If you or a loved one has limited mobility, a wheelchair can improve your quality of life by allowing you to stay active and do the things you enjoy.
From manual and electric, to more specialist chairs designed for sports and all terrain, there are plenty of types to pick from. We list the pros and cons of each to help you choose, but it's worth speaking to a GP, physiotherapist or occupational therapist for personalised advice too.
We also cover how and where to rent or buy a wheelchair, as well as information on how to access a free wheelchair from the NHS.
Please note that we haven't tested any wheelchairs but we do have lots of useful, expert buying advice to get you started.
Best mobility scooters: we've tested mobility scooters from CareCo, Pride, Livewell and more
Types of wheelchairs
Wheelchairs can be divided into two main categories: manual wheelchairs and powered or electric wheelchairs.
If you require a wheelchair all or most of the time for mobility, or can walk – perhaps with a walking stick or frame – but are unable to cope with longer distances, a manual wheelchair might be your best option. The most common types are self-propelled or attendant-propelled.
Self-propelled manual wheelchairs are designed to be propelled by the user. They have larger back wheels, each with an outer ‘pushrim’ that you turn to control and propel the chair. These wheels generally make for a bulkier chair, which may be trickier to pack into the boot of a car. For this reason, if you’re choosing a self-propelled chair, it's worth looking for one with quick-release wheels.
Attendant-propelled wheelchairs are designed to be pushed from behind by another person. They generally have smaller back wheels, so are often lighter and easier to transport. They're also easier to navigate and control for the person pushing, although they can prove more challenging than larger-wheeled chairs to mount obstacles such as kerbs.
- Pros: Generally much lighter than electric wheelchairs, good option for those who can walk but need extra support on longer journeys.
- Cons: You’ll need sufficient strength and movement in your arms to use a self-propelled wheelchair.
Electric wheelchairs - also known as power, electric-assisted or motorised wheelchairs - can be a good investment if you don't have the strength or stamina to use a self-propelled wheelchair, but don’t want to rely on being pushed. They're also useful if you want to take longer journeys in your wheelchair.
Typically divided into three categories: 'indoor/portable', for use at home or in places with smooth, even flooring such as shopping centres or garden centres. 'Outdoor', with larger wheels and enhanced suspension for dealing with uneven terrain. And 'indoor/outdoor,' which are designed to offer the best of both worlds - these will not be as light as some models, nor as robust as others, but may provide a good balance of features.
The most common type of ‘drive control’ on an electric wheelchair is a joystick mounted on one of the armrests. In theory, these are very simple, although they can sometimes prove difficult to get the hang of. Some companies offer other types, such as handlebar-style drive controls (similar to a scooter’s, but smaller).
- Pros: If you have limited mobility, or more complex needs, an electric wheelchair could give you more independence. There are also a variety to choose from, depending on how you intend to use it.
- Cons: Tend to be more expensive than manual chairs, and also heavier - this is because the frame has to be robust enough to support the motor. You'll need to make sure they are charged - this can take up to 10 hours. some of the larger outdoor-type wheelchairs may need to be stored outside the home – in a garage, for example.
You might want to consider a lightweight wheelchair. These tend to be easy to fold and lighter, making them more convenient to transport in a car.
Both electric and manual folding and lightweight options are available - but what is right for you depends on your own unique circumstances.
- Pros:easy to transport, generally much lighter than most manual and electric wheelchairs.
- Cons: can be less robust than fixed frame chairs, may not cater to more complex needs.
You may also consider a transit wheelchair - which is essentially a lightweight wheelchair with a narrower frame and small wheels. Generally, they are pushed by an assistant to transport someone short distances, rather than being self-propelled.
- Pros:easier to manoeuvre, lift, fold, and store than other models because they aren't as heavy and have smaller wheels.
- Cons:you'll need someone to push you and they aren't as convenient for longer journeys.
Use our stairlift buying guide for more information on the different types and their pros and cons, the average price and how long they take to install.
Other types of wheelchair
There are other types of wheelchair available, too - which may be worth considering:
- Sports and active wheelchairsare lightweight and have a wider range of maneuverability. They also come with special features, such as an anti-tip design that comes in handy for sports like wheelchair basketball.
- All terrain wheelchairs tend to be robust with larger wheels that aim to let you seamlessly drive from one terrain to the next, including on grass, sand and snow.
- Custom wheelchairsare essentially made to measure models. Designed to fit exactly with your body and your needs, you can pick specific features and designs as well as the colour and finish.
Best riser recliner chairs: find the perfect chair using our top picks and expert advice.
What is the height and width of a standard wheelchair?
Typically, an adult wheelchair will measure around 25 inches wide and 36 inches tall but because there is such a wide range of options, there's no set wheelchair size.
If you need a chair that's narrower or wider then it's worth talking to a specialist before buying.
Wheelchair features and accessories
Wheelchairs can often be customised to suit the user. Here are a few of the most common features and accessories:
- Seatsare often available in different lengths, widths and firmness. Cushioning can also be added to give more postural support.
- Footplates and armrestscan be adjusted to help you find a comfortable seating position.
- Headrestswhich provide additional support for your head and neck and offer more comfort.
- Storage bags are available in different styles, although they’re generally not suitable for carrying large amounts of shopping.
- Wheelchair cushionscan provide support and relieve pressure for a more comfortable ride.
- Protection against the elements: a range of wheelchair-specific items are available, such as waterproofs in various styles and leg warmers that cover the lower half of the body like a half-length sleeping bag. The Disabled Living Foundation (DLF) has information about special clothing for wheelchair users.
- Wheelchair power packs:It’s possible (and relatively easy) to attach a power pack to most manual wheelchairs. This might be useful if you use a self-propelled chair but need to take some of the strain out of manually pushing from time to time. If you do decide to add a power pack, you'll still be able to drive the chair manually when you want to.
- Tyres: There are three main types of tyre: solid; air-filled pneumatic and flat free, which are pneumatic tyres filled with a semi-solid material. Solid tyres tend to be longer lasting, but can give a less comfortable ride than other types. Pneumatic tyres tend to give a more comfortable ride but require more maintenance, including keeping them pumped up. And flat free tyres are designed to be less vulnerable to punctures but they're heavier and can be difficult to change.
Personal alarms at home can help people who live alone feel safer and more secure by providing contact to the outside world in the event of an emergency.
Most people who need to use a wheelchair all the time have an NHS wheelchair. An NHS wheelchair is loaned, rather than given to you, and the NHS is responsible for its maintenance and repairs.
The NHS wheelchair service offers assessments to determine what type of wheelchair or mobility equipment you may be entitled to.
In most cases, you’ll be referred to the service by a hospital, doctor, consultant or occupational therapist. However, the specific criteria to determine who is eligible will vary depending on where you live.
Many NHS wheelchair services have a waiting list, so you may have to wait several weeks after referral before you get an assessment.
In Northern Ireland, wheelchairs that are needed on a day-to-day basis are managed through the occupational therapist services of the local Health and Social Care (HSC) Trust.
How to buy the best adjustable bed-from selecting the right mattress and frame to understanding your consumer rights.
If you need a wheelchair for a shorter time following an operation or injury, you might want to think about wheelchair hire.
You may be able to apply for a wheelchair for short-term use from your local NHS wheelchair service, but they don’t generally hire out wheelchairs for occasional days out.
The Motability Scheme
The not-for-profit Motability Scheme allows people to hire a powered wheelchair, mobility scooter or car for up to three years. To qualify you must receive a government-funded disability allowance – either the Disability Living Allowance, if you already receive that particular benefit; or the Personal Independence Payment (PIP) if you are applying now.
You will receive your wheelchair or mobility scooter in exchange for all or part of your allowance.
Anyone getting the enhanced-rate mobility component of the PIP can take part in the scheme, providing they have at least 12 months of the award remaining. It’s also open to people receiving the War Pensioners’ Mobility Supplement.
Read more about how to buy a motability car through the scheme.
How Shopmobility could help
Shopmobility is a charity set up to assist people with mobility difficulties – whether through disability, illness or injury – to continue to get around town and city centres.
Anyone who has problems with mobility can access shops and other services through the Shopmobility scheme. Equipment available for hirecan include manual and electric wheelchairs, mobility scooters and rollators.
Red Cross wheelchair hire
The Red Cross provides short-term loans of mobility aids such as wheelchairs at almost 1,000 UK outlets, and is known as being the main wheelchair-hire scheme.
As the service is run by volunteers, the Red Cross asks for a donation, and may also require a refundable deposit. Get in touch as early as you can, as your local branch may have a waiting list.
Other short term wheelchair hire options
Many companies, from Center Parcs and zoos to gardens and National Trust properties, also have wheelchairs available to hire on a daily and short term basis, too. They’re usually light, manual wheelchairs that are adequate for a day out where there’s a lot of walking. You’ll need to phone ahead to reserve a wheelchair, as there’s often limited availability.
Long term wheelchair hire
A range of specialist mobility shops also offer long-term wheelchair rentals. You'll need to work out whether that makes sense for you financially though - if you're likely to use it for years, it may be more cost effective to buy. This is especially true of manual chairs, which tend to be more affordable.
Bathroom aids and adaptations- the benefits and how to apply for financial help.
Buying a wheelchair
Rather than loaning you a wheelchair directly, some NHS wheelchair services will give you a non-taxable voucher that you can put towards buying your own wheelchair. The voucher is for the amount you would have been given after your assessment and is designed to give you more choice.
If the maintenance of the wheelchair is the responsibility of the NHS, you’ll have to return it when you no longer need it. But you could opt to pay for wheelchair maintenance privately and keep the chair permanently.
If you opt to buy a wheelchair without using the NHS, and you’re chronically sick or disabled, you don’t have to pay VAT. You may also be able to get help towards paying for it from charities or your local authority - so it's worth speaking with them first to see if you're eligible.
How much should you spend on a wheelchair?
For an entry level manual wheelchair you can expect to pay around £150.
For a powered wheelchair, you're looking at around £2,000 for a basic model.
The more functionality and extra features the chair has, the more you'll pay.For example, wheelchairs that offer an 'all terrain' driving experience can cost £10,000 or more.
Where to buy a wheelchair
You can buy wheelchairs online but, while you might get a good price, you’ll need to be sure you can set up and use it safely. It's also worth trying out the specific type of wheelchair in the place you’re going to use it – for example, at home, on the pavement, or on more challenging terrain.
Disabled Living Centres have a wide range of equipment that you can test out. They can also give advice on the different styles of wheelchairs for sale.
Some popular wheelchair retailers include:
- Argos sells competitively priced manual wheelchairs from just £140. At the time of writing there were 20 different models in stock online, including manual and electric powered wheelchairs with warranties between one and five years.
- WheelFreedom is a specialist retailer that offers a wide range of manual, electric and active wheelchairs. Prices start at around £270 for a basic manual wheelchair and go up to £13,000 for an outdoor electric wheelchair.
- CompleteCare stocks manual and electric wheelchairs. Prices range between £100 for entry level models and £24,000 for powered premium models.
- EssentialAids sells brands including Aidapt, Travelite and Permobil, among others. Prices start from £230 and go up to around £20,000.
Easy-to-use mobile phones:the convenience of a mobile phone without any complex extra features.
Home adaptations for wheelchair users
If you’re a new user, you may need to make some changes to your home to make it wheelchair accessible. An occupational therapist (OT) can advise you on what adaptations might be necessary - but as a general guide, here's what to consider:
- Widening your door frames:doors can be awkward for wheelchair users, especially if they have to be approached at an angle. A suitable width is usually 800mm-1,000mm (depending on the size of your chair) but the wider the door width, the easier the access will be.
- Installing a ramp: you may benefit from having a permanent ramp installed outside for access purposes. Or you could consider a portable ramp, which is made of lighter materials and usually less expensive. Find out more about the types of ramps for the home.
- A downstairs bathroom: If you live in a house with two or more floors, having a properly equipped downstairs bathroom that can accommodate a wheelchair will be very important. Find out more about bathroom adaptations.
- Installing a lift: If your home is on more than one floor, a lift installation may be an option. The space requirements for a lift are usually significant, though.
Ramps and rails for the home-grab rails provide extra confidence when moving about the house and fitting a ramp could help you get around around more freely.
- Looking for a Standard Wheelchair? ...
- What Are the Size and Dimensions? ...
- Does the Chair Have Adequate Arm and Foot Rests? ...
- Can I Store and Transport the Chair with Ease? ...
- Are the Wheels Durable? ...
- How Is the Chair's Back Support? ...
- Consider Your Own Personal Preferences.
Getting a wheelchair from the NHS Wheelchair Service
The NHS Wheelchair Service provides wheelchairs free of charge to: people who need one full time. some people who need one occasionally.
Getting an NHS wheelchair
Ask a GP, physiotherapist or hospital staff to refer you to your local wheelchair service for an assessment. You'll need to do this before you can get an NHS wheelchair. The local wheelchair service will decide if you need a wheelchair and, if so, what type. You might be able to get a voucher.
- Drive Medical Silver Sport 2.
- Invacare Tracer SX5.
- Medline Lightweight And User-Friendly Wheelchair.
- Karman Ergo Flight Wheelchair.
- Innuovo Electric Power Wheelchair.
- Spinlife Go-Chair Pride.
Transit wheelchairs with small wheels
Remember, transit wheelchairs (otherwise known as transport wheelchairs) are usually designed to be pushed by a caregiver, rather than being self-propelled. So they're a great option for those who rely on someone else pushing the chair.
How much does a manual wheelchair cost? The type of chair you buy is one of the biggest factors that will determine how much you're going to pay for your wheelchair. If you opt for a standard, manual wheelchair, then you can expect to pay from $100 to $500.How much does a good quality wheelchair Cost? ›
The average cost of a new wheelchair is between $500 and $1,500, but it really depends upon what kind of wheelchair you're shopping for.How much does an NHS wheelchair cost? ›
If you need a wheelchair you can have one that meets your mobility needs, free of charge, from the NHS.How long does it take to get a wheelchair on the NHS? ›
How long does it take to get a wheelchair? We aim to provide you with your equipment within 18 weeks of receiving your referral. There is a longer wait if you need a specialist assessment and/or specialist equipment.What happens at wheelchair assessment NHS? ›
We assess, prescribe and fit wheelchairs and buggies to meet individual needs. We'll work with you to find the best solution. This can include buggies and manual or powered wheelchairs. We provide this equipment on a long-term loan.
These include but are not limited to amputation, paralysis, cerebral palsy, stroke, multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, arthritis, and spinal cord injury.How do I choose an elderly wheelchair? ›
Wheelchairs for the elderly are adapted to the needs of the elderly user. The most important thing to consider in a wheelchair for the elderly is for it to be lightweight and easy to use. If necessary, they can opt for a power wheelchair that allows the elderly wheelchair user to be independent.What is a Category 2 wheelchair? ›
Lightweight wheelchairs are in the 25-38 lbs range and are often made of combinations of aluminum and carbon fiber. Suitable for more active wheelchair users, Type 2 wheelchairs include swing-away or elevating footrests and convenient removable arms for easier access and side transfers.What size wheelchair should I get? ›
Determine seat width by measuring the person's hips from one side to the other, in a straight line. Then add two inches to this measurement to select a proper wheelchair seat width. Determine seat depth by measuring from the back of the hip to the back of the knee of the person while seated.What happens if you sit in a wheelchair for too long? ›
Prolonged static sitting in a wheelchair is associated with an increased risk of lower back pain. The wheelchair seating system is a key factor of this risk because it affects spinal loading in the sitting position.What makes a wheelchair hard to push? ›
Worn out caster wheels can make the wheelchair harder to propel. Inspect casters wheels for wear, cracks, looseness, bulges, and tears.Can pushing someone in a wheelchair cause back pain? ›
The Ohio State University's Spine Research Institute's study shows that pushing patients in a wheelchair may cause low back injury. Are you at risk? It's well-known that lifting a patient poses a risk to your low back, but a new study shows that pushing patients in a wheelchair can also cause spinal injury.When moving someone in a wheelchair What should you avoid? ›
- Bend your knees while you transfer the person. ...
- Do not leave your feet in place and twist your body at the waist during a transfer.
- Keep your arms close to your body rather than stretching them out during a transfer.
- 21st Century Scientific. 21st Century Scientific is one of the leading wheelchair manufacturers. ...
- Invacare. Invacare strives to offer the best medical care to the people in need. ...
- Ottobock. ...
- Permobil. ...
- Pride Mobility. ...
- Sunrise Medical. ...
- Graham Field. ...
A well cared for and well-maintained active chair can last from 5 to 10 years. There are chairs that due to the materials, can last more than 10 years, but typically, the functional life of a chair is 5 years.
If you Google up and ask the question – “What is the life expectancy of someone paralyzed at age 50?” – the answer is depressing. According to most reports, or at least the ones I could decipher, the answer is an additional 19.75 years or the age of 69.75. (The figures differ depending on the age your injury occurred).Why do hospitals push you out in a wheelchair? ›
The chair for exiting the hospital, and perhaps at other times, is to protect the hospital from slip-and-fall liability. Having it pushed by a nurse or other hospital staff ensures that you are under medical supervision until you are out the door and the hospital's liability is at an end.How does someone in a wheelchair use the bathroom? ›
- Use small steps to guide them to pivot and turn 90 degrees and back up until the toilet seat is at the back of their knees.
- Keep one hand on the gait belt and help them pull down their pants and underwear.
When you don't move or walk your blood flow to your legs is decreased. This can cause people to get cold easily and have cold extremities. Blankets help keep the user warm but also help keep their legs warm because your limb being cold also restricts more blood flow.What is the most common wheelchair size? ›
Much like a piece of clothing, a wheelchair user needs to find the right fit for their chair. However, the typical wheelchair is around 36 inches tall, 25 inches wide and 32 inches long. The main considerations are height and width, as these are the most likely dimensions to affect your ability to navigate freely.What's the difference between a lightweight wheelchair and a standard wheelchair? ›
Standard wheelchairs are commonly steel, weighing 15kg+ and are sometimes foldable but with limited adjustability beyond size. Lightweight wheelchairs are made of aluminium or steel alloys, weigh 13-16kg, are often foldable and offer adjustable features, such as removable armrests.Why are some wheelchairs so expensive? ›
Wheelchairs are built with the highest technology possible to help facilitate the lives of people with the incapacity to walk. Due to the high level of technology, resources, and building capacity prices are set higher than manual wheelchairs.What mobility aid is right for me? ›
How long are you able to stand up and what motions are you unable to perform? If you only have minor problems standing/walking, then a cane might be best for you. If walking/standing is a greater issue, then walkers, rollators, or wheelchairs may be the right choice.Is being in a wheelchair a disability? ›
Many different kinds of disabilities require the use of wheelchairs for mobility. These are referred to as mobility impairments. Disabilities may be orthopedic (relating to the bone and muscles) or they may be neuromuscular (relating to the nerves and muscles).What do NHS wheelchairs look like? ›
Most of the wheelchairs supplied by the NHS have steel frames. That means that while they are sturdy, they are also heavy and can be had to both self-propel or push. Extras. The NHS will include some limited extras with your chair, such as a cushion, tray, and armrests.
What happens at the assessment? The clinician will introduce themselves and explain what will happen. They will need to ask you many questions and take your measurements. They may need to assess your range of movements and physical constraints, and may ask you to demonstrate your abilities.What can I expect from a wheelchair evaluation? ›
The assessment should begin by addressing the reason for the referral and the desired outcome of the intervention. At a minimum this should include the client's primary problems/issues related to their mobility status, postural support, health, safety, and ability to function within the environment.How long should a patient sit in a wheelchair? ›
The US Department of Health advises to relief sitting pressures at least every 1 hour, and every 15 minutes for individuals who are body-abled.What problems do wheelchair users face? ›
Some of the typical issues that wheelchair users have include small corridors in older buildings, parking lots that are challenging to get around, even just shopping or going to visit loved ones. Don't forget uneven surfaces or steep slopes that are impossible to self-propel a manual wheelchair.How long does a wheelchair evaluation take? ›
What can I expect during the wheelchair evaluation? The evaluation will take approximately 2 hours. The physical or occupational therapist will be present at the time of the evaluation, along with a representative from a wheelchair company to assist in identifying the most appropriate equipment for you.What three things should we check with regards to the person using the wheelchair? ›
Then we need to check the following: Is their weight within safe working limits for the wheelchair being used. Can they be correctly positioned when in the wheelchair. Are they likely to shift or tip when in the wheelchair.Can arthritis put you in a wheelchair? ›
The situation of 40 severely disabled arthritic patients who have received a wheelchair is reported. Most of the patients had had their rheumatoid arthritis for more than 15 years. Knee involvement was frequently the reason for needing a wheelchair. Most of the patients had general joint involvement.What are the top 3 causes of disability? ›
In the United States, pain, depression, and anxiety are among the most common causes of years lived with disability (YLD).Do people in wheelchairs have back problems? ›
If you are a wheelchair user your risk of back pain is about 5 times higher than the overall population; around half of wheelchair users are affected (2,3). Back pain tends to occur in the lower part of the back and may be referred to as “lower/low back pain” or sometimes “lumbar back pain” (4,5).What is a Group 3 wheelchair? ›
Group 3 power wheelchairs are reserved for the severely impaired patient afflicted with diseases such as: Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), spinal cord injuries resulting in quadriplegia, stroke (CVA) with hemiplegia, late stage Parkinson's, late stage Multiple Sclerosis (MS), cerebral palsy or Muscular Dystrophy.
Standard Use (Group 1) – A category of chairs designed primarily for intermittent use on flat, hard surfaces with minimal surface irregularity. 2. Standard Plus Use (Group 2) – A category of chairs designed primarily for regular use on flat hard surfaces with minimal to moderate surface irregularity.What is a Group 4 wheelchair? ›
Group 4 bases are designed for stability to accommodate greater amounts of anterior tilt, seat elevation, and standing. Group 4 suspension is designed for multiple terrains and can decrease the transmission of bumps and vibration to the person in the wheelchair.What happens if a wheelchair is too wide? ›
if the wheelchair seat is too wide, the wheelchair user will find it difficult to sit upright, and is likely to collapse to one side. some simple foam inserts can help to provide the wheelchair user with support to sit upright.What is an appropriate wheelchair? ›
Wheelchairs should be designed to enable users to lead a more active life and to participate in as many activities as possible without affecting their health and safety. They should be strong, durable and appropriate for the environment in which they will be used.What is the maximum weight you can push in a wheelchair? ›
Basic wheelchairs have weight limits of 250 – 350 lbs, lightweight wheelchairs have weight limits of 200 – 250 lbs, and heavy-duty wheelchairs have weight limits of 700+ lbs. Get an accurate assessment of your physical size so you can find the right wheelchair.