The Best Wheelchair Guide
You might be looking for a wheelchair because of a disability or injury that has limited your mobility. Or you could be searching for one that would be a good fit for an elderly family member.
A doctor might recommend a wheelchair for a variety of reasons. Maybe you have musculoskeletal issues, an injury to your leg or foot, neurological issues, or trouble walking for long due to balance problems.
Regardless of the reason, choosing a wheelchair is a big decision that can significantly impact the user’s quality of life.
The right wheelchair can be a great asset to you. It can increase your mobility and independence. It can also make your daily life more comfortable and allow you to take part in your favorite activities once again.
On the other hand, if you pick the wrong wheelchair, not only will it not improve your life, but it may even end up becoming a burden.
So, it is critical to do your research before you purchase one.
If this is your first time buying a wheelchair, you may have some questions. For example, what are the different types of wheelchairs that are available, and which one is right for you or your family member?
In this guide, we’ll cover in-depth information on wheelchairs so that you can make an informed choice.
We’ll discuss the different types of wheelchairs, their specific benefits, as well as some of the more prominent wheelchair manufacturers in the market.
What are the different types of wheelchairs that are available?
If you’re not familiar with wheelchairs, you might be inclined to think that they are all rather similar.
But that’s not the case. There are several different types of wheelchairs, each with unique features that might benefit a specific type of user.
Let’s look at some of the different available options.
Standing wheelchairs allow the user to raise the chair from a seated to a standing position. The mechanism to raise the chair can be powered electrically or manually. The manual systems may have hydraulics in place to assist the user.
Some standing wheelchairs can be driven in both standing and seated positions, while others can be operated only in the seated position. Your physician can recommend the right option for you based on your specific needs.
What are the benefits of a standing wheelchair?
A standing wheelchair allows the user to interact with others at the eye level, which can have various psychological benefits. It may raise your self-esteem, sense of independence, as well as make it easier for you to communicate with those around you.
From a physical standpoint, a standing wheelchair can promote better blood circulation, kidney function, and muscle tone.
Although standing wheelchairs may benefit a variety of different users, they are often used by those affected by a spinal cord injury. They are also used by people who have muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis, or those who might have suffered from a stroke.
Reclining wheelchairs have a high back that you are able to recline, either manually or electrically.
The thing to note about reclining wheelchairs is that the back reclines independently of the rest of the chair. A vital distinction from tilt wheelchairs, as we will discuss below.
How much a backrest reclines will depend on the specific wheelchair, with some reclining far enough almost to the point where they become a lie-flat bed.
What are the benefits of a reclining wheelchair?
Besides adding comfort, one of the most significant benefits of a reclining wheelchair is that it allows the user to open up the hips. As we all know, sitting in one position for long periods gets uncomfortable. With the reclining feature, the user can switch it up and get a good stretch.
There can be various other benefits that come from being able to recline the backrest.
- The user may be able to fall asleep in the chair when they need rest.
- More accessible personal care, such as catheterization or diaper changing, if necessary.
- Avoid pressure sores by adjusting how body weight is distributed.
- Relieve hypotension, if the reclining wheelchair has a leg rest elevation feature.
Unlike a reclining wheelchair, the entire frame tilts back in a tilting wheelchair. So, it does not open up the hip angle when the user tilts the chair back. Tilting chairs vary in how far they tilt back.
What are the benefits of a tilting wheelchair?
The primary benefit of tilting wheelchairs is that they allow for posture control. Just like a reclining wheelchair, the change in position might bring comfort to the user.
For example, people suffering from a spinal cord injury might have trouble shifting sitting positions and could be more susceptible to pressure sores. Tilting back relieves pressure on joints and shifts the bodyweight.
Tilting wheelchairs also make it easier for some users to get in and out of bed.
Here are some of the other benefits of a tilting wheelchair.
- Edema management - For those with edema, it is vital to have their legs elevated at heart level or above, which is not possible with a reclining chair alone. A tilting chair allows the legs to be lifted adequately.
- Back pain relief - If you have posture issues, a natural spine position may cause additional pressure, which can be alleviated with a tilting wheelchair.
- Promotes stability - If you need to go on slopes on downhill streets, a tilting chair can provide stability and an added sense of security.
If you’re wondering whether a tilting or reclining wheelchair is a better option, your physician will be able to guide you. They will evaluate your specific needs and make recommendations accordingly, as we will explain below.
Bariatric wheelchairs are meant for larger individuals who might be dealing with mobility challenges. People above a certain weight might feel constrained in a conventional wheelchair, and it may limit their ability to move around freely.
A bariatric wheelchair is made with heavy-duty materials, and they often have wider seats to accommodate larger people. They might feature special stitchings, fabrics, and other materials to create a robust and durable wheelchair.
The primary purpose of these chairs is to increase the user’s comfort, safety, and independence.
What are the benefits of a bariatric wheelchair?
The main benefit of a bariatric wheelchair is that it prevents the chair from slowing down due to extra load, as in the case of a conventional chair. Consequently, it gives the user greater freedom and reduces their dependence on a caregiver or family member.
A bariatric chair may be useful in the following cases.
- Users who are more than 100 lbs overweight
- People suffering from a cardiovascular condition
- Users with weight-related joint health issues
If you’re looking for convenience above all, a lightweight wheelchair might be right for you. They are simple and easy to use, as well as being easily portable. Although these wheelchairs are light in weight, they are still stable, and they can handle a standard load.
What are the benefits of a lightweight wheelchair?
Lightweight wheelchairs are more comfortable to operate for the user. They can move relatively quickly without putting too much stress on the user’s muscles and joints.
If you’re someone that has to travel frequently, whether it’s for doctor’s visits or to run errands, a lightweight wheelchair might be a good fit for you. You can easily store them in the trunk of your car as you’re on the way to your destination.
Although they might not be ideal for all users, lightweight wheelchairs can be an excellent option for those looking to increase mobility and independence in a convenient, hassle-free way.
Stair-climbing wheelchairs, as you may have guessed from the name, allow the users to go up a flight of stairs in their wheelchair.
Stair-climbing wheelchairs were first invented by Dean Kamen, who also created the famous Segway scooters. The chairs are battery-powered, and they have various built-in mechanisms that allow them to detect and maneuver on uneven surfaces, including stairs.
What are the benefits of a stair-climbing wheelchair?
The ability to go up or down the stairs in a wheelchair can significantly improve the user’s quality of life. They can move around in their homes in a way that is closer to what it was before their disability.
Stair-climbing chairs will usually also have the capability to elevate the user to a standing position. As we explained with the standing wheelchairs, being able to operate from a standing position can increase one’s self-esteem, confidence, and communication.
Electric wheelchairs are a broad classification of all types of wheelchairs that are powered electrically, rather than manually.
They can include different types of wheelchairs, including ones we have already discussed above. For example, a standing wheelchair, a reclining wheelchair, or a stair-climbing wheelchair can all be powered electrically.
Electric wheelchairs are available in rear-wheel drive, mid-wheel drive, and front-wheel drive.
What are the benefits of an electric wheelchair?
Motorized or electric powered wheelchairs are ideal for people with conditions that may cause muscle weakness, which could make them more prone to fatigue with a manual wheelchair.
They can also benefit those who have cardiovascular issues and need to avoid strenuous activities, like propelling a manual chair up an uphill terrain.
As mentioned before, being able to adjust positions in your wheelchair can have many benefits. It might improve circulation, ease back pain, and prevent pressure sores.
A wheelchair that is powered electrically will be easier to switch between positions, giving the user greater flexibility to adjust and control posture and be more comfortable.
What are some of the best wheelchair companies?
Let’s look at some of the prominent wheelchair manufacturers and what makes them unique. We’ll also include some of their price points so you have an idea if they will fit your budget.
Invacare’s mission is to provide products and services that help people with a variety of lifestyles live more comfortable lives.
They offer both powered wheelchairs and custom manual wheelchairs.
The powered wheelchairs offer a wide range of options to provide users with greater choice and flexibility when it comes to maneuverability. The Invacare manual wheelchairs are some of the most durable ones available in the market, and they are ideal for those involved in sports and recreation.
Invacare’s manual wheelchairs start at around $1,180.00. Their powered wheelchairs begin at around $6,000.00.
Quickie wheelchairs are industry leaders with more than 35 years of experience in the home medical equipment industry. They manufacture a variety of different wheelchairs, including powered wheelchairs, ultralight wheelchairs, and tilting wheelchairs. All the chairs are made in the USA.
The powered wheelchairs start at around $4,000.00. They are available in mid-wheel and rear-wheel drives.
Quickie’s ultra-light wheelchairs are custom made according to the individual user’s specifications. You can get a folding wheelchair, a rigid one, as well as an ultra-light bariatric chair (bariatric chairs are the ones that can handle heavier weights and larger sizes).
The ultra-light chairs start at around $1,100.00.
Quickie’s tilt-in-space wheelchairs can tilt up to 55 degrees, allowing for posture control and added comfort. The prices start at around $2,000.00.
Monroe doesn’t just sell wheelchairs. They provide Complex Rehab Technology (CRT). They specialize in creating custom products for users with spinal cord injuries, neuromuscular diseases, and birth disorders.
Monroe is committed to maximizing health and mobility for their users, and they have a dedicated customer service team to make sure any issues are addressed promptly.
Monroe’s CRT products include both manual and powered wheelchairs.
The manual chairs include ultra-light folding wheelchairs, ultra-light rigid wheelchairs, tilting chairs, as well as sports wheelchairs.
The powered line of products includes tilt-in-space wheelchairs, recliner wheelchairs, as well as elevated wheelchairs that allow the user to interact at an eye level.
Since all their products are custom made, the price will depend on your specific needs. Get in touch with them for more information.
Zinger wheelchairs are a bit different when compared to the other ones. They are not meant for medical purposes.
Zingers are all about convenience. They are easy to use, easy to store, and they’re designed to help you zip around in ease. You get it fully assembled, and the Zinger is ready to use as soon as you insert the included battery.
If you’re ready to get started with your lightweight and convenient mobile chair, the Zinger will cost you around $2,500.00.
Air Hawk is the first wheelchair that can be taken on an airplane as carry-on luggage. The Air Hawk is light and compact, with a width of only 12.25 inches when folded, and weighs only 41 lbs. You can also carry the Air Hawk in the trunk of a car.
Besides portability, the Air Hawk also boasts functional features. It has anti-tip wheels that allow you to use it on a steep incline. It also has a built-in battery backup, so you’ll never run out of power.
The Air Hawk costs around $2,000.00.
How do I choose a wheelchair that is right for me?
Your wheelchair will have a significant impact on your quality of life. It could mean more freedom, improved mobility, greater comfort, and the ability for you to become more active socially.
So it is vital that you pick the right one. Your doctor or another medical professional will assess your situation, and they can make recommendations based on your specific needs.
Some of the things they will consider are your age, mobility, strength, and body size. They will also take into account if you have any medical conditions that require special wheelchair features like reclining or tilting.
Lifestyle, environment, and budget when choosing a wheelchair
If you’re someone that has to run a lot of errands or have various social or professional engagements, then your requirements would be different than someone who would spend the majority of their time at home.
You must also take your surroundings into account. Do you live in a city or a rural area? What is the climate like where you live? These factors, and others, might play a role when you decide what materials you prefer your wheelchair to be made of.
If you’re going to be wearing heavy winter clothing, be sure to account for that when you get measured for your chair.
Last but not least, you have to account for your budget. We’ve included some of the price points of a few prominent manufacturers, but it will vary depending on your specific needs.
If your doctor provides you with a prescription for a wheelchair, some insurance companies may cover the cost of the chair, at least partially. So make sure to check with your insurance provider before you purchase your wheelchair.