How to Get a Best-Fit Wheelchair
Wheelchairs today come in many different sizes with as many different features. The challenge is picking out the one that bests fits your size and needs. The wrong chair can delay recovery or even cause further personal injury. At best, a mismatched wheelchair is just inconvenient.
A person who needs a wheelchair obviously has medical issues, for example, pelvic and hip problems, back trouble, respiratory problems, or pressure sores. Whatever the problem, you do not want to choose a chair which will exacerbate those problems or cause others. Where you plan to use the wheelchair can also affect your decision. Indoors, outdoors or both.
Some wheelchair manufacturers will provide tech support to help you choose the right chair. You can always ask a physical or occupational therapist to measure the user and give advice about your choices.
To begin with, many decisions can be answered with a tape measure.
Here is a list of 7 important measurements to guide you in your search for the Best-Fit Wheelchair.
#1 – Select the Seat Size.
- The seat width of a wheelchair is determined by measuring across from hip to hip in a straight line, then adding 2 inches to that measurement. Don’t get a wheelchair that is too tight to sit in comfortably.
- The seat depth is also important. Seat depth should be indicated by measuring from the back of the hip to the back of the knee of the user when seated. Subtract one inch from this measurement.
#2 – Determine Arm Height and Type.
- If the wheelchair user might stand up to do transfers, he will require a full-length arm on the chair to help support him as he pushes off to stand. Choose a standard full-length arm for this.
- If the user would like to sit at tables and desks while seated in his wheelchair, then use the shorter desk-length arms on the wheelchair.
- The height of the arm on most wheelchairs can be adjusted. Determine the height of the wheelchair’s arm by measuring from the elbow to the seat of the chair while the user is holding their arms up with their elbows bent at a ninety degree angle.
#3 – Choose a Footrest Style.
- Some users will want to elevate their legs if they have swelling or wear a brace or cast. Determine the length of the footrest by measuring from the back of the knee to the heel of the foot. For a tall user, consider using articulating leg rests which extend as the elevating portion of the leg rest rises.
#4 – Select the Back Height.
- If the patient needs extra support for his trunk then a taller back will be needed. Determine the measurement from the patient’s collarbone down to the seat while the user is sitting in a chair. Caregiver-Aid offers several lightweight wheelchair ramps and articles on how to choose your new ramp.
#5 – Decide Your Floor to Seat Height.
- Will the user be using his feet to propel himself or move? Measure the distance between the back of the knee to the heel to determine the seat to floor height.
#6 – Wheelchair Weight Limit.
- Every wheelchair will have a “weight capacity” listed in the product description. Make sure the chair you choose has adequate capacity for the person who intends to use it.
#7 – Determine Wheelchair Weight.
- Consider the level of upper body strength of the user. Weaker patients require lighter wheelchairs. It is necessary for the user to be able to propel the wheelchair without straining.
After you’ve acquired your best-fit wheelchair you may find that a cushion could help with user’s position.
If you are still unsure about certain options or perhaps question what is best for the user, seek help from a medical professional. A physical therapist or an occupational therapist would be able to evaluate the user to help obtain the best-fit wheelchair.
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published August 2013
and has been updated for clarity and content.