8 Types of Manual Wheelchairs to Meet Different Needs

Features You Will Find on Common Models

close up of woman's hand on wheel of wheelchair
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If you have an impairment that makes it difficult (or impossible) for you to walk or get around, a wheelchair could be your ticket to freedom. Wheelchairs come in different makes, models, and sizes to ensure proper fit. If you're in the market for a new set of wheels you should be able to find a chair that will meet your specific needs.

The broadest categories are manual wheelchairs and motorized wheelchairs. A manual wheelchair is self-propelled by the user while motorized chairs allow partial or full assist. Wheelchair manufacturers offer a wide variety of options including seat depth, seat height, fixed or folding frame, fixed or swing-away arms, footrests, wheel diameters, tire types, seat cushions, brakes, and more.

Manual Wheelchair Types

Here's an overview of some specific types of manual wheelchairs.

Transport Wheelchairs

These chairs are made to be pushed by others rather than the user propelling himself. They have a small back wheel the user can't grip. You may often see them provided at medical offices and hospitals. They will usually fold for storage. Standard transport wheelchairs accommodate users up to 300 pounds, and heavy-duty transport chairs can accommodate users who weigh more.

Hybrid transport wheelchairs typically feature a quick-release mechanism that allows removal and exchange of the rear wheels from large, self-propulsion wheels to smaller transport wheels.

Wheelchairs used in magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) suites must be made from non-magnetic materials. A popular option is PVC pipe, which not only is non-magnetic but also has been shown to inhibit bacteria growth. Some MRI chairs are made of non-magnetic metals and will be stamped and prominently marketed as being MRI safe.

Standard Manual Wheelchairs

These wheelchairs have large back wheels with a push rim for the user to grip to propel himself. They are suitable for users who have control of the upper limbs. They usually are folding, allowing easier storage when not in use or when traveling.

Heavy-Duty and Bariatric Manual Wheelchairs

Larger users may need a heavy-duty wheelchair to accommodate their size or weight. They have a larger and sturdier frame and can have wider seats. Models for bariatric patients can support up to 700 pounds and sometimes recline to distribute a person's weight more easily.

Light and Ultra Lightweight Wheelchairs

There has been a move toward wheelchairs that weigh less. You can find ultra lightweight wheelchairs weighing 25 to 30 pounds and light wheelchairs weighing under 40 pounds. They are good for traveling with your chair, folding it to place in a vehicle.

This category has the large back wheel that the user can use to propel themselves, as well as grips to be pushed by others. They are usually are upholstered in nylon, and the lightest chairs may not have a cushioned seat.

Sport Wheelchairs

If you want to enjoy off-pavement activities or basketball, rugby, or many other sports, a sport wheelchair is built to be maneuverable. They can be customized to the activity.

Pediatric Wheelchairs

Pediatric wheelchairs for children feature a small frame with a narrow, shallow seat. They usually have handles that can telescope to a height that's comfortable for an adult pushing the chair to reach.

Tilt and Recliner Wheelchairs

Wheelchairs that tilt can be adjusted by a caregiver to a position that is comfortable for the user. Recliner wheelchairs may have a taller backrest that makes them comfortable when reclined.

Hemi Height Wheelchair

If the user can use his feet to propel himself better than his arms, a hemi height wheelchair has a lower seat height to allow this. The chair may be made on a dual axle so it can be raised to standard height and lowered to hemi height.

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