Are you struggling to pick the correct type of wheelchair armrest for you or a family member?
A few years ago, I was in a similar situation and had to go through several armrest pad models before I found the perfect one for my brother-in-law’s power chair.
And I’m here today to talk about the most common styles and types of wheelchair armrests to help you do the same.
Just keep reading.
- The suitable wheelchair armrests provide support, stability, and comfort for the user.
- Wheelchair armrests come in various styles to suit different people with disabilities.
- Don’t forget to check your wheelchair compatibility when shopping for armrests.
4 Types of Wheelchair Armrests
Before I explain what types of wheelchair armrests you can choose from, let’s discuss why they’re so crucial for wheelchair users.
At first glance, the armrest is a simple item with a single purpose – keeping your arms comfortable while riding your power chair.
But as experts from the United Spinal Association say,
“Properly fitted armrests, when used, help in maintaining a correct and a functional seated posture.” (1)
They also play a role in balance, pressure reduction, repositioning, and stability. And the right armrest can help you get in or out of the wheelchair with minimum effort.
So, what types of wheelchair armrests are there? Since wheelchair arms come in various styles, I’ve divided them into several groups for your convenience.
1. Types of Armrests According to Length
Armrests are either full-length or desk-length. And each has its pros and cons.
Full-length arms provide better support for the user, so they’re the better choice if you lack body strength and need extra stability. But they make it hard to sit at tables.
Desk-length arms make it easy to approach tables and desks, giving you better access and independence. But they’re about four inches shorter than full-length, so they don’t offer the same body weight support.
2. Types of Armrests According to Height
The wheelchair arms should be high enough to rest the elbows without hunching or sagging the shoulders to ensure comfort and a correct posture. You’ve got two options – fixed or height-adjustable arms.
Fixed Height Wheelchair Armrests
As the name suggests, you can’t change the height or width of this type of armrest. It can be full-length or desk-length. I don’t like them since they’re inconvenient when sitting at tables.
Adjustable Height Wheelchair Armrest
This type of wheelchair armrest is popular since it allows you to adjust the arm’s height or width. The adjustable wheelchair arms can also come in full-length or desk-length.
Check this video to see what adjustable arms look like.
A full-length adjustable rest is better if you use a lap tray since it provides better stability. But a desk-length rest is more convenient for sitting close to tables.
3. Types of Armrest According to Movement
Depending on whether the wheelchair arm can move, you can choose between fixed and removable arms:
- Fixed ones are permanently attached to the chair’s frame and can’t be moved. Comfortable wheelchairs for elderly usually have this type of armrest.
- Removable arms aren’t permanently fixed to the frame, so you can move when they get in your way. They can have fixed or adjustable heights.
Wheelchair arms can also flip or swing, perfect for easy transfer from one chair to another. And movable armrests come in several styles:
- Flip-down armrests for wheelchairs – they attach to the back upright canes, allowing you to flip them to an upward position.
- Flip-up or cantilever armrests – a non-removable type of arm that pivots away from the user. It’s similar to a swing-away one. (2)
- Swing-away armrests – they swing to the side or the back. I perfect this type because they provide better clearance and easy transfer.
- Tubular Armrests – they flip downwards since the hardware is attached to the rear upright canes.
- Space-saver arms – instead of moving outwards, they curve inwards, bringing the armrest close to your body.
4. Type of Armrest According to Attachment Style
You can choose between dual post or single post armrest:
- Dual post armrests feature two vertical tubes, which you should insert into the side frame. They’re very stable and offer plenty of support.
- The single post arms feature one vertical tube, making it better for approaching tables. But it’s not as stable as the dual post one.
And now, let’s talk about other features you should consider when shopping for wheelchair armrests.
What to Consider When Shopping for Wheelchair Armrests?
Once you’ve picked the correct type of wheelchair arm, consider several features before making your final decision.
Most wheelchair arms are made from nylon, artificial leather, ABS, or plastic. No matter the material, it should be of high quality, or the arms will wear in no time and start hurting your elbows.
I recommend testing the wheelchair arms to see if they provide adequate cushioning or pressure relief. Or consider purchasing a wheelchair padded armrest to prevent sores and keep your arms comfortable.
3. Wheelchair Compatability
Finally, it would help to consider whether the armrest type is compatible with your wheelchair. Some arms are designed for specific wheelchair brands, while others are universal.
Do wheelchair arms come off?
Yes, some types of wheelchair arms come off, and you can remove them for easy transfer or access to tables/desks.
Are wheelchair armrests adjustable?
Yes, some wheelchair arms are adjustable so that you can change their height for clearance, transfer, or comfort.
What are desk arms on a wheelchair?
Desk arms are shorter than full-length by about four inches, allowing users to approach tables or desks without bumping into them.
What does hemi height mean in a wheelchair?
Hemi height means your wheelchair is lower than the standard seating by two inches.
How do you remove a wheelchair armrest?
It depends on the model of your wheelchair and the type of arms. Watch this short video to see how to remove manual wheelchair armrests.
Wheelchair armrests seem less important than other wheelchair accessories. But they can make all the difference regarding your comfort and ease of access.
Moreover, the arms are vital for providing support and stability when you get in and out of your chair. So, make sure you pick a chair model with the right type of wheelchair armrest for you.
What do you think about this topic? Which type of wheelchair armrest is your favorite? Please share your opinion in the comment section.
- 1. Wheelchair Armrests – What Do They Really Do? [Internet]. United Spinal Association. 2017. Available from: https://unitedspinal.org/wheelchair-armrests/
- 2. PDAC – Cantilever Type Armrest – Correct Coding [Internet]. Dmepdac.com. 2016 [cited 2022 Oct 16]. Available from: https://www.dmepdac.com/palmetto/PDACv2.nsf/DIDC/VFZAHB9HTG~Articles%20and%20Publications~Advisory%20Articles