Determining the Seat Width for a Wheelchair

Seat Width Popularity

What is the seat width of a wheelchair?

The wheelchair seat width is usually the measurement of the seat upholstery between the arm rests. An 18″ wheelchair refers to the width if the seat upholstery being 18″ wide.

What is the importance of seat width?

It is important to have the proper seat width because it adds to both comfort and function. It is even more important for those who spend extended periods in their wheelchairs. For those who only use it on short errands or just to go shopping, wheelchair width is of less importance.

If the width is too narrow, the arms of the chair will put pressure on the hips and thighs, which could lead to pressure sores.

If it is too wide, the user will have a hard time pushing the wheelchair using the hand rims. It also reduces the wheelchair maneuverability in tight spaces.

Typical wheelchair seat widths:

Standard wheelchairs widths are 16″ (narrow adult), 18″ (average adult) and 20″ (wide adult). For children and small adult sizes as small as 8” are available. Adults with wider body frames can get seats from 28” and wider.

The increments for wheelchairs are usually 2” but you can get custom sizes in 1” increments and odd numbered sized widths.

How to determine the proper wheelchair seat width:

Initially the approach for figuring out the correct seat widths was to add 2” to the widest point of the user in a seated position, usually the hips. The idea was to provide for enough room for the user when using a winter coat. Nowadays wheelchair users don’t spend long periods outdoors in winter weather so they don’t really use long coats, therefore not much added seat width is required.

To properly determine the correct width, have the user sit on a solid surface and measure their widest part, be it hips or thighs. When that measurement has been determined, figuring out the final width of the wheelchair, a few things will have to be considered: The wheelchair removable arms are installed on the outside of the seat frame; therefore, the chair width can be pretty much the same as the user.

Fixed arms are sometimes mounted above the side edges of the seat and would require an extra inch or two be added to the width. Keep in mind other special seating accessories like hip guides, abductors and adductors might need a bit more width to the wheelchair seat. If you need such specialized seating, your health care professional will help you determine the proper seat width for your wheelchair.


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