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What is a Reclining Wheelchair?

Amy Myers
Amy Myers

A reclining wheelchair is a type of mobility device similar to a standard wheelchair except that its back can be reclined. It is designed for people with limited mobility as a result of illness, injury, or disability who find sitting in an upright position to be uncomfortable or impossible. A reclining wheelchair allows several key parts of the device, including the foot rests and backrest, to be adjusted to accommodate various needs and positions.

Most reclining wheelchairs are manually operated, although there are some power options available. Like a standard manual wheelchair, a reclining wheelchair generally includes a seat, sometimes adjustable to different angles; arm rests; foot rests, often adjustable and/or removable; handles for pushing by a caregiver; two large wheels with handles for pushing by the user; and two small castor wheels on the front. Most importantly, a reclining wheelchair features an adjustable backrest, usually operated via a hand-brake control by the caregiver or attendant, to tilt or recline the backrest to more comfortable positions, from 90° in a seated position up to 180° lying down.

Woman holding a book
Woman holding a book

As with manual wheelchairs, reclining wheelchairs are available in both folding and rigid models. Folding reclining wheelchairs are convenient if you will be transporting the wheelchair in the trunk of a car or need to store it flat. However, folding wheelchairs are often heavy and require adjusting and locking prior to each use, which impacts their safety and comfort. Rigid models are lightweight — many are made with ultralight materials such as titanium and aircraft aluminum — and usually offer more customization options and comfort than folding wheelchairs.

After deciding between a folding and rigid reclining wheelchair, there are several other factors to consider: the ease of adjusting the backrest and whether it tilts enough for your needs, other areas on the chair that need to be adjustable, the weight and size of the chair, and the weight capacity. Finding the best reclining wheelchair for your needs may take some research, but reading online reviews and talking with professional caregivers who have dealt with many different types of wheelchairs can help. You also can rent a wheelchair to see what you like and don’t like before choosing a permanent solution.

An alternative to a reclining wheelchair for people who need to remain in a reclining position because of a back injury or other disability is a wheel bench. Built much like a wheelchair, a wheel bench uses a gurney-like bench or platform in lieu of a standard seat or chair. It is operated either by the occupant using handles on the front wheels or by a caregiver pushing via built-in handles behind the headrest.

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      Woman holding a book