How do I measure for a properly fitting wheelchair?

How do I measure for a properly fitting wheelchair?



Do you remember a time when you were wearing an ill fitting pair of pants and you had to hike them up all day long? Or they were so tight you couldn't take in a full breath? Or your jacket was too large and the sleeves and cuffs caught on everything as you tried to work? That's what it's like for an individual spending most of their day in an inappropriately fitting wheelchair! Frustrating, painful, tiring and depressing!


COMFORT is key! If any one of the chair's dimensions is too wide or too skinny, too long or short, the user can quickly become uncomfortable and can even do harm to parts of their body.


Most buyers don't realize that a wheelchair can be measured to accurately suit their body and individual needs. A properly fitted wheelchair is easier to use and propel, and promotes better skin condition, posture, muscle tone, balance and mood.


But where do I start?


In short, at the front door. Although there are standards in front and interior door widths, there are many variations due to home age, location and codes governing construction. Most front doors are between 32 - 36 inches wide. Most interior doors are 30 inches wide. A couple of quick measurements will make your search more successful.  Also make note of what elevators, ramps and any other obstacles that may be encountered on a regular basis.


Manual wheelchairs typically have the wheels extending beyond the width of the seat so the user's arms can grab the wheels to propel the chair. A motorized wheelchair is typically narrower and fits through doorways easier.


The turning radius of the chair should be considered. It will be expressed in inches and a smaller number means the chair will be more maneuverable in a tighter space.


What IS BMI and why do I need it??


Body Mass Index (BMI) is a person's weight in kilograms (or pounds) divided by the square of height in meters (or feet).  It is a standard used in the medical field to place an individual into a weight category. This number is used by manufacturers of health aids, such as wheelchairs and mobility devices. You will notice this reference in the specifications of the devices you are considering. The easiest way to determine your BMI is to use a 'BMI Calculator' on line.


An individual with a BMI at 30 or above would be most comfortable in a bariatric wheelchair. The seats are wider and they have a heavy duty frame. BUT... the overall chair width is wider and modifications may have to be made in the home.


Most wheelchairs on the market have limits on how much weight they can safely sustain. Even if you don’t think the person using the chair will exceed any weight limits, it’s a good idea to have their weight recorded just in case.  If for some reason it is difficult to measure their weight, their Primary Physicians office can usually provide this.


Measuring the user


Place the person in a comfortable chair, in an upright position before taking the measurement. Make sure their bottom is all the way back in the seat, their knees are at 90 degree angle, they are wearing their everyday shoes, with feet flat on floor. A retractible metal tape is preferable, but a flexible measuring tape will also work.


For the seat width: Take the measurement at the point where the person’s hips are the widest. Add 2 inches to accommodate slight movements and bulky winter clothing. This will ensure the seat will not squeeze or pinch the occupant anywhere.


For the seat depth: Measure from the back of their hips, down the length of their thigh, to the back of the knee. Add 2 inches to this measurement to accommodate position adjustments and to prevent disruption of circulation to the back of the knee.


For the seat backrest height: Make sure that the person who will use the chair is sitting up straight when taking this measurement. Measure from where their bottom touches the seat to the top of their shoulder blades. This will allow free head movement when seated. For those who have difficulty remaining upright, look for wheelchairs with higher backrests and devices that offer more support for the head and neck.


To determine width of seat back: Measure from directly under one armpit to the other. Add 1 inch.


To determine length of leg rest extension and how high off the ground the seat will be: Make sure the user is wearing his or everyday shoes. Measure from the back of the users knee to where the heel of their shoe rests on the floor.


For use of a motorized chair, the seat height should allow them to easily reach the ground with their flat foot.


To measure the height of the armrest in relation to the seat:

Make sure the user is sitting down in a relaxed posture and their arms are bent at a 90-degree angle when taking this measurement. Measure the length from the tip of the elbow to the surface of the seat. Add 1 inch.


If user requires a headrest: Measure from the top of their head to the surface of the seat.


Conclusion: Every dimension of the wheelchair is provided in their specifications chart. Use this and the individuals measurements to select a chair that will be comfortable, secure, sturdy, and with all the required assistive devices.