Wheelchair Prescription

Written by Amber Erickson Gabbey and Heaven Stubblefield | Published on January 21, 2014
Medically Reviewed by George Krucik, MD, MBA on January 21, 2014

What Is a Wheelchair Prescription?

A wheelchair is a movable chair with wheels that a person can control manually or electronically. A wheelchair prescription is given to people who need help moving—for instance, because they are unable to walk on their own.

A doctor must assess a patient's ability to walk and move before he or she provides a wheelchair prescription.

There are many types of wheelchairs. Manual wheelchairs are pushed or operated solely by the arms of the user. Power wheelchairs can be operated electronically.

Who Benefits from a Wheelchair Prescription?

Patients with temporary or permanent disabilities can benefit from a wheelchair prescription. For instance, a paraplegic experiences no feeling in the legs and may require a wheelchair for the rest of his or her life. A person with broken bones may need a wheelchair prescription until injuries have healed.

Wheelchair prescriptions are based on individual need, and several factors are considered. People with the following conditions may benefit from a wheelchair prescription:

  • paralysis
  • musculoskeletal issues
  • broken bones or injury to the legs or feet
  • neurological issues
  • balance or gait problems
  • inability to walk for long distances

How to Choose a Wheelchair

If a doctor determines that you’ll benefit from using a wheelchair, your prescription and supporting medical information will be sent to an insurer-approved wheelchair supplier.

Wheelchair design and usability vary greatly, but the two major types of wheelchairs are manual and electric. Manual wheelchairs are less expensive than electric but can still be quite costly.

With a prescription, some insurance companies will cover the cost of a wheelchair.

A wheelchair needs to properly fit the person using it and include all necessary features. Your doctors and other medical professionals will help decide what wheelchair is best for you. They will consider your condition, age, size, strength, mobility, lifestyle, home environment, budget, and personal preferences. The chair will be fitted to your needs and body, including seat height, leg rests, backrest angle, and arm positioning.

How to Use a Wheelchair

After you get a wheelchair prescription and the right chair, you may need instruction on using the chair. If necessary, medical professionals can help you learn how to navigate various terrains. Therapy may include practice moving on different kinds of surfaces, over curbs, through doorways, forward, backward, and so on. If the chair has electric controls, some instruction on their use may be necessary.

Beyond moving in the wheelchair, you may need to learn how to get in and out of the chair, what to do if you begin to fall, and other skills that are relevant to your situation.

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