A bariatric manual wheelchair can change someone's life. It offers individuals a chance to be more comfortable and get around with minimal stress. If you need a bariatric wheelchair, you'll have a fun time searching through all of the different products. Many brands offer these wheelchairs, and they come with a host of features. It can be very hard trying to figure out where to begin and which products to choose.
This is where our guide comes in handy! The following information will show you all you could possibly hope to know about bariatric manual wheelchairs. We'll cover all of the frequently asked questions, ending with a breakdown of the best products to buy. By the time you've finished reading, you'll be able to make an informed decision that you feel confident with.
Table of Contents
What are bariatric manual wheelchairs?
Let's begin by defining this product to avoid any confusion. The best approach is to break things down term by term. We'll start with the two most obvious words: manual wheelchairs. Effectively, this refers to a wheelchair that doesn't have a motor. As such, it is pushed along either by the user or someone behind the chair. It may not seem like it, but choosing a manual wheelchair can come with a few interesting benefits.
With that in mind, what is a bariatric manual wheelchair? Well, 'bariatric' refers to the treatment, prevention, and causes of obesity. It is commonly used in medical settings, and you may have heard of bariatric surgery before. This relates to any surgeries performed with the aim of helping a patient with obesity. So, a bariatric wheelchair is a special chair that's designed to support and transport obese individuals.
How do bariatric wheelchairs differ from standard ones?
If you compared a standard manual wheelchair with an obesity wheelchair, you'd notice a few telling differences. Firstly, bariatric wheelchairs are designed to be wider. Naturally, this helps to accommodate the larger individual sitting in the chair. The whole reason these wheelchairs exist is that many obese people struggle to fit in the dimension of a standard wheelchair.
Similarly, bariatric wheelchairs are constructed using heavy-duty materials. All of the materials used in construction are reinforced to provide additional support and stability. Again, this is because of the extra weight bearing down on the vehicle. A standard wheelchair can usually hold around 250-300lbs worth of weight. You do get some that handle heavier loads, but this is the industry average. As you can tell, people suffering from obesity will be above this threshold. Therefore, they need a reinforced chair that can handle loads of 300-400lbs and above.
Moreover, bariatric manual wheelchairs will have larger and thicker wheels than a traditional version. Once more, this is to help with the extra weight and to provide more durability. You'll also find that most of these wheelchairs offer more cushioning and support in the seat/backrest to alleviate some of the common pains associated with obesity.
Amongst these differences, a bariatric manual wheelchair will still provide the same functions as a regular wheelchair. It still gives the user support and independence, but on a larger scale.
To summarize, these are the main ways a bariatric wheelchair differs:
- Made from reinforced materials
- Thicker wheels and tires
- Wide seats
- More support in seat/backrest
- Able to withstand much heavier loads
Who needs bariatric manual wheelchairs?
These wheelchairs are reserved for any individual that's classed as obese. As such, they are also referred to as obese wheelchairs or wheelchairs for heavy people. Medically speaking, the definition of obesity isn't directly linked to how much you weigh. It's impossible to say that anyone over a certain weight is clinically obese. Instead, it's worked out based on your BMI (Body Mass Index) which takes into account your weight in relation to your height. On this scale, anyone with a BMI of 30 and above is obese.
If you fit this category, you may need a bariatric wheelchair. However, it also depends on the extent of obesity and how it impacts daily life. Heavy individuals will struggle with the activities of daily living: walking up and down stairs, standing up for long periods, etc. Nevertheless, many obese people will continue to walk around independently, without putting themselves at risk. Therefore, a bariatric wheelchair would not be necessary for instances like this.
Instead, these wheelchairs are for cases where an obese person struggles with different aspects of their life. If you can't walk without pain or shortness of breath, a wheelchair may be necessary. It's also useful if you have back or joint pain that stems from your obesity. These issues are common, leaving many people with no way of moving around without feeling some sort of discomfort. A bariatric wheelchair will help make life easier.
Of course, this type of wheelchair is only necessary if a standard one doesn't suit your needs. Some obese individuals are just over the threshold, meaning they still fit in regular wheelchairs. So, a special chair is only required if you can't find one that fits your weight demands or size requirements.
Lastly, manual bariatric wheelchairs are commonly used after surgical procedures. They are not always seen as a permanent solution for everybody. Some people only need them when recovering from bariatric surgery, and they can try to walk around afterward.
We appreciate that's a lot of information to take on board, so here's a rundown of all the people that might need a bariatric wheelchair:
- Obese individuals that struggle to walk on their own
- Obese individuals with additional health problems - back pain, shortness of breath, joint issues, etc.
- Obese individuals that no longer fit standard wheelchairs
- Patients recovering from bariatric surgery
What are the benefits of an obese wheelchair?
Why do people need bariatric wheelchairs? Well, we've touched upon the central reasons in the previous section. Bariatric manual wheelchairs are designed to give people a sense of independence, while also helping with pain management. Many obese individuals suffer from back pain and sores that make life extremely challenging. Having a wheelchair will take the pressure off their joints and ease any sores around the body. This can have significant health and lifestyle benefits.
For one, a lack of pain will help to reduce inflammation throughout the body. Obese people are prone to inflammatory diseases due to the stress their bones and joints are under. It's not uncommon for arthritis to form in the hips, knees, and ankles. In turn, this can reduce the need for prescription pain medication, offering a natural and clean way of relieving pain.
Going back to the point about independence, many obese people spend their lives stuck inside. A fair few are bedbound, purely because walking around causes too much pain or puts their health at risk. With a bariatric manual wheelchair, they can get up and enjoy the outdoor air - or go shopping. While these chairs can be pushed by a helper, they can also be controlled by the user, which further adds to the independence.
So, the underlying benefits are as follows:
- Reduce the risk of health complications
- Ease pain caused by the pressure on joints
- Provide obese people with more independence
- Added safety by reducing the risk of slip & fall accidents
Key features of bariatric wheelchairs
As you've already seen, bariatric wheelchairs differ in their construction from regular manual wheelchairs. If you discount the main structural differences, are there any additional features found in these chairs? The short answer is yes, there are! Let's go through some of the most important features to look for when buying your bariatric manual wheelchair:
- Tilting seats
- Adjustable height
- Solid tires
Starting with the seats, let's look at the tilting and adjustable features. They seem like luxury additions, but both features play a critical role in altering weight distribution and comfort. Tilting seats allow the wheelchair to accommodate an obese person's center of gravity. If the seat didn't tilt, all of their weight would go down on one spot, which is part of the reason why regular wheelchairs only handle up to 300lbs. The tilt lets a user move the seat based on their center of gravity and weight distribution. Not only does this prevent the bariatric wheelchair from breaking, it also makes things more comfortable for the person.
Adjustable seats are seats that can be moved up or down. This plays around with the sitting position of the user, allowing them to feel more comfortable. When combined with the tilt function, this feature can provide a better posture for the person in the seat. As a result, this can help alleviate breathing problems and other niggling pains associated with obesity.
Cushions have the last word on the seat features. Typically, these are sold separately by manufacturers and third-party suppliers. However, you might find some bariatric manual wheelchairs that include cushions in the package. Effectively, they offer more comfort and help take more pressure off the spine, alleviating pain, and stopping sores from forming.
Speaking of sores, leg and footrests will tackle the same problem. These features let the user prop their legs up, taking further stress off the joints. It can also prevent chafing against the wheelchair, which eliminates any skin ulcers and sores.
Finally, you should look for bariatric wheelchairs with solid rear tires. This means that they aren't pumped full of air like traditional tires. Why is this a thing, and what is the purpose? Well, it relates back to the need for these chairs to deal with a lot of weight. By using solid tires, you're guaranteed to never deal with a popped tire. Bariatric wheelchairs with traditional air-filled tires can still handle heavy loads, but there's obviously more risk of them popping compared to a solid tire.
How wide are bariatric manual wheelchairs?
This is a common question that most people have when buying this type of wheelchair. If these chairs are designed to accommodate people with a wider build, how wide will they be? The answer is a little murky as most manufacturers provide a list of options to choose from when purchasing the chair.
Generally speaking, the seat width can go up to around 32 inches, with the overall width of the wheelchair getting closer to 40 inches. Again, this depends on the product, and you do get some that go above this, but a 32-inch seat is the average. It's common to see widths starting at around 20-inch and slowly going upwards.
Can you fit bariatric wheelchairs through standard doorways?
Naturally, if you're concerned about the width, this will be your main worry. Can an extra-wide obese wheelchair get through a standard doorway?
According to Home Guides, the average doorway is 36 inches wide. However, you can get some that are slightly narrower at 30 or 32 inches. Therefore, most bariatric wheelchairs can fit through a regulation doorway with no issues at all. It can be a slight squeeze for some chairs, but they should get through.
This is definitely something to be aware of when choosing your wheelchair. Our advice is to measure the width of the doors in your house - and the hallways as well. Be sure that you can actually fit the wheelchair through them before you buy them. If you require an extra-wide wheelchair that doesn't fit through your doorway, you may have to consider altering your home to accommodate it.
Are bariatric wheelchairs covered by Medicare?
If you have a Medicare plan, will it cover the cost of a bariatric wheelchair? The answer is yes...and no. Overall, most wheelchairs do fall under a Medicare policy because they're a medical necessity. This is where things get a bit debatable as to the allowance of a bariatric wheelchair.
The good news is that if you need a bariatric wheelchair, you will most likely be covered by Medicare. Think back to the earlier section on who needs these wheelchairs. You'll remember some of the factors we stated: obese individuals with health complications and restrictions stopping them from going about their lives. Under these conditions, your wheelchair is considered a medical necessity, meaning it is covered.
How much will Medicare cover?
Medicare Part B will cover 80% of the costs of your bariatric manual wheelchair. The remaining 20% will have to be funded by your own money. Still, this makes bariatric wheelchairs far more affordable for a lot of people in need.
To qualify for this coverage, you have to provide some evidence to your health care provider. This consists of a signed note from your doctor saying that you need this piece of equipment (the doctor must participate in the Medicare program). It will detail your specific condition, why you need this wheelchair, and so on.
Electric vs. Manual bariatric wheelchairs
This entire guide is about manual bariatric wheelchairs, but there is an alternative. Just like other wheelchairs, you can find an electric version for obese individuals. These chairs are sometimes called powerchairs, but we'll call them electric to avoid any confusion.
What are the main differences between the two? Electric bariatric chairs are powered by a motor, meaning you can move faster than in a manual one. This also allows for more independence as there's no need for anyone to help you move. They're also designed for outdoor use, meaning there's less chance of parts or wheels being damaged outside.
On the other hand, manual wheelchairs are much cheaper and easier to maintain. The starting prices tend to be a few thousand dollars less, thanks to a lack of parts and technology. All of the electric parts come with a price - they need to be maintained. The addition of all these extra pieces also leads to a higher chance of accidents happening. With more parts, there are more things to break, leading to costly repairs! Plus, you don't have to worry about running out of charge when you have a manual wheelchair, and many people can still propel them without the help of anyone else.
Electric Bariatric Wheelchairs
Manual Bariatric Wheelchairs
Can move faster than manual versions
Easier to operate
A lower risk of repairs being needed
More rugged for outdoor use
Harder to use indoors
Suited for indoor and outdoor use
No need to worry about running out of battery
Key criteria when choosing a bariatric manual wheelchair
Before we jump into the reviews, let's look at a buyer's guide to bariatric manual wheelchairs. Some of the things we've previously mentioned will come up in this section, but it's a way of collating all of the information together. Essentially, you will see all of the main factors to think about before purchasing your wheelchair.
This includes the following:
- Weight capacity
- Additional features
Clearly, this is different for each person. As you already know, Medicare will cover 80% of this if it is an essential purchase for your health. So, this can allow you to work with a slightly larger budget than you realized. For context, we sell bariatric wheelchairs that range from under $500 to over $2,000. Granted, we only have one product in that higher price range, but there are a few that fall into the $1,000 region.
Consequently, it's up to you to decide how much you can afford to pay for this chair. Remember, your health is potentially at stake here. It's an item you will use every day, so you're going to get your money's worth. Work out a budget, speak to your financial advisor if you need support, and you'll soon have a ballpark figure for how much you can spend.
The size of your wheelchair depends on the size of the person using it. Here, you have to consider how wide the seat will need to be. Your doctor should be able to help you out as they may have some bariatric wheelchairs that you've used before. Understand the width before buying as you don't want to purchase something that's too narrow.
Similarly, weigh yourself to consider what weight capacity you need. Some bariatric wheelchairs can withstand over 500lbs, while others are closer to 300lbs. To avoid buying a chair that breaks instantly, you have to figure out what the weight capacity should be.
Look back at our earlier section to go back over the features of bariatric manual wheelchairs. We would say that adjustable seats are pretty vital, and leg/footrests are equally important. As for any added extras you see on the models, it's entirely up to you to decide if you need them.
Use this section to help you work your way through the different products in our reviews. Make sure that a wheelchair ticks all of the boxes before you decide to buy it. Now, we can finally move on to the best bariatric manual wheelchairs!
The best bariatric manual wheelchairs reviewed
If you have made it this far, you should have all the knowledge needed to make an informed decision on your bariatric wheelchair. We understand that the research process can be long and taxing. So, we've done all of the dirty work for you. Our team has cut out all of the lesser products and found the top obesity wheelchairs you can buy right now:
Compass Health: ProBasics Heavy Duty K0007
We'll begin with the ProBasics Heavy Duty K0007 wheelchair from Compass Health. This chair offers a heavy-duty design that is capable of withstanding a lot of weight. The K0007 range actually features a plethora of products for the same price. They come in different sizes and weight capacities, but the one on our list is the 28" x 20" 600lb option. The product number is WC72820DE, which should help to avoid any confusion.
This is an incredible product for a few reasons. Firstly, it comes in at under $500, making it a budget option for people that don't want to spend too much. Don't let this low price fool you; it's certainly not cheap in the quality department. The seat can handle loads up to 600lbs, and it has adjustable casters to alter the seat's position. The armrests are padded for additional comfort, and there's a ruggedness to this product that means it can handle transfers from indoors to outside.
Of course, you get leg rests with additional padding, and the 24" wheels are thick and sturdy. It does everything you need a bariatric wheelchair to do, but without any glitz and glamor. If you want loads of additional features and customizations, this isn't the product for you. If you care about excellent value for money, it might be your best choice.
Karman Healthcare: Bariatric Wheelchair KN-920W
Karman Healthcare is one of the most trusted brands in the wheelchair industry. This offering is wonderfully affordable and gives you a variety of additional features to pick and choose from. While it's not the biggest option around - the seat is only 20" wide - it still packs a punch that helps it stand up to the big boys.
From a weight capacity standpoint, it has a mid-to-high capability with a maximum load of 300lbs. So, this isn't an option for anyone that's looking for a super heavy-duty wheelchair. What we love about it is that it provides a great level of customization for the owner. You can choose between two different leg rests, a selection of seat and back cushions, and nine optional accessories. Adding these things to your wheelchair will increase the price, but it still comes in as one of the cheaper options around.
It's a very stylish wheelchair that won't have any trouble wheeling around a house or hospital. The 24" wheels ensure great stability from the base, while also making the wheelchair suitable for outdoor use. There's not much we can say from a negative standpoint; the only problems are related to the size and weight capacity. This isn't a chair for everyone, but it is a brilliant choice if you meet the size and weight requirements.
FEI: Sentra EC Heavy Duty Extra Wide Wheelchair 43-1934
The Sentra EC is a phenomenally well-made wheelchair. Right away, it's ticking the crucial aspects of a good bariatric manual wheelchair. All of the materials are reinforced to allow a maximum capacity of 700lbs on the seat. This is coupled with a 30" seat, making it one of the wider options you can buy. Many people see this as the perfect size as there's enough width to accommodate the average obese person, but it's not too wide to fit through doors.
Going back to the materials, this chair is made out of reinforced steel gussets for the utmost durability. A reinforced nylon upholstery ensures you don't have to worry about rips, while the steel spoke wheels are very sturdy. As with all bariatric wheelchairs, the seat is tiltable and adjusts to the individual sitting on it. This makes the chair incredibly comfortable and easy to sit in for hours at a time.
The design is very industrial, yet it still retains an element of style. This is a chair you'd be proud to show people, not something you're afraid to wheel outside. It also has detachable arms and elevating leg rests, allowing you to alter the chair depending on your comfort requirements.
The elephant in the room is the price - it's significantly more expensive than the previous two products. When you look at the lack of customizable options and features, it's easy to wonder why this is the case. To put it simply, the price reflects the quality of the materials used when making the product. It isn't cheap, but you get what you pay for. This is built to last and can withstand whatever life throws at you.
Convaquip: Bariatric Wheelchair - PB-WC72620DS
The last stop on our trip through the best bariatric manual wheelchairs is this product from Convaquip. It offers a modest 26" seat width, complete with a maximum weight capacity of 500lbs. So, when compared to the previous three options, it sits somewhere in the middle.
At first glance, this looks like a stylish and lightweight wheelchair. However, looks can be deceiving! It has a reinforced frame that makes it a very heavy-duty piece of equipment. There are semi-pneumatic casters that you can adjust to three different positions depending on which is most comfortable. Speaking of which, the footrests are also adjustable to infinite levels! You don't get many customizable options, but Convaquip does offer an optional padded leg rest on each side. This is a favorite amongst may customers because it helps to ease tension on the calf muscles.
All in all, it's easy to operate, feels really sturdy, and provided the essential features. For many people, this product may be the perfect fit as it's not overly expensive but retains a higher level of quality than some of the cheaper products.
Summary: Which bariatric manual wheelchair is right for you?
We have selected four different bariatric wheelchairs that make the cut as the best around. How do you know which one is right for you? To start, refer back to the buyer's guide just before the reviews. This will refresh your memory on what to look for when buying these wheelchairs. As some extra help, here's our summary of the reviewed products!
Which wheelchair is the best for people on a budget? The Compass Health: ProBasics Heavy Duty K0007 is the winner in this category, despite the fact it's not the cheapest. It offers the best value out of all the options and is suited to a broader range of people.
Which wheelchair is the best for people with mid-to-high weight requirements? Here, it has to be the Karman Healthcare: Bariatric Wheelchair KN-920W. This affordable wheelchair packs loads of features into a small package for people with weight requirements up to 300lbs. Any more than this, and you'll need one of the other products.
Which wheelchair is the best middle-of-the-road option? We have to say that the Convaquip: Bariatric Wheelchair - PB-WC72620DS takes the biscuit in this domain. It sits right in the middle of all the options, offering a decent price and excellent features.
Which wheelchair is the best for durability, stability, and weight capacity? Of course, it's the FEI: Sentra EC Heavy Duty Extra Wide Wheelchair 43-1934. This bariatric wheelchair combines exceptional functionality, fantastic comfort, and top-class materials in one package. If you can afford the price, it's well worth considering.
On that note, you've reached the end of our guide to the best bariatric manual wheelchairs. Hopefully, it's provided you with all the knowledge you need to get the top wheelchair for your requirements.