Wheelchair Tip: Make Sure You Have the Correct Custom Wheelchair Measurements

If confined to a manual wheelchair, correct custom wheelchair measurements are key…

More often than not I see people disabled in manual wheelchairs who have their wheelchair measurements set-up all wrong. Sometimes their wheelchair is much too wide for their body structure. Sometimes they don’t have the back axle centered correctly for optimal balance given their size, weight, and disability level. Or, sometimes they could simply be in a more active type/style of custom manual wheelchair. Of all the wheelchair measurement mistakes I see, there is one that absolutely stands out the most. It bothers me to no end seeing a wheelchair’s back wheels higher than waist-level of the person sitting in it. What these people don’t understand is the higher those back wheels go the higher they’ll have to reach with each push. Also, the higher you reach to grab the wheel rail the more your triceps will be stretched, making each push more difficult.

I suggest you keep the highest point of your back wheels within 2 inches of your waist-line for optimal pushing efficiency.

I met a guy last week who’s been paralyzed in a wheelchair for the past 4 years. He had his 4 year anniversary a day prior to us meeting. His back wheels were at least 5 inches higher than his waist-line. He had asked me a couple questions about my Tilite. Somehow in my mind his questions gave me full permission to voice an opinion on his back wheel height measurement. He thanked me for the input, telling me he’d never thought about it before. I’m not sure if ever updated his wheelchair, or if he still rolls around with his elbows pointed back and up to the air. The point is, this kid had been given a wheelchair by whatever hospital he happened to be inpatient at, and they measured him entirely incorrect. 4 years later this kid is still using the same incorrectly measured wheelchair, under the false impression that the extra effort he puts into pushing himself around each day is normal.

Sure, being confined to a wheelchair is disabling. But being confined to a wheelchair that’s measured incorrectly is highly disabling. I’m not suggesting you buy a new wheelchair tomorrow, but it’s definitely something to think about when wheelchair renewal time comes around.

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Showing 6 comments
  • Jason

    You make the assumption that the hospital even measured this guy you met. I’ve bought chairs on ebay, bought one where I did measurements myself, somehow I get an OK fit.

    Even the guy who runs a web/mail order business at wheelchairs can’t easily explain how to measure. Both this guy and the manufacturer’s web site can’t explain how some of the options they sell actually help or how they fit on.

    Insurance only cares if they are paying, and then just care about $. Most providers don’t really know all the settings themselves. If you are a provider and can prove me wrong, contact me!

  • Jacob

    Jason, You are correct. The insurance companies just want to know who’s paying, and most people don’t know ho to correctly measure for a wheelchair, provider or consumer. I always use the same guy here in Miami, FL for all my wheelchair customization and measurements. If you need someone who knows there stuff let me know, I’ll put you in touch with this person. He absolutely knows how to measure correctly.

  • Beth Krugh

    Because of reading this (and other) information, we’re re-measuring me and then approaching the guy at the shop that measured me and having him re-measure. We KNOW it wasn’t necessarily right. Many of our ideas have changed from our investigations. I know so much more now from looking at your site. THANKS!

    • Jacob

      That’s awesome Beth. I myself spent the first 4-5 years post-injury assuming my wheelchair was measured correctly, when in fact it was much too big in all dimensions. Luckily, by chance, an old wheelchair vet stopped me stopped me to ask about my wheelchair. He asked me to “hop” into his wheelchair which was a Tilite TR. We were about the same size & weight. When I got in his wheelchair I was amazed at the night & day difference. Let me know how the new chair works out!

  • Melissa Edwards

    I have been paralyzed for 17yrs. I absolutely agree with everything you wrote on this website. I am getting a new chair and was wondering if you brought the width of your chair in a little smaller then your hip size. I am a little smaller than 16in wide and am thinking about going down to a 15. With the clothes guards on I will be slightly squeezed into the chair. I was wondering if that would cause pressure sores? Let me know what you think.

  • Esther Harrup

    Two years ago my daughter got a Tilite as a part time wc because of a genetic condition which makes her joints give out. From day one she could tell the footrest measurement was wrong but the medical company did not care. A year ago she started using the wheelchair full time and that’s when it was really obvious there was more then one measurement wrong but once again the PT and medical company did nothing to improve things. Where do we go? She was given a $6000 + wc which doesn’t fit well and no one is taking responsibility! Should they not be held accountable for putting her in a bad chair which causes her more pain?

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