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How Do I Know What Size Of Wheelchair To Buy ?

One of the major reasons why a senior citizen or disabled person usually feel less comfortable in a wheelchair is because of the size of the device. When a person is sitting in any type of wheelchair that is tight, cramped, and uncomfortable, it is pretty hard for them to feel relaxed for a long period of time.  

Sitting in a wheelchair that does not fit well can cause unnecessary injuries or strains. This is why it is very important to know the right size of wheelchair to buy for yourself or for a loved one.  

The most essential features to look out for when buying a wheelchair is the height and the overall size. Always look for a wheelchair that comes with the right size and seating measurement you want. Every person has his/her own measurements so ensure you purchase according to your own measurement. Seat height, seat depth, and seat width are all major points that need to be considered carefully when buying a wheelchair. A careful measurement of each of these segments will help you choose the right wheelchair size, giving you a comfortable and pain-free wheelchair experience. 

Wheelchairs come in many different sizes and this has made finding the right size to buy a very challenging task. Although a wheelchair is used for short-term transportation from time to time, those who spend a lot of their time sitting in a wheelchair need their seat to be customized to fit perfectly. 

Although there are a lot of factors to consider when buying a wheelchair, including warranty coverage, durability, wheel size, customizability and more, the main concern as a nurse or caregiver is to ensure that your patients are healthy and happy in their wheelchairs. By concentrating on trunk stability and proper pelvic, prevention of wounds, maximum function of ADLs and skin protection, you will be on the right track to buying the right wheelchair size for the user.  

Steps In Determining A Wheelchair Size

Step #1: Measure Seat Depth And Width

The seat depth can be determined by measuring the wheelchair user from the back of their hip to the back of their knee (measurement to be taken while seated). Then, subtract an inch from your measurement to determine the accurate seat depth.

The seat width can be determined by measuring the wheelchair user from one hip to the other (this should be done in a good straight line). Then add two extra inches to the measurement to choose a proper seat width.

Step #2: Select The Arm Height And Type 

  • Full-Length Wheelchair Arms

These are great for those individuals who will be performing pivoted transfers. The full-length arm gives support to someone who needs help whenever he/she wishes to stand up. 

  • Desk-Length Wheelchair Arms

These come to play when a person that uses a wheelchair need to be comfortable while sitting on a table or desk. The shorter arms enable them to reach out to the table’s edge.

  • Arm Height

The arm height of a wheelchair can vary. Measure from the chair elbow to chair seat while the user is seated on it and holding his/her arms upwards with both elbows bent at a ninety degree angle. 

Step #3: Determine Footrest Style

  • Elevating Leg Rests

Those who suffer from injury, swelling, or edema and are advised by their physicians to lift their leg(s) should buy a wheelchair that come with leg rests with lock to allow them elevate and extend their legs. However, such wheelchairs usually look large in size. 

To know the length of a footrest, measure the distance between the user’s heel of his/her foot to the back of their knee.

  • Articulating Leg Rests

These are recommended for taller people. The leg rests allow you to extend your legs further. Wheelchairs with leg rests are easier to use. 

Step #4: Determine Back Height

Allow the physically challenged or senior citizens to sit in a wheelchair, then take a measurement between the seat and the person’s collarbone. 

For people with issues that need extra back support, consider finding out if the size of the wheelchair will affect their situation. Nonetheless, there are a handful of options that can help you solve this problem. Also, you can visit your physician for advice. 

Step #5: Determine Wheelchair Seat Height

If the patient has to use his/her feet at any time to move or propel themselves while in the chair, take a measurement of the distance between his/her heel to the back of the knee. The seat height should enable the patient to reach the floor easily with their heels.

Step #6: Weight Considerations

Wheelchairs are designed to handle certain weight limits. Before looking for the wheelchair size to buy, ensure that you know your body weight so you can fit comfortably in the wheelchair. 

Most people who are wheelchair bound fold up their wheelchairs and put them in the trunk of their vehicles so that they can travel easily in a normal car seat. As a matter of fact, most people who are wheelchair bound still drive their own cars. It is for this reason one needs to determine the size of a wheelchair even before thinking of buying one. 

Why Positioning Is So Important

To someone who is healthy, sitting in an uncomfortable position for a long period of time can be tiring, but for the disabled and senior citizens it can be bad for their overall health. Especially for the ones who spend most of the day sitting in a wheelchair, a little discomfort can cause severe body pains. Being situated inappropriately for even 60 minutes or more can affect the other conscious parts of your body, leading to serious health complications, fatigue, and social disengagement. 

For instance, if the seat of a wheelchair is too narrow, the user will experience too much pressure around the thigh area, leading to severe pressure wounds. They may also try to shift their hips while looking for a better fit which could cause pelvic rotation. An over wide seat, on the other hand, could cause a user to start leaning to one end, causing posterior pelvic tilting or pelvic obliquity. 

From the placement of the armrests to the height of the seat, an ill-fitting wheelchair can cause long-lasting damages. Fortunately, there are few ways to avoid all these bad occurrences from even happening. You can avoid these conditions by buying the right size of wheelchair and measuring the user beforehand. 

How To Know The Right Wheelchair To Buy 

Before you concentrate on wheelchair features and sizing options, you must first determine the body size of the person who will use the chair. The right wheelchair depends entirely on the user and how he/she plans on using it.  

How Can A Wheelchair Be Sized? 

Just like we have mentioned earlier, determining the right size of a wheelchair completely depends on the unique body size of the user. As soon as the seat width, seat height, seat depth and height have been determined you can go ahead to make a wheelchair purchase. 

While all four measurements need to be taken before buying a wheelchair, they are also very important. When you buy a wheelchair that has the right dimensions in all the earlier listed areas, you will avoid most of the dangerous and common positioning problems. Measuring all four fields will help provide you (the user) with safety and optimal comfort. 

With the continuous increase in mobility disability incidences, we should all try our very best to ensure that those who depend on a mobility device to perform the basic daily activities are happy and comfortable in their chair. Knowing the right size of wheelchair for a user will impact positively on hip problems, posture, discomfort, breathing, pelvic problems, pressure ulcers (sores) etc.


Wheelchairs come in a wide range of sizes. To know the right size for you, first determine your body size. All senior citizens or disabled people do not have the same body size, the same applies to wheelchairs.

It is true that finding the correct size of wheelchair to buy is sometimes a challenging task to carry out. Also sometimes, mistakes are made during measurements and finding those right dimensions may seem impossible. We hope this post will guide hospitals, caretakers, seniors, and the general public in finding the right size of wheelchair to buy!

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