What is a wheelchair prescription?

A wheelchair is a movable chair with wheels that you can control manually or electronically. Your doctor will give you a wheelchair prescription if you need help moving, most often because you are unable to walk on your own.

A doctor must first assess your ability to walk and move before they provide you with a wheelchair prescription. If your doctor determines that you’ll benefit from using one, they will send your prescription and supporting medical information to an insurer-approved wheelchair supplier.

There are many types of wheelchairs. You push or operate manual wheelchairs solely with your arms. You can operate power wheelchairs electronically.

If you have temporary or permanent disabilities, you may benefit from a wheelchair prescription. For instance, a paraplegic who has no feeling in their legs may require a wheelchair for the rest of their life. A person with broken bones may need a wheelchair prescription until injuries have healed.

Wheelchair prescriptions are based on individual need. If you have any of the following conditions, you may benefit from one:

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

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

If you have a prescription, some insurance companies will cover the cost of a wheelchair.

A wheelchair needs to properly fit you and include all necessary features. Your doctors and other medical professionals will help decide what wheelchair is best for you. They will consider your:

  • physical condition
  • age
  • body size
  • strength
  • mobility
  • lifestyle
  • home environment
  • budget
  • personal preferences

The chair will be fitted to your needs and body, including:

  • seat height
  • leg rests
  • backrest angle
  • arm positioning

After you get a wheelchair prescription and the right chair, you may need instruction on using it. If necessary, medical professionals can help you learn how to navigate various terrains. Therapy may include practice moving on different kinds of surfaces, such as:

  • over curbs
  • through doorways
  • forward
  • backward

If the chair has electric controls, you may need help learning how they work. You may also need to learn how to get in and out of the chair and what to do if you start to fall. Be sure to ask your doctor or medical technician for further instructions and about any other skills that are relevant to your situation.