Pushing Techniques for Quadriplegics

Curated by
Whitney Bailey
Content via The Independent C6
The Independent C6
Curated by
Whitney Bailey

David (also know as The Independent Quad) gives some advice for fellow quadriplegics to use when pushing their wheelchair. He says it is all about an individual’s weight ratio, pushing technique, and wheelchair.

“I have always been concerned that using an electric chair would make me unhealthy, as I would get no exercise. These feelings may be irrational but they have continued to motivate me to keep using a manual chair as long as I can.”

Pushing Technique

man pushing wheelchair

Quadriplegic’s have limited to no finger function. One pushing technique that is suggested is to grip the tire instead of the push rim when maneuvering your wheelchair. The reasoning is by pushing on the tire one gets enough traction between their hands and the tire. Be mindful not to push too hard on the tire, only push enough to maintain traction. You will preserve energy by not pushing down too hard on the tires.  

For flat paths, it is suggested to not push on the top of the tire, but to place your hands where you can push from the corner/side of the tire. Maintain traction by squeezing the tire rather than pushing down. This can increase the length and speed of your pushing stroke while reducing the amount of effort. For pushing up hill, it is best to revert back to pushing on top of the tire.

Braking Technique

One technique for slowing down while going down a slope is to lean forward in your chair while hooking your thumbs underneath the push rims. Wearing gloves could be helpful for steep slopes. You can put your gloved hands on the tires to slow down. You may try hooking one arm around your push handle when going down steep slopes to help maintain balance. A technique for stopping on steep slopes is to hook one arm around a push handle and then hook the opposite thumb under the push rim and pull up on the push rim.

“To get better traction between my gloves and the wheels I use tires with mountain bike tread. This means I can put more energy into pushing forward rather than pushing down.”


Wearing gloves when navigating your chair can help both with pushing and breaking. A favorite style is half finger gloves with tough and grippy palms.

“I use cycling gloves that have synthetic palms with a little padding. A little padding creates good traction because the tread on my tire digs into it.”

Type of Chair

The weight of your wheelchair is critical when it comes to the ability to push yourself. A lightweight titanium chair is a good option. However, everyone’s needs are different.

One last piece of advice is to plan your route efficiently. Research all of the alternative routes and choose the easiest one for you.

“I live in a big city and I find there is nearly always an easier way to push somewhere than the most direct route.”


Great tips, David! Be sure to share this post!

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