The Anatomy of a Manual Wheelchair: Parts and Functions

Are you looking to understand the anatomy of a manual wheelchair and its various parts? As an individual with limited mobility, it is important to familiarise yourself with all the components and their functions.

This guide dives into the anatomy of a manual wheelchair, breaking it down piece by piece so you can make the best decisions when it comes to choosing one!

Introduction to Manual Wheelchairs: An Overview

Manual wheelchairs are mobility devices that are propelled by the user or a caregiver. These wheelchairs may have two, three, or four large wheels and are often used by people with physical disabilities who need help getting around. Unlike power wheelchairs, manual wheelchairs do not require a motor or battery and can be moved either by pushing the wheelchair oneself or having someone else push it.

Manual wheelchairs are economical and easy to control, lighter than powered wheelchairs, and easier to maintain due to fewer moving parts. Despite this convenience, manual wheelchairs still require regular maintenance for proper performance and safety. In this guide, we will discuss the anatomy of a manual wheelchair–the various parts of the wheelchair that allow users to self-propel and get around safely. We will go over what each part does in detail so you can understand how your wheelchair works as well as recognize if something needs replacement or repair.

Definition of a Manual Wheelchair

A manual wheelchair is a device designed to support the body’s fully weight and allow users to self-propel themselves. As its name implies, the wheelchair is powered either solely by the user or with assistance from a caretaker. It is constructed of a lightweight frame with caster wheels, and usually has handles at shoulder level on either sides for pushing, as well as footrests and armrests for comfort.

In addition to being propelled manually, some manual wheelchairs can be purchased as a powered version or simply outfitted with an after-market electric motor for motorized assistance. For those who wish to be independent, but have difficulty propelling themselves (e.g., due to lack of upper body strength), there are power wheelchairs available which utilize electric motors instead of manual propulsion force.

Importance of Understanding the Anatomy of a Manual Wheelchair

It is important to have a good understanding of the anatomy of a manual wheelchair in order to make sure it is used safely and efficiently. A proper fitting wheelchair can help reduce fatigue, maintain independence, and ensure comfort. The frame of a wheelchair supports the user’s weight and absorbs the shock from impact with obstacles while providing stability on uneven surfaces. Wheelchairs are either self-propelled or attendant-propelled depending on whether the user or a caregiver pushes it. Other components that support maneuverability, posture control, and comfort may be added to different types of wheelchairs. Knowing how to identify these components properly can help ensure safe operation for users of different sizes, ages, and abilities.

For self-propelled wheelchairs, pushing rims are essential for propelling forward and backward in a manual wheelchair. They can be made from metal or plastic with different shapes and sizes which cater to various hand sizes and grips styles for individual preferences. Handgrips can also vary in shape but should be comfortable for prolonged use as they transfer all force into motions when pushing rims are rotated. Castors are located at the front of the chair frame; they provide stability when turning corners by sticking out in opposite directions while making contact with cross braces when necessary throughout turns. Wheels may come in different sizes with smooth knobby surfaces that perform well on diverse terrain; they come with either quick release clips or threaded axles that tighten like conventional bike brakes so adjusting them periodically is important for safe operation speeds of the chair’s propulsion.

Brakes provide resistance when pressed down upon onto both rear wheels simultaneously so it can work as an additional safety feature besides preventing lateral sliding in self-propelling chairs during stationary mode setting brake locks on both sides at once locks castors into position safely after elevation changes or assistance transfers out of chair seating area take place.


The frame of a manual wheelchair is the most important part of the chair since it serves as the base for all other components that provide support and mobility. Most manual wheelchairs consist of an aluminum frame which is lightweight and durable, but some models may substitute in steel or titanium for greater strength.

It is typically made up of two parts: a fixed frame section and a folding frame section which allows for more convenient transport and storage. Welds may be used to connect the two pieces together, but some more expensive models will make use of forged connections, offering better strength and performance. Depending on the model, additional frames may be attached to provide customizable features such as seat height adjustment.

The front forks or axles provide support while going over uneven terrain while also connecting to curved handles or push bars which will aid in contributing to overall mobility. The rear axle keeps the back wheels tightly connected with specialized screws or connectors to prevent unwanted movement during regular use.

Description of the Frame

The frame of a manual wheelchair includes several important components, including the frame itself, the caster forks, the crossbrace, the seat and the casters.

The frame of a manual wheelchair is what supports the entire chair’s weight and houses all of its parts. It is constructed from either aluminum or steel. Steel frames are often custom built to fit a particular person’s needs, while aluminum frames are often easily adjustable for different users. The seat attaches directly to this frame and provides support for the user while they’re seated in it.

Invacare Action Ampla bariatric manual wheelchair - Invacare Europe

The caster forks at either side corner of the wheelchair are small metal tubes that support each wheel of the chair and provide added stability during turns. They also allow for quick alterations in the positioning of each wheel when necessary or desired by an individual user.

At the front side corner of a manual wheelchair is usually found an additional crossbrace used to further reinforce the construction in order to ensure stability and durability during use. This crossbrace is also used to help keep everything in place if a tipping accident were to occur – it can be either rigid or flexible depending on its design and can be made from steel or aluminum depending on preference or cost.

Finally, two large wheels known as casters attach directly onto both sides at the back corner of a manual wheelchair providing essential propulsion through forward momentum generated by an individual pushing with their arms. These two large wheels may be flat free (made from plastic) so as not to puncture easily, but many still come with pneumatic tires which require air pressure maintenance like any other vehicle tire would (which adds weight).

Materials Used in Making the Frame

The frames of wheelchairs come in different materials ranging from lighter-weight aluminum alloys used for folding chairs to lightweight but strong titanium and carbon fiber. Many of the chairs used today rely on aluminum as the main material due to its lightness, availability and strength. Steel is used for those wheelchairs that require more stability to support heavier weights, such as bariatric wheelchairs.

The frames generally feature a double-cross brace or a U-shape frame along with a crossbar. These designs offer strength while still allowing easy folding. Aluminum frames also have reinforcement at major areas that regularly experience extreme tension, such as the rear axles and rear leaf springs, often using steel reinforcements that are fused into the parts during the manufacturing process for improved durability and longevity.

The back uprights come in several different designs — rigid (fixed), convertible (foldable) or adjustable (with multiple height settings). They can be made from reinforced metals or molded plastic which offer added lumbar support depending on the user’s needs or preferences.

III. Wheels and Tires

The wheels of a manual wheelchair serve an important purpose – they are what provide propulsion. There are several types of wheels available, including pneumatic and solid tires. Solid tires are the most common type of wheel used in manual wheelchairs, as they provide greater stability and control than their pneumatic counterparts. However, they also require more effort to propel since they offer less cushioning or shock-absorbing capabilities than pneumatic tires when travelling over rough surfaces such as cobblestones and gravel.

Additionally, many manual wheelchairs have caster wheels at the front for directional stabilization and maintenance of mobility on uneven ground surfaces. They help make navigating obstacles such as curbs easier and create a smoother ride overall. The main differences between caster wheels include treaded versus smooth tires, as well as size (generally ranging between four to ten inches). It is recommended that a smooth tire be used indoors due to its lower rolling resistance while treaded tires should be used outdoors where there’s a greater chance of encountering debris or rough surfaces. It is also important to check the air pressure in your caster wheels regularly to ensure that the wheelchair is getting adequate traction.

Description of the Wheels and Tires

Wheels are one of the most important components of a manual wheelchair. There are four main types of wheelchairs – lightweight, standard, power and heavy duty. The type and style of wheel used will depend on the type of wheelchair and purpose.

Lightweight wheelchairs typically have smaller wheels with lower powered hubs (centers) and either wheel locks or track locks. The tires are usually solid rubber or pneumatic (filled with air). Depending on the weight load, you may also find polyurethane-filled tires which absorb shock better than solid rubber ones. Standard wheelchairs also use small wheels but come with larger hubs for added strength, along with footrests for braking and balance. Power chairs generally use larger drive wheels with higher powered motors, as well as bigger tire sizes for extra cushioning. Last but not least, heavy-duty wheelchairs can carry heavier loads and usually come equipped with large drive wheels combined with either very thick tires or wider caster wheels for stability when cornering.

Your chosen type of tire will affect ride quality, so make sure to select correctly depending on the terrain — pavement or off road — that you expect to encounter most often when using your manual chair. Whether you choose air-filled(pneumatics), solid rubber or polyurethane tires they will all get worn down over time; and just like car tire pressure must be checked weekly, wheelchair tires should also be checked regularly to ensure safety and comfort while navigating any terrain.

Types of Wheels and Tires

When it comes to manual wheelchairs, the choice of tires used will have a great impact on how you can use it and how successful your wheelchair activities will be. Generally, lighter tires are used for recreational purposes and for pavement and indoors, while heavier tires work better outdoors or in environments with obstacles. 

There are three main types of fixed-wheel wheels: solid rubber wheels, pneumatic mountain bike-style wheels and plastic Composite Mag-style wheels. Solid rubber tires are airless and are generally more affordable. However, they don’t roll as efficiently as a pneumatic tire would have. Pneumatic mountain bike-style wheels have a thicker tire wall with an inner tube filled with air for comfort and cushioning; these are generally meant for outdoor use and provide superior bounce compared to the standard solid rubber wheels. Plastic Composite Mag-style tires feature raised bumps or protrusions along their outer surface which help to provide additional grip in slippery or rocky conditions. Lastly, some wheelchairs now come equipped with power assist rear wheel drives which pair a motor with a battery pack giving the user additional power when going uphill or over certain surfaces like gravel or sand.

Functions of the Wheels and Tires

The wheels and tires of a manual wheelchair are designed to provide users with mobility, stability and comfort. The wheels are model-specific, depending on the type and brand of the wheelchair, but all share the same basic components. Tires can be air-filled (pneumatic) or foam-filled (solid/semi-solid); each have their own advantages and disadvantages.

The purpose of the wheels is to help propel the chair forward when pushed by a caregiver or someone using their own strength. Depending on how they’re made, they can also provide added cushioning and reduce vibrations when in use. Most types of wheels use either spokes or flat rings for support. Spoked wheels tend to be more lightweight than flat/ringed ones because they don’t require as much material to construct them.

Tires are essential for grip and traction while using a manual wheelchair, so it’s important to choose the right kind depending on where you’ll be taking your chair: outdoors, indoors or in wet conditions for example. Pneumatic tires better absorb shock from uneven surfaces whereas solid tires are lighter in weight, more puncture proof and easier to maintain; however, their lack of absorbency can significantly reduce comfort levels during long rides over bumpy terrain.


Axles of a manual wheelchair are composed of axle tube and a variety of components including caster stem, inner bearing cone, front and rear wheel tires and rims. The axle tube holds the pieces together and supports the forces exerted when moving, turning and stopping. It also provides flange space for the wheel studs so they can be securely fastened to the wheel-rim.

Caster stems provide adjustable height to the caster wheel. Its shape locks into the axle tube allows it to be installed permanently. Inner bearing cones help reduce wear on both axle tube and wheel tire while enabling a smoother ride experience.

Front tire is larger than rear tire with different tread patterns specifically designed for stability when steering or maneuvering tight corners as well as balance when loaded with weight in either direction or for extended traveling over uneven terrain. In addition, high pressure flat-free tires are also available for even more stability in rougher conditions.

Rims are available in metal or composite materials providing long-lasting durability which helps maintain oscillation smoothness during movement. Wheel rims also feature slots that accommodate spoke systems enabling users to design their own custom wheel configurations to best meet daily requirements without excessive weights or bulkiness that could result from hard-to-install designs involving extended accessories like power assist motors/wheels or large footplates – both examples that offer great utility but can increase overall weight significantly if sold with improper hubs/rims/spokes resizing combinations that lack any visible aesthetic enhancement despite being very expensive in regards to overall maintenance costs associated with frequent replacement of their integrated parts under certain usage conditions beyond their prescribed specification ratings normal limits.

Description of the Axles

The axles of the wheelchairs are perhaps the most visible components and it is their construction and features which will have the greatest effect on how the wheelchair performs. Axles are normally either welded permanently to the frame or bolted with felt washers, however, occasionally they may be pinned as in a transport chair.

How Do I Pick The Right Wheelchair? | WheelchairWise

Axles come in two standard sizes 10mm or 12mm with a 5/16” UNF thread, differing depending on what level of impact is expected to be put through them. Generally speaking, lighter wheelchairs such as pediatric chairs or lightweight wheelchairs operate on a 10mm axle requiring a smaller Allen key to secure them into place, yet stronger wheelchairs such as sports chairs and high performance wheelchairs can often operate on beefier 12mm axles requiring larger Allen keys to secure them into place.

There are two types of axles: cambered axles and straight axles. The cambered axle design helps lift the frame off the ground when cornering around bends, for example to prevent any excessive wear being caused by rubbing over surfaces. Axle type is important for user safety; it is not advisable for someone with limited flexibility such as those found in post-polio syndrome users to use straight axle designs due to increased difficulty exiting the chair and subsequent likelihood of falls.


Manual wheelchairs offer users reliable and lightweight mobility. The types vary from rigid frame wheelchairs to folding wheelchairs to ultra lightweight wheelchairs. These mobility aids come equipped with many different components, allowing for customizations that best meet the needs of their user. They provide a variety of features such as cushions for comfort, armrests for support, and brakes for safety. Some wheelchairs even have a seat lift option which allows users to be at the same level as other people around them.

Understanding the components of a manual wheelchair is key in order to figure out what’s best for each individual’s needs, or even repairing any existing wheelchairs they already own. While researching, it’s important to remember that the comfort and support provided by a wheelchair often translates into greater independence and freedom. Ultimately, the choice of which manual wheelchair works best lies entirely in the discretion of each individual’s needs and lifestyle goals.


What are the parts of a wheelchair and its function?

The parts of a wheelchair include the frame, seat, footrests, wheels, tires, hand rims, axles, and brakes. Each part has a specific function to ensure mobility and comfort for the user.

What are the parts of a manual wheelchair?

The parts of a manual wheelchair include the frame, seat, backrest, footrests, wheels, tires, hand rims, axles, and brakes.

What are the parts of a wheelchair called?

The parts of a wheelchair are often referred to as the frame, seat, backrest, footrests, wheels, tires, hand rims, axles, and brakes.

What are the functions of wheelchair?

The primary function of a wheelchair is to provide mobility and independence for individuals with mobility impairments. Additionally, wheelchairs can provide postural support and pressure relief for users.

How does a manual wheelchair work?

A manual wheelchair works by the user propelling themselves forward using the hand rims on the wheels. The user can also use the footrests to support their feet while seated.

What is the description of manual wheelchair?

A manual wheelchair is a mobility device that is propelled by the user using their upper body strength to move the wheels.

What is the function of backrest on wheelchair?

The backrest on a wheelchair provides support and comfort for the user while seated, as well as promoting good posture and preventing slouching.

What are three basic types of wheelchairs?

The three basic types of wheelchairs are manual wheelchairs, power wheelchairs, and transport wheelchairs.

What is a wheelchair with standing function?

A wheelchair with standing function is a specialized wheelchair that allows the user to stand up while remaining seated in the wheelchair. This can provide numerous health benefits for the user.

Which motor is used in wheelchair?

Power wheelchairs are typically powered by electric motors, with some models using DC or AC motors depending on the manufacturer and specific model.

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