Bariatric Wheelchairs: Brief Guide to Selection and Use
Bariatric wheelchairs are specialty wheelchairs that are designed for obese patients who need 
enhanced medical care and equipment to sustain optimum day-to-day functioning.  

Wheelchairs have recently grown in variety beyond just manual and electric, to sport, pediatric, standing, transport, power assisted, and scooters of various kinds. More 
and more, wheelchairs such as bariatric wheelchairs, are 
designed to meet the needs of people experiencing disabilities 
with more specialized issues.

What is a Bariatric Wheelchair?

Bariatric wheelchairs serve a special patient class, which is
the severely obese. Due to obesity, bariatric patients need 
enhanced and specialized medical care, as well as the proper
handicapped accessories to sustain day-to-day functioning. 

Obesity often has the effect of limiting or preventing patient mobility
in areas of the home such as the kitchen, bedroom and accessible bathroom.

Obese patients who are unable to walk may adopt the use of a bariatric wheelchair
for permanent use or for use whenever distance walking is not possible.

This chair is designed to facilitate the mobility of obese patients in both the home or in other venues. It is specifically designed to support excessive weight in the user, but also to allow for special depth, width, and length requirements.


Bariatric wheelchairs come in both manual and electric power chair versions. Features include customization of height, width, and depth dimensions to fit a patient's individual needs. There are also various comfort, access, and aesthetic features available, such as removable armrests, adjustable footrests, heavy upholstery, paint and decoration. 

Tires can be either air-filled or solid, with the air-filled tires generally providing a softer ride, but at the same time requiring ongoing maintenance. These mobility aids sell for as little as about $400 to more than $2,000, depending on weight capacity and overall features. 


The primary advantage of a bariatric handicap chair is that it is specially designed to support large body weights. Body weight by itself is often a cause of injury or of the worsening of underlying medical conditions. By providing for better management of body weight, this type of wheelchair contributes to a patient's overall better health. In many cases, obese patients utilize typical, standard wheelchairs, but they often find that a bariatric wheelchair is much more comfortable. 

Also, the risk of injury from wheelchair confinement is reduced because of the suitable dimensions that are designed into the chair. Abrasions and skin wounds can result from uneven weight distribution, and this design helps minimize these risks. 


Manual Bariatric Chair

It is generally the choice between manual and powered chairs that makes clear the possible disadvantages. Some obese users remain able to physically propel a wheelchair by pushing the wheels without assistance. For these patients, use of the manual design is often preferred and even recommended. A benefit is that it provides a form of exercise to patients who may be bedridden and otherwise incapable of performing other types of exercise. 

Powered Bariatric Wheelchair

At the same time, manually moving a wheelchair can create ancillary physical risks for an obese patient through exertion and stress, and may not be a viable option. The electric version is preferred for patients who lack the upper body strength needed to move a manual wheelchair or who suffer from cardiovascular conditions that limit their ability to sustain physical exertion. The disadvantage of these is that they eliminate essentially all forms of movement and provide no opportunity for stretching or exercise.

Buying Tips

These specialty wheelchairs are widely available for purchase from dealers. It is even possible to buy them through online stores. There are various features available on these chairs which is reflected in the various price ranges. The more a patient pays, the more features he or she is likely to get. 

If Medicare or other insurance pays part or all of the cost, options may be limited. Expert guidance in selecting a bariatric mobility aid can be very useful. A doctor or a therapist can make helpful recommendations. 

Probably the first consideration in buying a wheelchair is whether to buy a manual wheelchair or an electric one. In the end, the buying decision will generally be made on the basis of features and pricing. Bariatric wheelchairs are sold according to weight capacity, and all versions can be modified to fit specific sizing requirements. These are critical considerations.

Bariatric patients are faced with a variety of physical limitations. Weight alone impacts mobility, and in many cases, patients suffer from other primary or secondary conditions which adds to poor health. In order for a bariatric patient to enjoy mobility, bariatric wheelchairs often offer the best option for increased activity and enjoyment in daily life.

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