How to Choose The Best Wheelchair

Wheelchairs are life-changing mobility aids that can help someone get back their freedom both indoor and out. They make moving around again enjoyable, safer, and easier when done right. When done wrong the experience can be terrible leading to not wanting to use the wheelchair because of discomfort and even difficulty using the chair Not to mention even safety issues that come with being in a wheelchair that is not properly fitting to you and your needs. So, how to choose the best wheelchair that’s right for you? Let’s dive in.

Regardless of how long you will be using the wheelchair you should always try and have the chair fit your needs and body size to maximum performance and safety. This in-depth guide will guide you through the process of buying the right wheelchair for your situation and needs. We hope this will answer your concerns and questions on how to choose the best wheelchair for you or a loved one.

What is the best type of wheelchair?

Choosing the best wheelchair type

This is such a popular question and one that does not have a definitive answer. Why? Because the best wheelchair is what fits your needs and body type the best.

When you match what your needs are around the best fitting chair you get the best and most comfortable time out of your wheelchair. So there is no direct answer as to what the best type of wheelchair is but more so what fits your needs the best.

Here is an example: if someone is looking for a lightweight, foldable wheelchair that they can manually propel and fold to take with them when traveling, we need to start looking at manual light or ultra-lightweight manual chairs.

From there we need to make sure those types of chairs are appropriate to your width and depth, along with the chair’s weight capacity.

Getting into a wheelchair that does not fit will most certainly cause an uncomfortable experience, especially for those who sit in a chair for long extended times.

Types of Wheelchairs

Before getting into questions you should ask yourself to narrow down the wheelchair or chairs that will best suit you or a loved one you should understand the different types of wheelchairs that are available on the market.

While all provide the same solution of allowing someone to sit and then either propel themselves forward either manually or by electricity there are differences. Let’s take a look.

Manual Wheelchairs

Manual wheelchairs: Manual wheelchairs are the most common types of wheelchairs because of the price, adjustability, lightness, and overall ease of use they provide. A manual wheelchair is a mobility aid that requires the user who sits in the seat to manually propel the wheelchair. However, some manual wheelchairs also have grips at the back of the chair that allow a caregiver, friend, or family member the ability to push the chair as well. Some wheelchairs are so light they can weigh under 20 pounds.

Electric Wheelchairs

Electric wheelchairs while similar in looks and in how they can safely move someone within the chair there are big differences in how the wheelchair gets propelled. Electric wheelchairs use motors and batteries to move the wheelchair in any direction with a joystick type control module. These devices have all types of upgrade features, can help the user sit-to-stand in some instances, and go over a lot of different terrains. Average speeds run around 5 mph and on a full charge can travel over 15 miles or more depending on the model.

Pediatric wheelchairs

Pediatric wheelchairs are wheelchairs that are designed for children with disabilities. They are like other manual and electric wheelchairs except they are built with child-specific needs in terms of sizes and accessories. Colors are brother, widths, and depths of seats are smaller and lighter. Pediatric wheelchairs come in both electric and manual models.

Transport wheelchairs

Transport chairs are different from all of the above chairs regarding how they move and their capabilities. Transport chairs as the name suggest are most used to transport patients from a room to another area indoors. They typically have smaller wheels on both the back and front of the device and are not equipped to be manually propelled like a true manual style wheelchair. These chairs are not really ideal for outdoor use other than a smooth hard surface. Caregivers or others use the back handles to properly the wheelchair forward.

Beach Wheelchairs

Beach wheelchairs. These wheelchairs are specially designed and made to be on the beach where sand is the main terrain. They are also made to stand up to water as they can roll into the water. While almost all of these types of specialty chairs need to be self-propelled. There are even beach walkers that can be used to help someone with mobility issues get around the beach.

Bariatric wheelchairs

Heavy-duty or bariatric wheelchairs are designed with stronger materials and are made to support weights up to 350 pounds or more. They feature wider seats, stronger reinforced framing, and tilt seats in some instances.

Sports wheelchairs

Sport wheelchairs are high-performance chairs that are built with specific configurations that help keep the chair lightweight but strong so they can withstand harder than normal turning and stoping from competitive types of sports. Tennis, racing, and basketball are all high-energy sports that can be played in a wheelchair. These chairs are lightweight and really easy to maneuver.

Tilt-in-Space Wheelchairs

For those users that require weight distribution because of prolonged wheelchair use, a tilt-in-space wheelchair is excellent. They can provide pressure relief and move the user’s weight from one place to another because of the angles these types of wheelchairs can move.

Manual or electric wheelchairs?

In terms of propelling a wheelchair, it is either manual or electric. For those of us that have limited mobility, limited strength, or other types of health conditions that require extra assistance an electric wheelchair would make more sense. Or for those that require a wheelchair for long periods of time would also lean to the electric models.

Occasional wheelchair users who still can self-propel a chair would properly be better off with a manual wheelchair. These chairs are lighter, easier to transport, and can be stored easier when not in use.

The same holds for transport chairs. If you have someone that will be able to push you and you only need the chair for short-term use a transport chair, especially the ultralight is easier to push for a caregiver, and folding and transport is a breeze.

Just remember, these chairs do not have the ability to self-propel because they lack a push rim like a true manual wheelchair.

Upright or reclining wheelchair?

You can choose from either an upright or reclining wheelchair model. Not sure? That’s okay we will explain. Reclining wheelchairs are designed for someone that has to spend a lot of time in a wheelchair. Two main things can happen.

One, the wheelchair user can lay almost flat back if the model has a tilt that allows for this and he or she can sleep on the chair much more comfortably.

Two, it allows the user to distribute the weight from areas of the body that may start to cause pressure sores because of prolonged sitting on one body part for too long.

Upright or standing wheelchairs allow for the user to be able to stand up with a push of a button in some models. This allows for easy sit-to-stand capabilities and it helps to promote a better digestive and respiratory process.

Your body size and weight matter

The size and weight of the wheelchair user are one of the most important aspects in choosing the proper wheelchair that will be the best fitting for you or a loved one. You need to ensure that you have the proper wheelchair that can safely support your weight and height to make the experience as comfortable as possible.

How do you ensure this? By accurately knowing your body measurements and weight can ensure the chair fits you perfectly as it can. This will help with proper sitting posture, reduce the risk of skin irritation and or pressure sores, and make the experience just more comfortable.

Do keep in mind that if you only use your chair for very short-term uses it will not be as necessary to have such precise measurements.

Pediatric wheelchair users are in a little different situation simply because of the chair design. These chairs are specifically engineered with configurations that will be able to grow with your child when they do. Meaning these chairs are highly adjustable. Much more so than the average manual wheelchair.

Heavy-duty / Bariatric wheelchairs are wheelchairs designed for heavier-weight users that can provide a comfortable and safer time while in a wheelchair. These chairs are designed to be stronger, have wider and deeper seats, and use more bracing supports for stability for the user. These wheelchairs can support weights up to 1000 pounds depending on the make and model.

It is important to know that when you purchase your wheelchair from a reputable store or online store customization of that chair is almost always possible.

Some models can be chosen with specific measurements like footrests, armrests, leg-rests, seat widths and more Some will even adjust certain measurements to get the closest fit to your body style.

Fitting a wheelchair from your measurements

Wheelchair measurements

The majority of wheelchair users use a wheelchair that does not fit them properly. Because of this users are not maximizing comfort, posture, and the longevity that can be gotten when a properly size wheelchair is used. Here are the measurements you should know.

Seat depth: The death depth he properly measured should allow for two inches away from the back of the knee.

Seat width: The width should not be so tight that it’s rubbing against your hips. You should have just enough room that you do not need to stretch to reach the wheelbase so you can propel the wheelchair. When a seat width is too wide you will tend to slide around either side and ultimately have bad posture. You can also tend to fall out of a wheelchair easier. The width should be just wide enough that the hips are not pinched against the side.

Seat height: Some uses may need their feet to propel and when they do the seat height needs to be such as the user can still touch the floor with his or her feet. It should be known that when footrests are on a wheelchair the seats are typically higher and using your feet to move becomes difficult.

Armrest heights: Armrests can be adjusted in some models making it much easier to get the natural supported height that feels comfortable when in a chair.

Footrests: A rule is your feet should never just tangle fee when using a wheelchair. Most leg-rests and or footrests have the ability to be adjusted for comfort.

There are all types of accessories that can be used as well to make the wheelchair even more comfortable. Footrests height should allow for a natural comfortable fee.

You do not want to have footrests that are too high because that can lead to pelvic tilt. Keep this in mind.

Using Your Wheelchair outdoors

Choosing a wheelchair for outdoors

When choosing an outdoor wheelchair there are some things to keep in mind. Like we have stated many times before in this guide how you intended to youse the wheelchair will ultimately dictate what type of chair you should get.

For those that want to use a wheelchair for outdoor activities then you will want to take a look at all-terrain wheelchairs that may be an addition to the regular everyday chair you currently use.

It is not uncommon for someone to have two wheelchairs if they can simply because some applications require a different type of chair to perform its best. Power wheelchairs excel outdoors, especially the ones designed for outdoor use.

Customization can bring extra comfort

Wheelchair accessories dial in your chair so it is as comfortable as possible. After of course you pick the best wheelchair for your needs and make sure it fits you as best as possible. Then you can start to add accessories and customize the chair even further. So, what are some of the best accessories you might want to add for extra comfort?

Armrest pads: Armrest pads can make the current armrest on your chair more comfortable by adding extra padding around the armrest. These are inexpensive add-ons that can help with pressure sores around the elbow or skin irritation because the proper padding is not being used.

Wheelchair Seat cushions: Seat cushions are one of the most used accessories when speaking about after-market add ons. Simply because adding the right wheelchair cushion can add extra comfort and help with pressure sores. Seat cushions can range in pricing from 30 dollars up to a few hundred or more.

Wheelchair Drink holders: Cup holders or drink holders for wheelchairs make holding drinks easier while manual using a chair. These upgrades are not expensive but make holding a cold drink much easier so it can be enjoyed whenever you like. We have put together a list of the best cup holders for wheelchairs that you can read.

Backpacks: Wheelchair backpacks and bags are great for allowing the user to store belongings like newspapers, phones, wallets, keys, and other stuff you would like to bring with you. These bags are relatively inexpensive, but provide a way to safely and easily store your stuff.

Wheelchair trays: Wheelchair trays provide a way for the user to eat from the wheelchair, read a book, draw, or do any other things they would do at a table. Even use a laptop is possible with a tray. These trays come in many styles and functions and are great accessories to make a wheelchair even better.

Final thoughts on how to choose the best wheelchair for your needs

Choosing the right wheelchair consist of knowing what you are wanting to use the wheelchair for and knowing your proper measurements. It is not as simple as just choosing a wheelchair and being on your way but more of knowing what your specific needs are.

Getting into a wheelchair that fits your size and needs will almost always provide a much better fit for you when in the chair making it a much more pleasurable, comfortable, and safer experience. We hope this guide has shed light on what to look for to get you in the best possible chair when choosing your first or next wheelchair.

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About ASmith

Adam Smith is the main researcher and contributor at Mobility Medical Supply. Adam has many years of research in public data, and software security. With Mobility issues within Adam's family, he decided to dedicate in-depth guides on mobility products to anyone looking to improve movement and gain independence.