Can Pushing A Wheelchair Cause Back Pain

Wheelchair Insurance

Most of us are used to seeing wheelchairs as an aid for people with physical disabilities, but did you know that pushing a wheelchair can also cause back pain? Discover how pushing a wheelchair cause back pain.

Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon for caregivers and family members who must push these wheelchairs on a regular basis to experience strain on their backs over time.

Thankfully, there are ways to prevent this by understanding the root causes of back pain associated with wheelchair use, recognizing potential dangers, and taking preventive measures. In this blog post, we will explore how pushing a wheelchair can lead to back pain as well as provide tips on how best to mitigate it.

How Does Pushing A Wheelchair Cause Back Pain

A wheelchair too heavy to push can cause back pain due to several reasons, including:

1. Poor Posture

When pushing a wheelchair, it is essential to maintain proper posture to avoid straining the back muscles. However, many people tend to hunch over the handles of the wheelchair, which can cause the shoulders to round forward, and the back muscles to become tense and exhausted. This can eventually lead to back pain.

2. Overuse Injuries

Pushing a wheelchair requires considerable upper body strength and can stress the back muscles significantly. Over time, this repeated stress can lead to overuse injuries, such as muscle strains or sprains, which can cause back pain.

3. Incorrect Lifting Technique

When transferring a person in and out of the wheelchair, it is essential to use proper lifting techniques to avoid straining the back muscles. However, if the person pushing the wheelchair uses incorrect lifting techniques, it can place additional stress on the back muscles, leading to pain and discomfort.

4. Prolonged Sitting

If the person in the wheelchair remains seated for extended periods, it can lead to back pain. This is because sitting for long periods places significant stress on the back muscles and can cause them to become tense and fatigued.

To avoid back pain while pushing a wheelchair, it is essential to maintain proper posture, use proper lifting techniques, take frequent breaks, and engage in regular stretching and strengthening exercises to maintain upper body strength and flexibility.

Additionally, it may be helpful to use a wheelchair with ergonomic handles and invest in back support to reduce stress on the back muscles.

Who Cannot Push A Wheelchair Safely?

People who are at risk while pushing a wheelchair, particularly for extended periods, include those who:


Our physical abilities naturally decline as we age, and once easy tasks can become more challenging. One such task often performed by older adults is pushing a wheelchair. While it may seem simple, it can be dangerous for older adults to push wheelchairs.

For starters, pushing a wheelchair requires a significant amount of physical exertion. This can lead to fatigue and put additional strain on the body, particularly the back, shoulders, and arms. Over time, this can result in injuries like strains and sprains, which are debilitating for older adults.

In addition, pushing a wheelchair requires good balance and coordination. These abilities can also decline as we age, making it more difficult to navigate and control the chair. This can lead to falls and other accidents that can cause serious injury.

There are also environmental factors to consider. For example, pushing a wheelchair on uneven or steep terrain can be particularly challenging and increase the risk of accidents and injuries. Even something as simple as a curb or rough pavement can pose a danger.

Ultimately, older adults should avoid pushing wheelchairs whenever possible. Instead, they should seek assistance from a caregiver or family member or consider alternative forms of mobility like motorized scooters or walkers.

By taking these steps, seniors can significantly reduce their risk of injury and maintain their independence and quality of life for longer.

Pregnant Women

Pregnant women should not assist with pushing a wheelchair since doing so would constitute severe physical work, which is strongly discouraged throughout pregnancy. In addition, the first trimester of pregnancy is the most taxing on a woman’s body. Hence all experts advise against doing it. 

Research suggests pregnant caregivers should avoid any physical activity that puts their weight on their feet. Especially so since, in the absence of a ramp, caring for wheelchair-bound individuals typically necessitates physically lifting the individual. 

Though there is a little flexibility in the first few weeks of pregnancy, the span of time is brief. If your job requires you to carry heavy objects, negotiate a parental leave policy that allows you to take time off before, during, and after the first phase.

Medical Conditions

Pushing a wheelchair involves putting significant pressure on your back muscles, particularly when going up ramps or inclines. If you have a pre-existing condition that affects your back, such as arthritis or spinal stenosis, the task can exacerbate your pain and lead to further damage.

Additionally, people with weakened muscles or joint problems may find it challenging to maintain the proper posture while pushing a wheelchair, leading to incorrect alignment and further strain on the back.

Apart from back pain, pushing a wheelchair can also cause other health issues, such as shoulder pain and repetitive strain injuries. In addition, overusing your arms and shoulders can lead to muscle imbalances, inflammation, and even chronic conditions like rotator cuff injuries.

It can also place unnecessary stress on your heart. People with pre-existing cardiovascular conditions should avoid pushing a wheelchair, especially on inclines, to reduce the risk of heart attacks or other complications.

Is There A Risk Of Exhaustion When Pushing A Wheelchair?

Researchers at Ohio State University’s Spine Research Institute examined the physical toll that wheeling a wheelchair has on the back, spine, and shoulders.

The majority of participants in this research used more force than was necessary (by 20% on average), with the percentage of males who did so being much greater than the percentage of women. 

Sixty-two people participated in the research, all of whom pushed a wheelchair simulator consisting of a rig coupled to a break, with the weight’s resistance increasing with time. The wheelchairs’ handlebars were set at around the standard height for wheelchairs. 

Most of the participants kept pushing above the advised limit of 760 lb (or 3,400 N) even though they were having a hard time doing so.

Wheelchair Design Matters

The wheelchair user’s weight is one more factor that may render pushing a wheelchair more difficult. Although the average weight of those who regularly use wheelchairs has increased over the last few years, this is not the primary issue.

Although wheelchairs have become able to accommodate patients of larger sizes, their inflexible design has increased the risk of injury to caregivers moving the chairs. 

Experts in ergonomics have proposed numerous changes to wheelchair design that would benefit wheelchair users and caretakers who require assistance to protect their backs.

Electric Wheelchairs

Although manual wheelchairs are currently available, an electric wheelchair that can be pushed with the assistance of an electric motor would be quite useful. In addition, the reduced charging time makes this design more practical. As a result, caregiving’s emotional and physical burdens would be lightened.

Adjustable Handles

Depending on the attendant’s height, the wheelchair’s handle is always at the same level, which might lead to strain on the back from bending down to propel the wheelchair. Wheelchairs with height-adjustable handlebars have been offered as a solution by ergonomists to address this problem.

How To Push A Wheelchair Safely

Pushing a wheelchair can be a physically demanding task, especially when done improperly. It is not uncommon for caregivers or family members to experience back pain or other injuries due to improper wheelchair-pushing techniques.

However, following a few simple tips on how to push a wheelchair without hurting your back:

Proper Body Mechanics

Before pushing a wheelchair, taking a few moments to assess your body mechanics is crucial. Begin by standing with your feet shoulder-width apart and your knees slightly bent. Keep your back straight and avoid twisting or turning your spine. Position yourself as close to the wheelchair as possible to avoid excessive reaching or bending.

Use the Correct Technique

When pushing a wheelchair, using the correct technique can help to prevent back pain and injury.

  • Begin by grasping the handles of the wheelchair with both hands, keeping your elbows close to your body.
  • Next, push the wheelchair using your legs rather than your back muscles, and take short, quick steps.
  • Finally, avoid moving the wheelchair with one hand, which can cause muscle strain and imbalance.

Keep the Path Clear

To avoid injury while pushing a wheelchair, keeping the path clear of obstacles is vital. This includes removing any loose rugs or other tripping hazards and ensuring that the wheelchair can safely navigate doorways or tight spaces.

Control the Speed

Pushing a wheelchair too quickly can increase the risk of injury to both the caregiver and the individual in the wheelchair. Instead, take short, controlled steps to maintain a safe speed and keep the wheelchair close to your body. Use your legs to brake the wheelchair when necessary, rather than relying on your back muscles.

Key Take Aways

If you take the proper safety measures, pushing a wheelchair shouldn’t give you any kind of wheelchair back pain.

  • Find someone who uses a wheelchair and ask them for tips on properly pushing one.
  • Make sure the individual you’re helping is comfortable with you and that you’re both familiar with one other. If you’re going to push their wheelchair, they have to put all their faith in you. 
  • Keep your body in a neutral, upright position by avoiding leaning forward, adjusting the chair’s grips, and using the muscles used to push a wheelchair to support your back. 
  • Last but not least, if you’re experiencing back discomfort, you must exercise frequently and see a medical professional.