How To Make A Wheelchair Push Easier

It can be completely frustrating when pushing a family member or friend in a wheelchair and the wheelchair feels like it’s just dragging and moving rough. After experiencing this as I wheeled my mom out from minor surgery to the car, I put together some tips to get a nice smooth transport.

How to make a wheelchair push easier? There are few different things you can do to make a wheelchair push easier.
Here are the best ones:

  • Handlebars are ergonomically correct
  • Comfortable handlebar material
  • Handlebars that allow you to push with one hand
  • Lightweight construction (rigid frame)
  • Lightweight wheels
  • Checking wheelchair’s wheel bearings
  • Replace worn and damage tires
  • Position the rear wheels forward
  • Seat position height (elbow angel 100-120 degrees)
  • Use carbon fiber rear wheels
  • Greater tube diameter hand rims
  • Fit Grip Pro along with a pair of wheelchair / workout gloves

Whether you’re being pushed or you are self propelling yourself in the wheelchair, you must have a smooth, safe transport. There are many aspects and specific details to achieve this. I will dive into the specifics of each way to make your wheelchair push easier.

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Wheelchair handlebars are ergonomically correct

When pushing a wheelchair, if the handlebars are not ergonomically correct this can make you fatigue. If you’re tired you will not have proper form pushing and will not be a smooth ride. With ergonomically correct bars your hands and arms will not fatigue nearly as fast which will provide a much easier ride.

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Comfortable handlebar material

The handle should be a very comfortable foam material. This will reduce sore hands and fingers over a prolonged distance of pushing the wheelchair. The soft foam will also reduce the chances of getting blisters as you would if using a hard rubber handle. With a nice foam grip you can see how smooth and easy the wheelchair will push.

Handle bars that allow you to push with one hand

When you are pushing a wheelchair over an extended period of time your hands and arms will start to tire. To make it easier, make sure the handle bars allow you to push with one hand. This will give your other arm a time to rest. Alternating hands can ensure at least one of your arms are fresh over the long distance push. This also helps in maneuverability. Some times in tight spaces you can only get one hand on the bars to push.

Lightweight construction (rigid frame)

There are two main types of frame design for wheelchairs.

  • Folding frame

The Folding frame folds for easy transport. It is best used for light use and is heavier in weight than the rigid frame.

  • Rigid frame

The rigid frame is for more occasional use. It does not fold up, so transport is a little more difficult. The rigid frame is lighter than the folding frame.

The folding frame is used for light use and ease of transport. They are heavier than rigid frames. The rigid frame is for everyday use but is more difficult to transport because it does not fold. The rigid is lighter than the folding frame a will push easier because of it being lighter in weight.

The frames are made of aluminum. Aluminum is the choice metal because it is strong and lighter than other metals (stainless steel).

With technology advancing everyday, they have started using other materials. Titanium and carbon fiber are also being used in manufacturing wheelchair frames. They both have better strength-to-weight ratio than aluminum. The only drawback is that it’s more expensive to make these frames than aluminum. If titanium and carbon fiber are affordable and you get the rigid frame, you will have a much easier pushing wheelchair.

Lightweight wheels

Two types of tires:

  • Pneumatic tires – are made out of a softer rubber tube and have a stem to inflate with air. The pros are that they are lighter and absorb vibrations better than solid tires. The cons are that you have to maintain the correct PSI (pressure per square inch) in the tire. They are also susceptible to going flat if you run over a nail or other sharp objects.

  • Solid tires – are made of a hard plastic or rubber and are heavier than Pneumatic tires. The pros are that they don’t need any air and won’t deflate if you run over a nail or sharp objects. They also are maintenance free since you don’t have to monitor air pressure of the tire. The cons are that they are heavier and they don’t absorb the vibrations like the Pneumatic tires.

Pneumatic tires will make you wheelchair push easier than the solid tires. The Pneumatic tires would be the tire you should go with for a smooth ride as long as you can keep up with maintenance of the tires.

Checking wheelchair’s wheel bearings

The Wheelchair bearings can make a drastic improvement on the ease of the ride. If the bearings are seizing or to loose this can hamper the performance.

Below are some very helpful videos on wheel bearing maintenance.

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Courtesy of National Center on Health, Physical Activity and Disability (NCHPAD)

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Replace worn and damage tires

Damage and worn tires will make your wheelchair push hard and can exhaust you over longer distances. This also becomes a safety issue because the person in the wheelchair can get bounced and jolted around.

When replacing a solid tire you will need some type of lubricant. WD-40 or some liquid soap will work. Shears, a utility knife and a lever.

When replacing a tube tire you will need a pump to inflate and 2 or 3 tire levers.

Below are some very helpful videos on replacing a solid and tube tire:

Courtesy of Peter Mills

Courtesy of Spyderman1964
Courtesy of Paralyzed living

Position the rear wheels forward

The rear wheels should be positioned in the most forward position that does not compromise system stability23). Gorce and Louis16) showed that, when moving the rear wheels forward, push angle and shoulder ROM are increased, thus reducing both push frequency and handrim forces, minimizing the risk of upper limb injuries32). In addition to the biomechanical benefits, moving the rear wheels forward diminishes the wheelchair length and, as a result, facilitates turning maneuvers by reducing the rotational inertia of the system24
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Seat position height (elbow angel 100-120 degrees)

The optimal seat height is determined by the elbow angle when the user holds the handrim at its top position (Fig. 3). Previous studies have shown that elbow angles ranging from 100° to 120° are related to improved propulsion efficiency and lower energy expenditure37,38,39). Lower seat heights (elbow angles ranging from 80° to 90°) have been shown to be less efficient in terms of handrim forces and cardiorespiratory parameters37). Therefore, in order to preserve upper limb function, it is recommended to set up the chair with the seat positioned at such a height that the elbow angle ranges from 100° to 120o23).
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Use carbon fiber rear wheels

As of recent manufacturing the material used in making the rear wheel is from carbon fiber. The carbon fiber is lighter in weight than steel or plastic which was used in the past. To get an easier push you should have a carbon fiber rear wheel.

Greater tube diameter hand rims

Previous studies have proposed different handrim designs in order to optimize propulsion comfort and efficiency. Van der Linden et al.52) found that handrims with a greater tube diameter showed greater efficiency and lower physiological costs. Improvements in upper limb symptoms were found with the use of the Natural-Fit (Three Rivers Holdings, Mesa, AZ, USA), a commercially available product designed to provide an improved fit to the hand and relieve stress on the carpal tunnel53).
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Fit Grip Pro along with a pair of wheelchair / workout gloves

Using Fit Grip on your hand rims and gloves can drastically improve the performance of each push of the wheelchair. The increased grip of each push is relevant in ease and speed of the wheelchair.

Courtesy of Haley’s life through a lens

Steven Abbey

Steven Abbey is a author for Senior Living Headquarters and owns a home in a retirement community. His wife owns a successful family business that has served tens of thousands of people. He also has a electrical technician degree.

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