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How Wide Should a Wheelchair Be?

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When the time comes to get a new wheelchair there’s certainly lots to think about. What colour spokes should I get? Do I want Spinergy wheels? What will the cushion be like? But what about how wide should a wheelchair be?

You’d be forgiven for not giving too much attention to the width of your wheelchair seat – after all, it’s usually down to your assessor to figure out how wide your wheelchair should be, right? I’ve been there too, myself, when trying to figure out what type of wheelchair specifications I should have. So I’m here to tell you why you should be taking a much more active role in deciding how wide your wheelchair is, and the reasons why failing to do so can leave you feeling unhappy and dissatisfied with your new chair!

First things first, the wheelchair needs to be comfortable, so making sure that you’re fitted with the correct seat width right from the off is a must! You know your own body, and may be privy to information that your assessor just simply is not. For example, maybe you’ve recently had a change in your body weight, and you feel as though there is a good chance that your weight will change again – it may be wise to mention something relating to this when being fitted for a new chair – so that your assessor can factor this in and measure you accordingly. There’s no use ordering a new chair to a very specific size if in six months time it’s either far too tight, or leaving you with so much extra space that you become off-balance. 

Not only is the comfort of your wheelchair influenced by how wide your seat is, so too is the actual functionality of the chair. If a wheelchair user has a seat which is too wide for them then this will impact on their ability to be able to push the wheelchair effectively. The angles at which the individual would be holding the push rims would be different to how they would be held if the width of the wheelchair had been fitted appropriately. These types of examples can also lead to pain and discomfort – changing in seating position can lead to over-usage of certain muscles, which the user had not previously used very often. 

What happens if your wheelchair width isn’t wide enough? Well, one practical solution for many wheelchair users is just to remove the side-guards to the chair to allow for a little extra wiggle room. However, there are some serious downsides to this, with the side guards acting as an important protection between the dirt from your wheels and your clothing. It must also be known that removing parts of your wheelchair is not free from risk – and one should only do so when giving the all clear from a health professional or expert. Always consult the user manual before making such alterations. Making the decision to remove side guards shouldn’t be taken lightly in this instance (unless of course they’re easy to slot back on, and aren’t screwed in place).. What you gain in terms of centimetres of space, you lose with regard to not spoiling your clothes. Personally, I could never wear white trousers as they would be practically ruined within just a few short minutes due to the removal of my own side guards. 

Finally, to draw upon personal experiences, I have recently been in receipt of a new chair and have noticed a marked increase in functionality and ease of use due to the fact that I have been fitted for the chair by a professional. For my previous chair, a friend of mine took my measurements in preparation for placing the order and needless to say the specs and measurements were wholly inappropriate for my needs. I find my own personal experiences to be a testament to the necessity of figuring out how wide your wheelchair should be, right from the off.  

If you would like to read more articles like this, such as; “3 Tips For Choosing Better Wheelchair Wheels”, be sure to check out the rest of Invacare’s Passionate People’s blog site. Thanks for reading!


CTA - Post - Wheelchair Parts