Adaptive Sports for Quadriplegics

If you’re a newly injured quadriplegic, you might be thinking that your athletic or recreation options aren’t that great. But not so fast! There are a ton of sports out there for quadriplegics. While, yes, you may need assistance playing some sports, that doesn’t matter. At the end of the day, all that matters is that you’re setting aside your injury for a little while and having fun.

Why Play?

The pros of playing sports are huge. You’ll make new friends, which is a big deal after a spinal cord injury. A lot of friends may fall to the wayside after your injury, so making new friends who have no problem with the “new you” is a great thing. It’s also important to make some friends who have spinal cord injuries so you have people in your life with shared experiences.

You’ll also meet wonderful mentors who will teach you valuable lessons and tricks. For example, we know a quadriplegic who learned how to transfer into his car from a fellow athlete after being unable to master this in physical therapy. The tricks you’ll learn from others in your situation are like gold, and participating in sports is a great way to meet these people.

We can’t forget to mention the great health benefits of sports. Any kind of movement helps keep your heart healthy, which is important for everyone, but even more so now that you’re a quadriplegic. Here is a list of the most popular sports played among quadriplegics.

Popular Sports:

1. Quad Rugby: Also known as “Murderball,” quad rugby is by far one of the most popular sports for quadriplegics, and it’s also one of the most fun adapted sports to watch. Modeled after the game of rugby, the game is played on a court, and the action is hard hitting (you will sometimes even see wheelchairs flip). Special gloves can be worn that have a “sticky” feel to them, helping players to catch the ball.

2. Handcycling: Many quadriplegics can handcycle, which is great, because handcycling is an excellent cardio workout. Handcycles are a relatively big investment, so getting into this sport can be difficult for many quadriplegics. But once they make the investment in a handcycle, they are always glad they did. Handcycling is also a great way to partner with an able-bodied person on an adventure, making handcycling one of the best “couples sports” out there.

3. Swimming: Like paraplegics, many quadriplegics love swimming because of how lightweight they feel in the water. All you need is a pool and a willing able-bodied person for assistance. Floaties or noodles can help if you can’t swim. Try hanging onto an inflated ring, putting it over your head first. Many quads can hang on and float independently with this method. Swimming is still possible with practice for many lower-level quads.

4. Power Soccer: Modeled after soccer, power wheelchairs are required to play this sport (sorry, no manual wheelchairs allowed). Many people will install a metal plate to the front of their chairs to get a good “kick.” Zooming around on the court playing is a lot of fun, and there are clubs worldwide.

5. Skydiving: Skydiving has become a hugely popular sport among quadriplegics in recent years. The reason why: the easy adrenaline rush. You’ll frequently see quadriplegics with higher level injuries go skydiving. It just feels good to get out of your element for that blissful handful of minutes you’re in the sky. You will need to go tandem (strapped to someone else while falling) of course, but this method is used by many able-bodied people as well.

6. Skiing: Waterskiing and snow skiing is also enjoyed by quadriplegics. A bucketed seat fused to two skis makes it possible for quadriplegics to do either the summer or winter version of skiing. Shorted ski poles (outriggers) are used for snow skiing and able-bodied assistance is needed for both sports.

7. Surfing: Adapted surfing is another great way to get an adrenaline rush. Instead of standing on a surfboard, you just lay on your belly and enjoy the ride as the board catches waves. There is even a device called the Wavejet that will propel the surfboard as if you were kicking from behind. Life Rolls On, founded by a quad, is one of the biggest adapted surfing organizations in the country. They put on free surfing sessions in California, Florida, Hawaii, and North Carolina.

8. Tennis: Wheelchair tennis can also be played by quadriplegics. Typically, the racquet is taped to the wrist to get a good grip. In wheelchair tennis, you get two bounces to hit the ball instead of just one. The rest of the game is played relatively the same as the original sport.

9. Bowling: A super popular sport among quadriplegics of all levels is wheelchair bowling. This sport is by far one of the most easily adapted sports out there because all that’s needed is a simple “push” motion to get the ball rolling down a special ramp. High-level quads will even use mouth-sticks to push their ball down the ramp.

10. Kayaking: Surging in popularity in recent years, adaptive kayaking has become one of the most popular sports for quadriplegics. This sport is easily adaptable since all that’s needed to paddle is shoulder and bicep control. Active Hands (a holding splint) is used to help hold the paddle securely. To sit with a firm balance, special reinforced seats with a higher back are available for quads interested in kayaking.

Please watch the following video on adaptive sports for quadriplegics and afterwards please read the Takeaway Points below.

Video: Adaptive Sports for People Living with Quadriplegia with Candace Cable

Takeaway Points

  • There are a lot of sports available for quadriplegics
  • You can make new friends and mentors while playing sports
  • Some of the most popular sports for quadriplegics include quad rugby, handcycling, skydiving, and power soccer

Helpful Resources


Spinal Cord Injury
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Bethesda MD  20814
Phone Number: +1 703-795-5711