: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Int Arch Occup Environ Health [Internet]. 2015 May 1 [cited 2022 May 10];88(4):403–18. Available from: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00420-014-0971-4
- The Control of Vibration at Work Regulations 2005 No.1093. Health and Safety. [Internet]. [cited 2022 May 17]. Available from: https://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2005/1093/made
- Loopwheels. Vibration Reduction Assessment of Loopwheels [Internet]. 2017 [cited 2022 May 31]. Available from: https://loopwheels.com/2017/12/testing-vibration-reduction/
This work was conducted by Harrison Smalley, a postgraduate from the University of Nottingham, as part of a research placement at Loopwheels.
 Harrison completed an intercalated degree in Sport and Exercise Medicine at the University of Nottingham in 2021, as a year out from his medical degree at the University of Leicester.