A Guide to Active User Wheelchairs
You’ve probably been seeing more active user wheelchairs as of late – particularly if you watched the World Parathletics Championships earlier this month. They’re a lot more lightweight and speedy than a traditional manual wheelchair, and they’re best-suited to users who have good upper body and trunk strength who are more independent in their day-to-day lives.
These wheelchairs have a few different features, which is precisely why they are better for active users. We’ve put together this guide on active user wheelchairs to make sure that you can understand how they are different, and who should be using them.
Who can use active user wheelchairs?
We often recommend that only people with good upper body strength and trunk stability use active wheelchairs. This is because active user wheelchairs are self-propelled, so you will need your strength to push yourself along. As you can imagine, pushing an active user wheelchair (particularly up hills) means that there will be more movement in your core for propulsion power. Having good trunk and core strength is essential, as it helps you to keep your balance when pushing. Having full range of movement in your arms is also necessary. This gives the individual more independence in their mobility, as they don’t require pushing and can determine their own pace and movement.
One of the most defining features of an active user wheelchairs is the compact frame size. Whilst some active user wheelchair frames can be folded down to save space, lots of them are completely rigid with a one-piece frame. This is to maximise the amount of effort you put into pushing the chair. A folding mechanism in a wheelchair frame can make it a bit more difficult to propel forwards and manoeuvre, whereas a rigid frame is easier to handle.
Active user wheelchair frames are also remarkably lighter than a traditional attendant-propelled wheelchair. Lots of active user models are made using aluminium, which can sometimes be a bit more expensive, but a lot lighter than steel. This makes the chair much easier to push and manoeuvre with less effort needed.
You’ll also notice that the rear wheels on an active user wheelchair are typically larger than those on a traditional manual wheelchair. This makes it much easier for the user to reach the wheels and push themselves forward. Larger wheels also maximise the amount of effort exerted when pushing the chair. The user can use a larger range of motion to generate more forward momentum, therefore getting more movement out of their active wheelchair. The rear wheels can also be moved forward so that the front castors can be lifted off the ground with ease, making it simpler to navigate kerbs and rough terrain.
The wheels of an active user wheelchair can also be cambered. This means that they are fixed to the chair at an angle, with the bottom of the wheel being slightly further out than the top section. This makes the chair even easier to manoeuvre.
Active user wheelchairs also have a lower backrest than other models. This is to give more room around the upper back and shoulders so that the individual can push themselves without having to worry about bashing into the backrest. The backrest on an active user chair is low enough to facilitate upper body movement and propulsion, but it also provides sufficient lumbar support as well.
This is a brief overview of active user wheelchairs and their key features, and we hope it’s given you a better idea of what to expect with these models. Whilst they do offer more independence and mobility to individuals, we highly recommend that you speak to an active wheelchair specialist before buying one to make sure that it’s the right model for you. That being said, there are now a range of powered wheelchair add-ons that gives users, who previously weren’t able to use active user wheelchairs, the ability to be more independent despite reduced trunk strength. Nevertheless, we would always say have an assessment first.