Manual wheelchairs are less expensive than power wheelchairs and are the right choice for many individuals. There are important elements to consider when deciding what type of wheelchair best suits one’s needs. While we offer specialized service in helping customers decide which chair would be the best fit, it is beneficial for seniors, caregivers, and patients to understand a few key considerations before pursuing the purchase of a manual wheelchair.
Important considerations when selecting a manual wheelchair
The choice between a manual wheelchair, a companion chair, or a power wheelchair depends on the physical abilities of the wheelchair user. Using a manual wheelchair requires upper body strength and a certain amount of stamina, depending upon the expected amount of use (how long will the user be in the chair) and the predominant location where the equipment will be used.
About Manual Wheelchairs
The term manual wheelchair usually refers to a self-propelled wheelchair where the operator uses their arm strength to manipulate the large rear wheels that drive the chair. The large rear wheels are enhanced by a rail that extends from the side of the wheel the operator grips and pushes with their hand to create motion. A smaller set of stabilizing wheels are positioned in front of the wheelchair. Folding manual wheelchairs are built around a steel or aluminum tube frame with a nylon or vinyl seat that allows the chair to be folded when not in use. The average manual wheelchair weighs less than 40 pounds and can usually support up to 300 pounds.
Those who use self-propelled wheelchairs often become very proficient at doing so, but they generally require a good deal of upper body strength. Those who do not possess the upper body strength to use a manual wheelchair can often opt for a power wheelchair.
Choosing a manual wheelchair is done best when the individual who will be operating the wheelchair carefully measures their needs, including the amount of time it will be used, the places it will be used most often, and their own individual strengths and weaknesses. Different people will have different needs for their wheelchair depending on their strength and level of mobility. Someone who uses a wheelchair full time will need a different type of wheelchair compared to someone who only uses it only for getting around when shopping or traveling.
Individuals considering a wheelchair because they are losing their mobility due to the aging process or ill health may find that a manual wheelchair is a more affordable option than powered equipment. The act of physically propelling oneself can be beneficial to overall health as the exercise can increase a person’s strength and endurance. On the other hand, manual wheelchairs are not the ideal choice for people with limited upper body strength, breathing difficulties, high blood pressure, heart conditions, or similarly limiting medical problems.
It’s important that the wheelchair seat is the right size to provide comfort and support needed for prolonged use. Choosing the wrong size could result in back and leg pain, pressure sores, and other issues.
Terrain is a major concern when considering a manual wheelchair. Maneuvering on a thick carpet, for example will be slower than on tile or linoleum. Going uphill can be exhausting and downhill grades are dangerous for individuals who don’t have the strength needed to control their speed.
Lightweight Manual Wheelchairs
Lighter manual wheelchairs are popular with those who have difficulty using a traditional manual wheelchair. Lightweight models usually weigh around 27-35 pounds and require less effort to move than a standard sized manual wheelchair.
Ultra-lightweight chairs are also available, making them very maneuverable and easy to transport. Ultra-lightweight chairs come in strong high tech composites and fibers and are a popular choice for those who are very active and strive for high performance. Both folding and rigid (non-folding) frames are available.
Companion chairs, attendant chairs, transport chairs or roll-a-bout chairs are a form of wheelchair similar in design to a traditional manual wheelchair but designed for convenience, short distances, and easy handling by a caregiver. They are built using a similar type of frame, with lightweight steel or aluminum tubing and a cloth fabric seating area. They are most often portable so they can be folded and transported easily in the back seat or trunk of a vehicle.
While companion chairs share many characteristics of a traditional manual wheelchair, they are not built to be propelled by the person sitting in the wheelchair. Instead, they are operated by a companion walking behind the wheelchair. You can identify a transport chair by looking at its rear wheels. They are much smaller than standard manual wheelchairs and are often the same size as the front wheels. Companion chairs are an excellent option for transporting mobility impaired individuals on trips to the doctor, shopping, family outings and other occasions where walking is involved. Companion chairs can be easily folded and stored when not in use. When parents, grandparents or other family members age and lose mobility. it’s very helpful to have a companion chair or transport chair handy so aging members can continue to participate in family events.
Advantages of Companion Chairs
Transport wheelchairs provide many advantages:
- Weight: Companion chairs are easy to transport because they typically weigh around 15-20 pounds, which is much less than a manual wheelchair.
- Storage and Transportation: They’re easier to store than traditional manual or electric wheelchairs and most are small enough and fold to fit into the trunk of a compact car.
- Cost: Companion chairs are less expensive than self-propelled manual wheelchairs and power chairs. Prices start below $300. And can range up from there depending on model and features.
Considerations When Choosing a Companion Chair
There are three main factors to consider when looking for a companion chair.
- Ease of Transportation: Make sure the chair you select is easy to lift, fold and move in and out of vehicles.
- Comfort: Although companion chairs are not designed for all day use, it’s important to find one that is comfortable. The most common seat width is 19 inches with additional models available in 22 and 24 inch seat widths. A cushion or pad can be used to make the chair more comfortable.
- Maximum Body Weight: Make sure you check weight capacity before making your purchase. If needed, heavy duty models are available for carrying higher than average weights.
Accessories and Extras
Other features to look for in a companion chair include footrests, added upholstery, adjustable seat back, removable arms, padded arm rests, attendant operated hand brakes, non-skid footplates, heel loops, and back pocket.
Let Us Help
We at US Medical & Mobility are mobility experts and can help you obtain the right manual or power wheelchair based on your needs and goals. We are also expert at handling the paperwork to help you qualify for payment assistance through Medicare or private insurance. If you do not qualify for assistance, we also offer payment plans to help your purchase fit your financial situation. We handle all of the top manufacturers, including Quickie, Pride Stylus, Invacare, Drive Medical, Medline, and Tuffcare.