What Are The Different Types of Wheelchairs?

A wheelchair isn’t something most people ever really think about – until they need one that is! Here the 14 most popular types of wheelchairs including manual wheelchairs, power chairs, and specialty wheelchairs too!


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woman showing a man the different types of wheelchairs

Many people think a wheelchair is a wheelchair. I mean, they all have 4 wheels and people use them to get around when they are having trouble walking.

Right? Wrong!

There are many different types of wheelchairs and they each have their pros and cons. Keep on reading to learn more about each type to help choose the best wheelchair for your elderly loved one or for yourself.

Manual Wheelchairs

The most common type of wheelchair is the manual wheelchair. They require a person to move them and have no way of moving themself. The most common ones have an upholstered seat and back with two larger rear wheels and two smaller wheels in the front. Most fold up for storage or transportation. Manual chairs are used by people who have the strength to push it themselves or who have a family member push them.

Here are the many different types of manual wheelchairs:

Standard Wheelchairs

These are the wheelchairs you see around hospitals and nursing homes. They are very basic wheelchairs with two large wheels in the back and two small casters in the front. These are usually used for temporary mobility problems. They are best for people who only need a chair to get from one place to another then can transfer into a standard chair.

Lightweight Wheelchairs

These chairs weigh less than standard wheelchairs. This makes them easier to move for the patient. They are also easier to lift and load into a car. Lightweight wheelchairs are best for people who don’t have the strength to move a standard chair. Another great use is for caregivers who can’t lift a standard wheelchair.

family pushing their grandmother in a manual type of wheelchair

Hemi Wheelchairs

The seats of hemi wheelchairs are closer to the ground than standard wheelchairs. That way, the feet can touch the ground if needed. These chairs are best for people who are shorter in height or need to use their feet to move the wheelchair.

Ultralightweight Wheelchairs

Most ultralightweight wheelchairs are custom built for their users. These chairs are extremely lightweight. Many of them weigh less than 20 lbs. Ultralight wheelchairs are used by people who are in their wheelchairs most of the day like paraplegics and spinal cord injury patients. The lighter weight keeps them from getting tired as easy and allows them to load and unload the wheelchair by themself.

Transport Wheelchairs

Transport chairs have 4 small wheels on them and are pushed by a caregiver. They are used for short term transportation needs like getting to the doctor or around the grocery store. These wheelchair users are usually too weak to push a chair by themselves. This wheelchair is designed to be lightweight, fold, and easy to load too. This is why many of the best wheelchairs for travel are this type.

Sport Wheelchairs

Most sports wheelchairs are usually custom built for their rider and come in different configurations depending on the sport. There are special chairs for wheelchair racing, tennis chairs, basketball chairs, and other sports.

happy man in his new wheelchair

Reclining or High Back Wheelchairs

Reclining wheelchairs are also called high back recliners. The backs on these chairs have handles that allow you to change the back angle. Some lay almost flat. These chairs have a few drawbacks. Opening up the back causes the patient to slide forward over time. So, they will need to have their position adjusted throughout the day. Also, there is a slight chance of these tipping if not set up properly.

Tilt in Space Wheelchairs

Tilt in space wheelchairs are different from recliner wheelchairs. These ergonomic wheelchairs have special seats that help the patient sit upright. You can lean the whole seat back so that the patient’s hip to back angle is always the same. This allows the patient to relieve pressure from sitting in a chair all day. They also help the patient sit upright better. This type of wheelchair is used with people with more severe medical problems like cerebral palsy and quadriplegia.

Heavy Duty Wheelchairs

Bariatric or heavy duty wheelchairs are built stronger and are used with patients who weigh 300 lbs or more. They are usually built from reinforced steel tubing with multiple supports underneath. Wider widths are available to better fit larger patients.

Pediatric Wheelchairs

These wheelchairs are made specifically for kids and are often custom built to their measurements. They come in smaller sizes with smaller weight capacities.

One Arm Drive Wheelchairs

The final type of manual wheelchair is the one arm drive wheelchair. These chairs have special wheels that are connected. This lets the patient propel the chair using only one arm. These wheelchairs are best for people with strokes or hemiplegia (paralysis of one side of body).

a complex power wheelchair for more advanced disabilities

Power Wheelchairs

Power wheelchairs are also often called electric wheelchairs or motorized wheelchairs. They have motors on them to move the chairs. Power chairs also have batteries to provide power to the motors. The user drives the chair with a joystick that turns the chair on and off, controls the speed, and also steers the wheelchair.

Standard Power Wheelchairs

Standard power wheelchairs can have 4 or 6 wheels and a seat that looks like a seat from a van. These power chairs are mass-manufactured and there aren’t many extra options. They are used with patients who have problems walking and are not strong enough to push a wheelchair by themselves. These power chairs are lighter weight than the next category too.

Complex Power Wheelchairs

These power chairs are much more custom in nature and are built specifically for the user. They often have options that tilt or recline the seat and even raise the legs by power. Some of these chairs even lift the rider to a standing position. Complex power chairs are used by people with severe medical problems like spinal cord injuries, multiple sclerosis, ALS, or cerebral palsy.

Scooters

While not technically a type of wheelchair, I am including scooters because they are also used like wheelchairs. These have a seat with a handlebar type controller called a tiller. They are most commonly used for mobility problems outside of the house.

Summary

As you can see, there are many different types of wheelchairs. Choosing the best wheelchair for you or a loved one is a matter of understanding how each type is used. It is also important to know the needs of the person who will be using the chair.

I hope you found this brief introduction to wheelchairs helpful. Please leave any questions or comments in the comments area below!

About Scott Grant, ATP, CRTS® 305 Articles
Assistive Technology Professional, Custom Wheelchair Specialist, Medical Equipment Guru, Dad and Grandfather
I am a lucky dad to four awesome daughters and grandfather to three pretty terrific grandkids. When not working as a custom wheelchair specialist at a regional home medical equipment company, I enjoy early morning runs and occasional kayak trips. I am also a self-admitted nerd who loves anything from the 1980's. Learn More

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