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How to Push A Wheelchair: Safety Tips and Considerations

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Whether you’re a wheelchair user or a caregiver, you might be wondering how to push a wheelchair properly! 

Luckily, it’s not as difficult as it may seem. In this post, I’ll give you helpful tips on pushing a wheelchair like a pro. Continue reading to learn more. 

Check: The Most Comfortable Wheelchair for Elderly

How To Safely Push a Wheelchair?

To safely push the wheelchair, The Manual Handling Regulations of 1992 recommends doing assessments to mitigate any risk of injury, including analyzing the weight of the user and chair, the person’s height, and the path of travel [1].

Even Bob Schrupp and Brad Heineck’s physical therapists recommend that your wheelchair assistance is in the right direction! Watch this video to learn more. 

Do this to avoid severe injury (like a spinal cord injury!) and avoid the user from falling out of a wheelchair! (to the assistant editor: contextual link)

Now that you know how to push a wheelchair safely let’s look at some tips for doing it well! Starting with the person in the wheelchair.

How To Push Your Wheelchair 

If your mobility allows you to wheel yourself, first, you have to understand the process of pushing a wheelchair.

According to research, pushing a wheelchair can be divided into a propulsive phase or a push phase, and a recovery phase, according to the upper-limb joint kinetics expression during wheelchair propulsion [2].

1) Pushing the Wheelchair 

man showing how to push a wheelchair by himself

Place both hands should be on the push rims at about shoulder level with elbows slightly bent. Your shoulders should be relaxed, and your trunk should be upright.

As you push forward, your hips and knees will extend (straighten), and your ankles will dorsiflex (pointing your toes up).

When you reach the end of the push phase, your hips and knees should be fully extended, and your ankles should be dorsiflexed.

2) The Recovery Phase 

Your hips and knees slowly bend until they are in their original position and then push forward again.

You should always maintain a firm grip on the wheelchair push rims to maintain control.

Watch this video that shows proper wheelchair pushing techniques. It illustrates what a long, smooth push stroke entails and makes it simple to understand!

How To Assist a Wheelchair User by Pushing Them?

A study by van der Woude et al. (2002) suggested that the push phase should be performed with a long and smooth stroke, as this will result in a less metabolic cost for the wheelchair user and reduced effort for the pusher [3].

In other words, it’s better for both of you if you take your time and don’t push too hard.

Pushing a wheelchair is similar to pushing a stroller, so if you’re familiar with that, you’re ahead of the game!

If not, below are three push strategies to avoid any health risks for the one in the mobility chair:

1. Shoulder Width Apart

Your calf muscle should be shoulder-width apart with one foot slightly in front of the other to help you maintain your balance and avoid having muscle spasms. 

2. Bend Your Elbows

Your elbows should be bent at about 90 degrees and remain close to your body as you push. Otherwise, you will experience muscle soreness and may experience cramped muscles.

3. Lean Forward Slightly

nurse showing how to push a wheelchair properly

You should lean forward slightly from your hips to help transfer your weight and maintain balance.

How To Get A Wheelchair Up a Ramp?

man pushing the girl in wheelchair up a ramp

There’s no one-size-fits-all answer to this question, as the best way to get a wheelchair up a ramp will vary depending on the incline of the ramp and the weight of the wheelchair user.

However, here are a few general steps to help you get started:

ALSO READ: How to Weigh Someone Who Can’t Stand

Step 1: Position the Wheelchair at the Bottom of the Ramp 

Ensure that the front wheels are touching the edge of the ramp. Ensure that you prepare the wheelchair by engaging the brakes and locking the wheels.

Step 2: Apply the Brakes

To avoid rolling backward, use the anti-tippers come in handy as they will help keep the ramp from moving backward as you’re trying to push the wheelchair up it.

Step 3: Push the Wheelchair Up the Ramp

Push forward and go up the ramp. Ask for assistance if the ramp is too steep.

Step 4: Rest 

If you need to stop and rest, make sure to apply the brakes and lock the wheels.

Step 5: Engage the Brake and Wheel Lock 

Once at the top, engage the brakes and lock the wheels to keep the wheelchair from rolling backward.

Other Considerations When Pushing a Wheelchair

If by this point you still think pushing a wheelchair was as simple as just walking behind it, think again! Here are some other things to keep in mind when pushing a wheelchair.

For instance, you have to think of the weight limit of the wheelchair and the weight of the person in it. If the wheelchair is too heavy, it will be difficult to push.

The World Health Organization recommends that manual wheelchair users only be on a body weight ranging from 250 to 300 lbs to ensure that the chair will not break or tip over [4].

Also, as a rule of thumb, when you’re pushing a wheelchair, it’s essential to use good posture and keep your back straight. This will help minimize muscle pain! 

Watch this video for more information. 

What Makes a Wheelchair Easy to Push?

There are a few factors that can make a wheelchair easier to push. For example, if the wheelchair is lightweight, it will be easier to push than a heavier one.

Additionally, wheels that are correctly inflated and have good tread will make it easier to push the wheelchair, providing better traction. Finally, a wheelchair with a lower seat height will also be easier to push, requiring less effort to reach the ground.

I’ve mentioned earlier that it’s essential to use good posture when pushing a wheelchair to minimize muscle pain. 

Did you know that you can also increase the amount of exercise you’re getting while pushing the wheelchair [5]?

It’s the extra whip cream to that pancake, the silver lining! Pushing a wheelchair can improve your cardiovascular health and tone your muscles [6].

Using a Wheelchair in an Elevator 

nurse assing the man in a wheelchair in an elevator

If you need to take the wheelchair into an elevator, keep a few things in mind.

  • Ensure that the wheelchair is positioned so that it can fit through the elevator’s doors.
  • Engage the brakes and lock the wheels before pushing the wheelchair into the elevator.
  • Once inside, apply the brakes and lock the wheels to ensure that the brakes are engaged, and the wheels are locked.
  • Position the wheelchair so that it is facing the door of the elevator. Once you’re in the elevator, press the button for your desired floor.
  • Use your legs to push the wheelchair into the elevator. Finally, once you reach your floor, engage the brakes and lock the wheels. And that’s it!

Watch this video for further tips.

Going Through Doorways

It’s the same steps when pushing a wheelchair in an elevator, and the only difference is that you don’t need to press any buttons.

Be mindful of the door frame, and make sure that the wheelchair can fit through.

And that’s it! You’ve successfully taken your wheelchair through a door.

Watch this video for further tips.

How to Push a Wheelchair Outside

According to a study, wheelchair-related accidents on streets are prominent among wheelchair users, especially those with limited mobility [7].

Pushing a Wheelchair Up a Curb

man pushing a wheelchair up a curb

Here are the steps to push a wheelchair up onto a curb based on the recommendation of Saint Vincent’s Hospital Sydney [8]:

  1. Look for a ramp or a lowered section of the curb to push the wheelchair onto. This will minimize the amount of effort needed and reduce the risk of accidents.
  2. If there is no ramp or lower section of the curb available, try to approach the curb from as close to a 90-degree angle as possible.
  3. Use your body weight to help lift it.
  4. Put your foot on the part of the wheelchair closest to the curb, or the tilt bar of the wheelchair has one.
  5. Tip the chair back using the rear wheels as leverage.
  6. Use your foot to push the wheelchair up onto the curb while simultaneously pulling up on the handles of the wheelchair.

Pushing a Wheelchair Down a Curb

  1. Find a section of the curb that is lowered or has a ramp.
  2. If you can’t find one, angle the wheelchair (the rear wheels) back facing the curb.
  3. Slowly go down the curb while still holding onto the handles of the wheelchair. Remember to let the person know that you’re going to go down so they can be prepared.
  4. Use tipping bars if the wheelchair has one to raise the wheelchair’s front end a little bit.
  5. Move backward and roll the wheels carefully away from the curb.

 Craig Hospital shares this video on How to Assist with Going Up and Down a Curb that you can check out for more tips.

FAQs

How steep should a wheelchair ramp be?

wheelchair ramp with the right wheelchair ramp angle

A wheelchair ramp should be no more than 1:12 in slope, which means that the wheelchair ramp should be at least 12 inches long for every inch of rising.

How to get a wheelchair over a threshold?

The best way to get a wheelchair over a threshold is by using a wheelchair ramp. If you don’t have a ramp, you can try to use a piece of cardboard or another flat surface to create a makeshift ramp.

Is it hard to push your wheelchair?

With enough practice and help from others, you will get the hang of it in no time.

Conclusion 

This article has helped you learn how to push your wheelchair and anyone else who will be pushing a wheelchair user. 

Remember to take your time and be safe when using ramps, and always ask for help where needed. 

man being pushed on a wheelchair

How about you? How do you push a wheelchair? Let us know in the comment section below!

Resources 

  • 1. Wheelchair Handling Advice [Internet]. Available from: https://bso.bradford.gov.uk/userfiles/file/Low%20Incidence%20Team/Wheelchair%20Handling%20Advice.pdf
  • 2. Kulig K, Rao SS, Mulroy SJ, Newsam CJ, Gronley JK, Bontrager EL, et al. Shoulder Joint Kinetics During the Push Phase of Wheelchair Propulsion. Clinical Orthopaedics and Related Research. 1998;354:132–43.
  • 3. van der Woude LHV, Veeger HEJ, Dallmeijer AJ, Janssen TWJ, Rozendaal LA. Biomechanics and physiology in active manual wheelchair propulsion1In adapted form, published as Woude et al. [1].1. Medical Engineering & Physics [Internet]. 2001;23:713–33. Available from: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1350453301000832
  • 4. Guidelines on the provision of Manual Wheelchairs in less resourced settings [Internet]. Available from: https://www.who.int/disabilities/publications/technology/English%20Wheelchair%20Guidelines%20(EN%20for%20the%20web).pdf
  • 5. Curtis K, Tyner T, Zachary L, Lentell G, Brink D, Didyk T, et al. Effect of a standard exercise protocol on shoulder pain in long-term wheelchair users. Spinal Cord [Internet]. 1999 [cited 2020 Jan 23];37:421–9. Available from: https://www.nature.com/articles/3100860.pdf
  • 6. Abel T, Kröner M, Rojas VS, Peters C, Klose C, Platen P. Energy expenditure in wheelchair racing and handbiking – a basis for prevention of cardiovascular diseases in those with disabilities. European Journal of Cardiovascular Prevention & Rehabilitation. 2003;10:371–6.
  • 7. Songer TJ, Fitzgerald SG, Rotko KA. The injury risk to wheelchair occupants using motor vehicle transportation. Annual proceedings Association for the Advancement of Automotive Medicine [Internet]. Association for the Advancement of Automotive Medicine; 2004;48:115–29. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3217423/
  • 8. How to push a person in a wheelchair [Internet]. Available from: https://www.svhs.org.au/ArticleDocuments/4044/How%20to%20push%20a%20person%20in%20a%20wheelchair.pdf.aspx?embed=y
About Haley Burress

Haley has been working with seniors and their caregivers for more than 17 years. She has held local and national leadership roles in a variety of senior services and senior care agencies. Today, she is a sought after writer specializing in topics for older adults, their family members, and professional caregivers. When she isn't at her computer sipping coffee, you can find her hiking with her husband, son, and dog or trying a new cookie recipe in the kitchen. Follow her on LINKEDIN. Read her LATEST POSTS. Learn more about her HERE.

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