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13 March 2020

Exercises for people with MS who are wheelchair users

Exercising with MS can be a challenge, and even more so if you are in a wheelchair, but it is vital for your health. Read on for exercise ideas at home for MS wheelchair users.

If MS has limited your mobility, you can experience the numerous benefits that exercise can bring by choosing the right exercises for you. Exercise can improve your MS symptoms, relieve stress and boost your mood.

If you have recently had a period of inactivity, then you may have experienced what it feels like to have a lack of exercise contribute to a decline in energy levels.   

There are ways to reap the mental and physical advantages of exercising from a wheelchair — and you don’t have to be a Paralympic athlete to do so.

Exercises for you

There are lots of workouts that you can do from your wheelchair to strengthen your upper body, arms and legs and get your blood pumping and heart racing.  As part of the Overcoming MS Program, you can follow videos for seated exercises — we make sure that exercise can be achieved at all abilities and levels. Begin by exercising gradually, you can add more exercises to your routine once you build confidence and strength. 

Types of exercises

There are a variety of different exercises that you can do, so find something you really enjoy, as this will be great motivation. It is fun to combine a variety of exercise into your weekly routine so that you don’t get bored.

There are three categories of exercise:

  1. Flexibility exercises — such as chair yoga and stretching exercises. As well as increasing your flexibility range, these exercises can help to reduce pain and stiffness and prevent injury.
  2. Cardiovascular exercises — such as tennis, chair aerobics, water aerobics or aquajogging (wearing a flotation device in the swimming pool).
  3. Strength training exercises — using weights or resistance bands to prevent falls and improve balance.

Exercise bands for wheelchair use

Wheelchair users can build up muscle using an exercise band — known as a resistance band. This is a useful exercise to start with as you don’t have to have a trainer with you.

Resistance training exercises are based on the power to counter the effect of any force working on your body. The exercises build up muscle strength and power. You can get different levels of resistance – which are usually indicated by different colour bands. Try the lightest first and then build up to the heavier bands which makes the exercises more challenging. 

You sit upright in the wheelchair with your stomach muscles pulled in, exhaling on exertion and inhaling on release.

What exercises can you do in a wheelchair?

To get started with using some resistance bands, follow our instructions below which will exercise different muscles on your upper body — often using the wheelchair as part of the routine.

Shoulder press

For the shoulder press, loop the band under one wheel of the wheelchair and then hold the band handles and move them to shoulder position. Putting your hands at ear level and your forearms straight, move the band to over your head and slowly move the band back to starting position.

Bicep curl

For a workout for your biceps and forearms, try the bicep curl. Keeping the band in the same position as the shoulder press, keep your elbows at the side and palms down and then slowly lift your hands towards your shoulders. You can vary this exercise by turning your palms downwards.

Chest press

Hook the band over the back of your wheelchair and hold the handles of the band at chest height so that you feel the resistance. Then pull the bands forward until your arms are in front of you. Then return to the starting position, controlling the movement.

Overhead tricep extensions

Loop the band under the wheels of the wheelchair and holding the band, pull your arms to the sides of your head. Then extend your arms up and let them down to the starting position. The only movement should be your elbows straightening and bending.

Chest pull

To do this exercise, fold your resistance band in half and hold each end in front of your chest, arms bent and away from your body. Pull the band apart, straightening your arms and then slowly move back to the start position.

When you have MS it is important to keep moving, especially when you are in a wheelchair. You are bound to have ups and downs, and days when you don’t feel motivated, but stick with it! By joining the Live Well Hub you can talk to other MS wheelchair users by joining an Overcoming MS Circle and encouraging each other.

There is specific evidence to support the importance of exercise for people with MS, which is why exercise is one of the seven steps in the Overcoming MS Program. Instead of feeling anxious about activities you can’t do in a wheelchair, focus on the ones that you can.