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Did you Know 4(1)

Did you know how to choose the right wheelchair the first time?

Many people lose their mobility unexpectedly. The reasons are varied but may include accident, disease or weight gain. If movement while walking causes you bodily pain it has already effected your normal daily activities. When this happens, many choose to reduce mobile activity and inadvertently isolate themselves from society, afraid and embarrassed to ask for help. A life of isolation from family and friends does not have to be in your future.

Along with generating an exercise and diet program, health professionals can prescribe a wheelchair that will allow you to continue living an independent life while you rehabilitate. Many wheelchair options are available, so how do you choose the right one? Listed below are several characteristics that you, along with your health care provider, should consider.

Body Weight.

If you are deciding between two sizes, consider opting for the larger and wider size. Your health professional should be able to assist you to judge your maximum weight potential. The final choice should support this maximum weight estimate.

Seat Height

When your therapist or healthcare provider measures seat height, your feet should be flat on the floor with your shin vertical. The person measuring should measure from the back of your heel to the underside of your knee. You should wear comfortable shoes with your average height heal. With this measurement the measurer can determine both the overall seat height and footrest or leg rest length.

Seat Depth

The distance between the back of your knee and the front of the wheelchair seat should be at least 1" up to 2". This is needed to preserve lower leg circulation, while maximizing your weight-bearing surface and assuring leg mobility during foot assisted propulsion. A contoured cushion and strap backrest will support your lower region while providing sufficient trunk support for comfortable seating.

Seat Width

The wheelchair seat should have 1 to 2 inches of space on each side to allow you to reposition yourself for pressure relief comfortably. This space also leaves room for winter clothing and for assistance slings when needed. Remember that push rims may be removed to fit through narrow doorways when needed.

Backrest Height

Your backrest should reach to your mid-back, just at the shoulder blade and support your lower and mid-back. This is to maximize shoulder blade mobility. Those in reclining chairs may need additional upper body support, depending on whether the individuals back is fully supported when in an upright, non reclined position. If your back is only partially touching in this situation, your therapist may suggest a strap or laced back backrest to provide sufficient support. Some individuals prefer a lower back (lumbar) cushion.

Armrest Height

Your therapist can measure the correct armrest height. The measurement is from the weighted seating surface to the elbow when the forearm is parallel to the weighted seat. This is important when a gel seat cushion is used.


Hard, solid tires have increased durability when turning. Pneumatic tires have a smoother ride but they have a downside. For bariatric patients pneumatics have a greater likelihood of rolling off the rim during a turn. Pneumatic tires and their spoked rims, unlike solid tires, require regular maintenance. (Be particularly careful if you are maintaining a Jazzy Power chair pneumatic tire. Click here for the warning.)

Power Wheelchair Applications

Many individuals with cardiac insufficiencies require power applications. Some third party insurance payers will reimburse for power wheelchairs if the prescription will dramatically improve community participation and reduce the need for other medical services.

Many causes can contribute to reduced mobility for which a wheelchair can help. With the correct fitting of the wheelchair you will achieve comfort and mobility while working your way toward better health.