In addition to helping with mobility, wheelchairs serve as an extension of the body, helping people to get back their independence and move about freely. As an aid for both temporary and permanent conditions, today’s wheelchairs are available in a range of styles to meet the demands of the diverse population that needs them.
Whether you’re looking for a temporary solution or a wheelchair that will serve you for years to come, having freedom of movement is vitally important for your mental, emotional and physical well-being.
The following comprehensive guide will walk you through the important aspects to consider when shopping for a wheelchair, as well as answer vital wheelchair questions to help you make an informed buying decision
What’s the Difference Between a Wheelchair and a Transport Chair?
A standard wheelchair is a mobility device with small front wheels and large rear wheels, and is designed to be propelled by the wheelchair user. The design allows the user easy reach of the rear wheels to propel themselves while seated.
Most standard wheelchairs are collapsible and transportable. They are also easy to use for both the wheelchair user and the caregiver.
Transport wheelchairs, on the other hand, are purposely made to be pushed by a caregiver. They are lighter, more compact, and easier to navigate, making them a great option for travel and outdoor use, or as a complement for larger wheelchairs.
Do I Need a Wheelchair?
If you’re having mobility problems and need to rest after every few steps, then you may be in need of a wheelchair. If you’re also unable to walk unassisted over long distances, you may also benefit from a wheelchair.
It is important to discuss your mobility issues with your physician. At your appointment, your doctor will assess your needs and may recommend a wheelchair.
How Long Do Wheelchairs Last?
The average lifespan of a wheelchair is about two to three years, with a maximum of up to five years for a manual wheelchair. The more you use your wheelchair, the shorter its lifespan will be. It’s likely that your mobility needs will change over time, or you may wish to upgrade to a better wheelchair before your device wears out.
Before you purchase a wheelchair, it’s important to consider how frequently you’re planning to use it. Are you planning to use it only occasionally, or will it be an everyday mobility aid?
This should help you find the best wheelchair for your needs and make the most of it during its lifespan.
How Much Support Will You Need from a Wheelchair?
If you have difficulty with motor control, or are hardly able to support your upper body or your lower body, then you may want to get a high-back wheelchair that is much safer, with support add-ons like headrests, safety belts, and lateral stabilizers.
Reclining or Upright Design?
Reclining wheelchairs are made for users who’ll spend a lot of time in their wheelchairs and are in need of some extra flexibility. As the name suggests, reclining wheelchairs can be adjusted to lean backwards, with some devices reclining up to a full flat angle.
Types of Wheelchairs
There’s a wide range of wheelchairs to choose from, but you’ll probably end up selecting a wheelchair from one of these three main categories:
- Manual wheelchairs—these are the most common type of wheelchairs, and they require the user to self-propel or they can be pushed by a caregiver or companion. They have larger rear wheels that the user can grasp on to push, and sometimes come with handles at the back for the caregiver to use.
- Transport wheelchairs—these are lightweight wheelchairs, generally weighing less than 50 pounds, and are typically manual in design. Most wheelchairs of this type are made from aluminum, but they can sometimes be made from steel or some other metal. They are easier to propel and maneuver for both the user and the caregiver. These wheelchairs are also easily portable and can be folded down to fit in a car for transport.
- Power wheelchairs—these are perfect for people who are unable to self-propel manual wheelchairs. They utilize electric motors and batteries for mobility. An electric-powered wheelchair helps the user move about indoors as well as outdoors with ease, making them a great choice for patients with severe physical impairment.
Who Is Best Suited to a Manual Wheelchair?
If you find it difficult to walk, for whatever reason, then a manual wheelchair can help you get as mobile as possible. Its main purpose is to increase mobility while ensuring comfort.
A self-propelled manual wheelchair requires upper body strength to propel and you may need to be able to stand up and sit down on your own from time to time. Fortunately, most modern manual wheelchairs are easily portable.
They are made from steel, titanium, or aluminum, but aren’t as cumbersome as they used to be. They come with folding frames for easy storage as well as transportation.
Key Features to Consider When Buying a Wheelchair
When you begin your search for a wheelchair, there are several important aspects you’ll need to keep in mind, including:
For a wheelchair that you’ll be using on a regular basis, comfort needs to be a top priority. The device’s seat is the most important part to examine here.
Most seats are constructed from either vinyl or nylon, and some chairs may require extra cushioning or back support for increased comfort.
Consider also the seat depth and width, as you’ll need a chair that fits your frame perfectly.
A cushion may be added to the seat for extra comfort and stability. Gel cushions can help correct posture and help the user navigate easily. Preventative cushions help reduce pressure and friction in times of extended use.
The size of a wheelchair’s seat can be broken down into seat width (the space between armrests) and seat depth (distance between the seat’s front edge and the backrest). Wheelchair widths typically range from 14 to 20 inches, with most falling around 18 inches.
Both measurements can be found under the “Product Specification” section on the product’s web page.
This indicates how high the seat is from the ground. Most wheelchairs have an average height of about 20 – 21 inches, which is just right for users who are over 5 feet tall. If you’re shorter than 5 feet, transferability may be a bit of a problem because the seat is too high off the ground.
This is the overall height of the device, and it’ll impact how conveniently the wheelchair can be transported. Tall wheelchairs can be a challenge to store in your car’s trunk, while shorter wheelchairs may be easier to collapse down for transportation.
If you plan to transport your wheelchair on a regular basis, you’ll want a device that’s easy to handle for travel, and so you’ll need to consider the chair’s weight. Transport and pediatric wheelchairs are typically lighter than manual wheelchairs, and power wheelchairs are the heaviest of the lot. Weights range from 19 to 65 pounds, depending on features and accessories.
Armrests are useful for extra comfort and support. They’re usually removable to make transportation easy. Many armrests are placed at desk or table height, allowing them to easily tuck below the standard table top.
Similar to armrests, leg rests are for added support and comfort. They come in a range of styles, but the most important consideration is whether you’ll like them to swing or adjust as this impacts the chair’s transferability.
Wheels can provide stability and convenience for the user’s overall ride. Most wheels will be either semi-pneumatic or made of rubber, which affects how the device rolls on different surfaces.
While some wheels need little to zero maintenance, others may need replacement as they wear away over time.
Our Top Picks
Excursion 8 and 12 Transport Chair
The Excursion 8 and 12 Transport Chair is ergonomically shaped to provide full support from the feet to the thighs and spine. With a curved backrest that matches the spine’s
natural lumbar curve, and an angled seat to ensure proper pelvic alignment, this chair from StrongBack benefits the occupant by providing commendable ergonomic support.
There’s also a seat cushion to relieve pressure points caused by lengthy periods of sitting.
Features & Specs
- Can accommodate users weighing up to 300 pounds
- Ergonomics design eases pressure points and provides posture support
- Lightweight and easily to foldable for convenient transport and storage
- 12-inch model perfect for outdoor use
- 8-inch model perfect for indoor use
GOxCy 30 Pedal Cycle
This wheelchair from HealthPedal incorporates the features of a power wheelchair, a traditional wheelchair, and a bicycle to keep the user safe, comfortable, and most importantly, active.
With the front-mounted seat, you can cycle yourself forward and enjoy all the benefits of cycling while in your seat. The pedal cycle is great for indoor as well as outdoors use on even, dry surfaces. It also boasts a stationary mode that lets you use it as stationary exercising equipment.
When you’re in need of a break from so much activity, your caregiver can use the rear handles to move you about—it is also equipped with passive assist steering for the caregiver to navigate you through tight spaces, such as elevators.
Features & Specs
- Lightweight and highly portable for convenient transport
- Easy to seat in and out of your house
- Offers speed and direction control at your fingertips
- One-of-a-kind self-propulsion features for increased independence
- Can be used as a stationary cycle for exercising
Flux Dart Daily Living Manual Wheelchair
This manual wheelchair is built for comfort and convenience. At 21.75 inches wide, it can fit through narrow doorways and can smoothly maneuver tight corners and spots. It’s also lighter than the traditional wheelchair.
The Flux Dart Daily Living Manual Wheelchair is great for indoor use as it boasts a unique contemporary design that makes it resemble an elegant office chair, as opposed to the typical wheelchair look.
You can propel it with both the hands and the feet, which is great if you’d like greater freedom of movement.
Features & Specs
- Great for indoor use
- Perfect for tight spaces and corners
- Porous backrest to keep you cool and dry
- Flip-up armrests for easy transfers
- Waterfall-contoured design provides comfort
Invacare Tracer SX5 Wheelchair
The Invacare Tracer SX5 Wheelchair comes in a variety of sizes, armrests, footrests and other options, making it quite an effective chair overall. It is lightweight but sturdy thanks to the carbon steel frame.
The seat is enhanced with a heavy-duty inner liner to prevent it from stretching. This model is also built with a dual axle, which allows you to switch to hem-height so you can propel forward with your feet.
Features & Specs
- 16 to 22-inch seat widths
- Armrests available in full-length and desk-length
- Footplates equipped with or without heel loops
- Padded or flat calf pads are available
- Three elevations offered by footrests
Silver Sport II Wheelchair
This versatile wheelchair from Drive Medical offers mobility for people with limited mobility. It’s highly customizable, with width options ranging between 16 and 20 inches.
It can accommodate weights between 250 and 350 pounds. You can easily adjust the front riggings without tools, and they can accommodate elevated leg rests or swing away footrests.
It comes with a good number of optional add-ons to create a personalized experience. The steel frame can stay sturdy for years, and the same can be said of the vinyl seat upholstery. Its composite wheels will roll smoothly on the floor and not leave any marks behind.
Features & Specs
- Tool-free front riggings adjustment
- Long lasting vinyl upholstery
- Padded armrests provide extra support
- Storage space for your belongings
- Rear handles with comfortable grips make it easier for caregivers to push
FAQs on How to Find the Best Wheelchairs
Answer: To find a good wheelchair, you must consider the factors below:
• Seat material
• Seat height
• Seat size
• Chair weight
• Chair height
• Leg rests
Answer: The best wheelchairs on the market today are:
• Featherweight 13.5 lbs. Wheelchair
• Medline Lightweight Wheelchair
• EZ Lite Cruiser DX12
• Karman Ultra-lightweight Wheelchair
• Drive Medical Cruiser 3 Lightweight Wheelchair
Answer: The best wheelchairs to use at home include:
• Featherweight 13.5 lbs. Wheelchair
• Medline Ultra-lightweight Transport Chair
• StrongBack Lightweight Manual Wheelchair
• Heavy-Duty XL 19 lbs. Feather Chair
• Quickie 2 Foldable Ultra-lightweight Wheelchair
Answer: The most comfortable wheelchairs on the market currently are:
• Karman S-Ergo Transport Chair
• Karman S-115 Wheelchair
• Drive Cruiser X4
• Drive Viper GT Lightweight Wheelchair
Answer: Determine the width of the seat by measuring your hips from side to side, following a straight line. Add a couple of inches to the measurement you get to choose the right wheelchair seat width.
To measure seat depth, measure the distance between the back of your knee and the back of your hip while seated.
Choose the Best Wheelchair for Your Needs Today!
Whether you’re looking for a temporary solution or one that will last you years, there’s a great variety of wheelchairs to choose from, and our top picks should hopefully point you in the right direction.
Also remember that it’s vitally important to assess your current and future mobility needs carefully, preferably with the help of a physical therapist or doctor.