Tips on using a self propeled wheelchair

Hi everyone hope your weekend has been ok i brought my first wheelchair home on friday its still sitting in the car as i am putting off the first outing in it as i am scared and wont some practise i suppose before i start causing havoc on the streets , any tips would be very welcome , its a self propelled one as i still have upper body strength just legs are knackered .

Thank you . Katy

Hi Katy, glad you have got a set of wheels that you need now.

Yes, I agree you would be wise to get some practice using it, before you set off anywhere.

I use an electric chair, but a wheeled commode and occasionally, a self propel chair. I can self propel on the fat, for a short distance, but the slightest uneven or steeper ground makes me struggle and unable to continue. So then I always have carers around to take over.

Is there somewhere near your house, where you and someone fit could go, for your practice run? Just incase you get into difficulties, that second person could help out.

A friend of mine, who still uses a self propel years after going into her chair, says the strength needed to push the chair, keeps the bingo wings at bay…what a good reason to continue!

Good luck and enjoy your outings more…will you also be using it at home?

luv Polx


No i will be just be using it outside for now i can still manage to furniture surf at the moment . Anything to help the bingo wings can only be a good thing mine must nearly be ready for take off so thats a good bonus i hadn’t thought of .

Take care Katy.


I have been using a self-propel outdoors for 10 years.

Do you have anti-tips on the chair. If so, please make sure they are down. Leaning back, on a slope can lead to tipping.

Long pulls on the wheel are best on the flat and short pulls on up-hill. Using wheelchair gloves are useful, especially on braking.

On pavements the camber will affect pushing as the camber will mean you will use one arm more. A test may be best in a shopping centre as the terrain is flat and level.

I can do miles in my chair and about 20 meters walking so the chair is a lifesaver and gives great independence.

one word of warning, wheelchairs hate cobbles.



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Beware of people who don’t look where they’re going!

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Make sure that if you’re out with someone who wants to be helpful mak sure that they know that they MUST tell you before they push the chair. It can really hurt your fingers if you’re self propelling and someone pushes it!

You’ll be suprised how quickly it becomes second nature to you :slight_smile:

And following on from Teddie’s comment, if someone is pushing you they MUST tell you if they’ve stopped pushing you : ) There’s been a few times when I’ve found myself freewheeling towards a ditch or something, not realising that no one’s in control. Another thing I’ve found when people are pushing you is that they don’t realise how far out your feet go. So in crowds I’d often find my feet/footrest are nipping the ankles of people in front of me.

As Neil says, make sure the anti-tip bars are on. When going along a pavement, scan ahead to check for dropped curbs at junctions. You might find one side of the road hasn’t got one, so you need to swap to the other side.

And definitely get wheelchair gloves. Make sure they’ve got a full length thumb as well. If I need to put in a bit more power, I push with my thumb on the tyre. But that means your thumb needs a bit more protection, so normal cycling gloves won’t do for me (the ones I use are by Globaleather. I’ve got a different types of theirs - a gel palm one, a leather one, and wet weather one. Shop around online, as prices can vary a lot).

A lot of other stuff comes just from practice, things like what angle you need to be at to open doors. So have fun practicing, let us know how it goes (or if you’ve got any other questions).


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Thank you all for your advice , i had a practise today around our car park at home as it was empty so no damage could be done , found it ok as it is level with a slight dip , turning it around corners was a challenge but i think i have got the hang of it now, but now need to venture out into the real world with other people . We are going to try a trip to the seaside on wens so will see what happens if all else fails i get an icecream. I will definitely need some gloves as hands are sore.

Thank you all once again .Katy

Enjoy…mine`s a 99 please!


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Hi all! I’m really struggling with the co ordination required for going out and about like pavement cambers.any suggestions?these pins and needles I’m sure are to blame lol

Hi there!

I am a new(ish) manual wheelchair user. I bought a lightweight chair and had a one to one session with freedom wheelchair skills to learn how to use it!

Despite learning a lot of useful skills I have found that there’s a big difference between knowing the skills in principle and actually DOING them!

On forgiving flat surfaces the chair is wonderful and such a relief from the stress of walking. However give me a slight slope or pavement camber and my technique goes out the window as I just try to keep moving! I can’t even fully get up train ramps yet, I have to ask for a shove. :slight_smile:

I really wish to avoid having my chair pushed by anyone. I have decent upper body strength and no real issues with fatigue. I’m practising a little up a sloping road near me to try and build strength though I think I look a right spectacle! It feels incredibly hard work.

I don’t really have confidence to take it into town as I don’t want to be having difficulties whilst surrounded by people. I’d love to eventually have the chair free me up to go to London more, get on and off buses and push around towns easily.

I’d really appreciate some words of wisdom on how long it takes for pushing a chair to feel less of a struggle? And perhaps how experienced manual wheelchair users fared at the start?


Joceline x

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Hi Joceline

I’ve been using a chair for about 14 years now. To be honest, I don’t remember how long it took to build up strength. I know in the early days my deltoid muscles would ache, but that doesn’t happen now. People think I must have strong arms, but it’s not actually your arm muscles you use most - it’s your deltoids & shoulders that do most of the work. So building up those muscles will help. Something I use is a resistance band. Basically, it’s a stretchy piece of latex (physiotherapists use them a lot). I loop it round the back of my chair. Then, taking hold of either side by my chest, I push my arms out straight, which is a bit similar to pushing the chair.

Living in hilly Sheffield, I get plenty of practice on slopes. Getting a rigid chair, rather than folding, has helped a lot. But I’ve never once attempted to get the ramp for the train or taxi! They’re really steep, so the train guard/taxi driver always push (I never even ask, they just do it).

Keep practising, you’ll grow in strength and confidence.


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Hi Joceline,

I mostly use a scooter, but use a wheelchair sometimes such as parties as more comfortable and manoeuvrable in small spaces.

I bought some spoke covers, as I kept getting my fingers caught in the spokes. The choice is huge , I got multicoloured gerbera, always a talking point too.

Another top tip… get a drinks holder to attach to your footplate. Can carry water bottle, coffee cup or plastic mug for wine!

Enjoy your new found freedom.


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