How to Measure for a Wheelchair

From the outside, it might seem that anyone can fit into any wheelchair. However, this couldn’t be further from the truth! 

Wheelchairs aren’t a one-size-fits-all situation. And a mismatch in sizing can end up hurting the users instead of helping them to heal. 

A chair that’s too tight would squeeze the person in and probably cause them to hunch forward. While one that’s too wide wouldn’t provide enough support, and its user could lean sideways in painful positions.

The same happens when the backrest, the height of the seat, or any of the other parameters aren’t correct. 

Having demonstrated why it’s important to get the best possible fit, now it’s time to explain how to measure for a wheelchair. 

What You'll Learn...

Why Is it Important to Get the Right Wheelchair Measurements?

There are many reasons why a wheelchair user needs to use a perfectly matched vehicle. Here are the most important ones: 

  1. The chair would be uncomfortable if it’s too big or too small. 
  2. The wheelchair user would find it hard to get into the wheelchair and out of it if it’s too high or too low.  
  3. A wheelchair of the wrong size would be quite difficult to use and steer. 
  4. Being unable to control the wheelchair properly could compromise the safety of the user
  5. A bad fit could affect the user’s posture negatively. 
  6. Sitting incorrectly on a wheelchair could cause painful pressure ulcers.
  7. The ergonomics of the wheelchair are highly dependant on getting the correct fit.
  8. Performing functions like sitting in front of a desk, leaning backward, or lifting one’s legs up are all dependant on using a correctly-sized wheelchair.
  9. The chassis of the wheelchair is designed for a specific weight capacity. Otherwise, it could collapse. 
  10. The weight of the wheelchair is important if the user is folding or storing it.

How to Measure for a Wheelchair in 7 Easy Steps

Some people think that it’s necessary that a medical professional takes the user’s data and pick the right wheelchair accordingly. This is often preferred, but sometimes it’s not readily feasible. 

Luckily, the measuring process is quite simple. The most important thing is accuracy, of course, in addition to making sure that you’re starting and ending at the right points. 

The wheelchair user needs to be in a sitting position, fully upright, for most of these measurements. But if that’s not possible, then lying down, as straight as possible. 

It’s best to use a hard measuring tape, but a flexible one would work just as well. You’d just have to hold it firmly at the start and endpoints.

Also, to make sure that it’s kept straight, not curved or tilted.       

Step 1: Finding the Seat Width

Measure the widest point of the hips with the tape in a level position. 

Some people’s thighs are wider than their hips, so try to find the widest spot and measure the length from side to side. That would be a more realistic measure. 

Add two inches to make the wheelchair a bit more roomy for comfort. And in case the weather is mostly cold, add a couple more inches to account for the extra layers of winter clothing.  

Step 2: Finding the Seat Depth 

Measure the distance from the back of the knee to the back of the hip. 

The wheelchair user wouldn’t feel too comfortable with the seat depth reaching all the way to the back of the knee.

Thus, it’s preferred to subtract an inch. 

Step 3: Finding the Back Height 

Measure the length from the shoulder blade or collar bone all the way down to the chair. 

The wheelchair user needs to be sitting on a hard surface for this one. A wooden chair would be optimal. 

This measurement is for guidance only, as some patients might need additional support for their backs. For these, a higher back would be better.

Sometimes, they’d even require extra support for their necks. 

Wheelchairs with reclining backs are also prescribed for certain patients who would benefit from redistributing the weight on their backs.

Consider that children are often smaller than adults, so if a child needs a pediatric wheelchair, it’s important to always measure correctly.

Step 4: Finding the Seat Height 

This is the distance from the user’s heel to the back of the knee. 

An accurate measure for the seat height is essential to make getting into the chair and out of it as easy as possible. 

Many wheelchairs have adjustable heights, so this measurement could be used for guidance, but only in these models. 

Step 5: Finding the Arm Height 

Ask the user to hold his arm at a right angle. Then measure the distance from the elbow to the solid flat seat. 

The wheelchair arms are typically used for support. Additionally, they affect the comfort level of the user and reduce stress on the shoulders, neck, back, and elbows. 

Selecting the arm type is as important as selecting its height. A full-length broad arm is best for support.

But it might interfere with the accessibility to a table or a desk, where a short arm. Some chairs come with arms that have adjustable heights, which is much better than fixed ones.   

Step 6: Finding the Footrest Length

This isn’t a necessity in all wheelchairs. It’s mostly recommended for certain injuries or for patients who suffer from edema. 

To find the footrest length, measure the distance from the back of the knee down to the heel. 

Step 7: Finding the Weight Capacity 

Wheelchairs are designed for varying weights, so it’s best to get the patient’s parameters right. Add a factor of safety of around 50 pounds to get a chair that would be supportive and reliable. 

Moreover, selecting the weight of the chair also matters. If a patient has to fold the chair and put it in the trunk of a car, then it has to be as light as possible.

Contrary to that, a chair with extra padding or more functions can be a bit heavier, especially if it doesn’t require folding or storage.  

Wrapping it Up

Keep in mind that anyone in need of a wheelchair is often in a vulnerable condition and has limited mobility. Many are already in pain, and any wrong movement can worsen their condition significantly.

To assist them in healing, it’s important to find a wheelchair that keeps them comfortable, safe, and able to move around with relative ease. 

That was the full guide on how to measure for a wheelchair. As demonstrated, it only takes seven simple measurements.

This is quite sufficient to get a correct estimate of the wheelchair sizing and basic features.