A light wheelchair can significantly change a person’s mobility for the better. If we eliminate power chairs (since they are rarely considered lightweight due to the heavy motor), there are two light manual wheelchair categories to consider: light-weight and ultra light-weight.
Here are the differences:
Light Wheelchair Weight
A manual wheelchair is considered light-weight if the entirety of the chair doesn’t exceed 35 lbs. The majority of lightweight wheelchairs on the market today are foldable and can tolerate a weight capacity between 250 to 300 lbs.
Ultra Light Wheelchair
These chairs are specifically made out of light-weight materials such as aluminum or titanium. According to usmedicalsupplies.com, many ultra-light wheelchairs do not exceed 28 lbs.
Now, let’s look into the functional and medical reasons why customers would opt for a lightweight wheelchair. The following scenario depicts several common justifications:
Karen is a 47 year old female who sustained a T6 spinal cord injury 20 years ago during a hunting trip gone wrong with her father. Because she has had years of experience with paraplegia, she has been quite mobile with the assist of a manual wheelchair. Lately, her arms have been taking a beating in order to self-propel her chair which weighs roughly 52 lbs. Given that she is very active and frequents her community using her wheelchair in order to run errands, attend family events, and maintain her full-time job at the library, Karen is looking for a lighter wheelchair. She is hoping to reduce the push load in order to save her arms and back.
With Karen’s story in mind, here are a few considerations for individuals who may be looking into switching out standard wheelchairs for lightweight options:
Current Wheelchairs Are Too Heavy
Sometimes it is not a matter of strength or endurance on the part of the user; in some cases, the chair is just simply too big or too heavy. Consider all custom or add-on parts that could make the chair hefty: custom wheelchair cushion, padded foot-rests, large tires, storage bins/bags, and electronic assists (i.e. push-powered controls). Some add-ons can’t be taken off without compromising the user’s functional way of life.
Reduction Of Self-Propulsion Efficiency
Inefficient propulsion is a result of one of two things or both: reduced body strength and excessive weight of the chair. The goal of a light wheelchair is to provide optimal mobility for a person who has limited or zero capacity for walking. If self-propulsion is labored, then optimal mobility does not exist for the user.
Current Wheelchair Causes Pain
Self-propulsion should not be causing the person pain. Such examples include shoulder/elbow/wrist pain, spinal pain, buttock and posterior thigh pressure, headaches, and chest pain (i.e. labored breathing). Pushing a heavy wheelchair actually goes against several medical restrictions including cardiac precautions and respiratory precautions. Persons who wish to maintain independence in self-propulsion while maintaining healthy vitals and joint health should consider researching light wheelchairs.
Current Routine Includes Self-Propelling Long Distances
There is no fun in pushing a heavy wheelchair around town, especially if getting around town requires long-distance self-propulsion. Lightweight wheelchairs reduce unnecessary push load in order for the user to conserve and use energy wisely throughout extended community outings.
The Light wheelchair Frequently Self-Propels Over Various Surfaces
A light wheelchair made from titanium alloys makes for good shock-absorption. Persons who venture outdoors through rough, bumpy, and gravely surfaces would benefit from using a chair with excellent shock absorption because it increases speed for self-propulsion while minimizing bodily pain that comes from bouncing all over the place in a wheelchair.
User Or The Caregiver Transport Wheelchair In Car On A Regular Basis
Hauling a wheelchair into the back of a car trunk takes a toll on the body and becomes quite painstaking to do. Wheelchair users or caregivers can consider purchasing a lightwheelchair just to make travel and packing chores easier on themselves.
Like any product, medically-related or not, light wheelchairs are not for everyone. Before making a committed purchase, customers should examine their own unique needs as far as what they are looking for in a chair and if their body is ready to handle the requirements:
Full Use Of At Least One Arm
Thankfully, there are plenty of light wheelchairs available that accommodate for persons who can only self-propel with one arm. Conditions include hemiplegia, upper extremity amputations, recent shoulder surgeries, etc. Manual light wheelchairs can also be pushed by others if caregivers and users expect that kind of mobility. Otherwise, it is recommended that the user have at least one functional arm.
Reasonable BMI (Body Mass Index)
Some light wheelchair frames will tolerate up to a 300-lb weight capacity. Unfortunately, the weight-bearing number does not take into account the width or the depth of the chair. If a light wheelchair seat maxes out at a certain measurement, even if the person weighs under 300-lbs, the chair will not work for someone with wider hips. Research a wide variety of brands for light wheelchairs to see if certain frames will accommodate for width, depth, AND weight capacity.
Minimal Spine Curvature Abnormalities
Light wheelchairs can be customized for atypical postural alignment by adding contour cushions and back supports. However, the user needs to consider that some customization pieces may add to the weight of the chair. Double check with the chair manufacturer to make sure that the light-weight frame will support the accumulative weight of the person and all customizations.
Thin Pressure Ulcer History
Users with an extensive pressure ulcer history could find themselves to be quite comfortable in a lightweight chair. Similarly to postural alignment add-ons, wheelchair cushions or gels could add to the overall weight of the chair. Heavier cushions may be requires for persons who can’t pressure-relieve independently. As long as the user considers any additions to the chair and how it will impact the overall weight, then a lightweight wheelchair could still be a good fit.