Folding v/s Rigid Wheelchair– [The Ultimate Guide] For You

Wheelchairs mainly come in two different forms- Folding and Rigid. Read this Ultimate Comparison Guide and Decide which one is Best for You.

Rigid wheelchairs are the traditional once and few years after the folding Wheelchairs were introduced keeping in mind the changing needs of the users.

But now the wheelchair market is so evolved with the introduction of standing wheelchairs, stair-climbing wheelchairs, and more.

But in this article we are not going to talk about them, we are going to talk about Folding vs the Rigid wheelchair and do a comparison between them and help you choose the one which suits your needs the best. 

So let’s dive into it.

What is a Rigid Wheelchair?​

Rigid wheelchair

Rigid wheelchairs are wheelchairs that are made up of a one-piece frame. They are ultralight in weight which is mainly due to the overall design of the wheelchair. The materials used in them are also very light in weight.

What mainly makes the Rigid wheelchair different from the Folding one is that there is no cross-brace in a rigid frame wheelchair, because of which the wheelchair does not fold side-to-side.

What is a Folding Wheelchair?​

folding wheelchair

Folding Wheelchairs are Lightweight collapsible wheelchairs.

Usually have a very light frame, but not as light as a Rigid wheelchair as Rigid Rigid frame wheelchairs have a less moving part.

Folding wheelchairs as the name suggest comes with a foldable feature, this includes folding the wheelchair seat and components into a small shape, which gives a great advantage with the storage space and can be stored into the trunk of a vehicle very easily.

Main Differences Between Rigid and Folding Wheelchair

rigid vs folding wheelchair

Rigid and folding both come under the head manual Wheelchair are distinguishes mainly in their design, construction, and how they function.

Key differences between Rigid and Folding Wheelchair are in:

  • Materials– What materials are used in making the wheelchairs
  • Shape and Design– How different is the shape and design between the two wheelchair.
  • Removable or non-removable components – The components used in the wheelchairs are removable or non-removable. This is a very important part to keep in mind while choosing the right wheelchair, as it will determine the weight of the wheelchair.  
  •  Adjustments– To ensure it’s a good fit for the user and provide adequate comfort for a very long time.

What are the Materials Used in a Wheelchair?

There are three main materials used in a wheelchair:

  • Aluminum– Most widely used because of its lightweight. You will see most of the ultralight wheelchairs and lightweight wheelchairs has Aluminium as their main component. The recent version of aluminum known as the “7000 series Aluminium” is stronger with the addition of being as lightweight as the traditional one.
  • Titanium– Came a little later into the wheelchair industry but is used more often than traditional materials mainly because of its higher strength to weight ratio. The titanium also is very strong and has a long life, meaning the frame is not easily bent or damaged.
  • Carbon Fiber– Carbon Fiber was introduced very recently into the making of wheelchairs. It has some great features like being lightweight, provides more stiffness, and is corrosion-resistant. However, they are more expensive than Aluminium and Titanium. It is also difficult to shape because of its stiffness. Carbon Fiber has poor impact resistance, meaning the risk of damage is higher, which leads to more components added in the chair which ultimately affects the weight of the wheelchair.

But whatever be the material used in the wheelchair the Design and the Style play a very important role in the weight of the wheelchair.

If the design is simple then the material used really does not make a difference. Moreover, we really don’t need to worry about the weight of the wheelchair in today’s time as the manufacturers keep this in mind and try to make the base of the wheelchair under 500 grams in most of the chairs.

 So if titanium wheelchairs are not affordable, no need to worry, the wheelchair will still be very lightweight.

What is the Best Weight of the Wheelchair?

We need to consider the “TOTAL WEIGHT” of the wheelchair- It involves the overall frame weight plus the components weight as well as the weight of the seat cushion and back support.

Even an ultra-lightweight frame can end up being heavier as a final product if the weight of the components used is heavy.

It’s needless to say that a poorly configured lighter frame chair will also do no good to the wheelchair as it will be inefficient and really hectic to use the wheelchair for a long period of time.

So we need to look at the base weight and the components weight separately for better understanding the true weight of the wheelchair.

Types of Frames used in a Wheelchair​

mono tube wheelchair frame
dual tube wheelchair frame

There are mainly two types of rigid manual wheelchair frames: Mono-tube and Dual-Tube Frames.

Mono-tube: This type of frame contains one continuous single tube, and is very strong as the wall thickness of the frame has many layers.

The Mono-tube frame might be for those users who might not require the high rigidity the dual tube offers.

It also offers greater frame deflection due to this increased wall thickness and therefore offers great performance for the end-user.

As it has fewer tubes used, the weight of the wheelchair will also be less.

The overall performance of the chair will also increase with the type of material used in the chair.

For example, the Mono-tube frame made up of titanium will be stronger than the frame made up of aluminum.

But it has been found that When Titanium is used in a monotube frame it creates a “flex” leading to a softer ride, most people like this as it’s more comfortable to sit in it for a longer period of time.

Dual Tube Frame: Also known as the Box Frame. It has more than one tube which makes the wheelchair more rigid.

The first thing that comes to mind when we hear that more tubes are used in this type of wheelchair is that they must be heavier than the Monotube Frames.

But this is not true for all the Dual tube frames. The T-series of the dual tube frames are slighter lighter than the Z-series monotube frames.

The dual tube frames are designed in a way that it gains its strength and rigidity with the second tube. The tube’s height is shortened as two tubes are places and therefore the tubes can be smaller in diameter and thus shorter tubes give us a lighter wheelchair.

But this makes the chair wider, therefore, takes up more space across the body.

The rigid frame usually is “fixed” in nature but now you can make a custom-made adjustable frame wheelchair if you have been using the chair for a while or knows the exact measurements and angle of the wheelchair that suits you. These are also called “adjustable” frames.

The fixed front end of the Rigid frame wheelchair does not move out of the way for standing transfers but the side flip-up footplate opens the front area easily for a smooth chair transfer.

The leg rests can also swing away once the footplate is raised. This is one of the most important things you should keep in mind when choosing the right frame for your wheelchair. 

But when it comes to folding frames, “quick release axles” is the feature that allows you to easily remove the wheels of the chair which makes the frame smaller and easy for it to transfer.

Watch this video to better understand it.

Decide what wheelchair works best for you: Usability and performance​

When deciding which type of wheelchair will work best for you in the long run it is important to answer some of these questions:

  • Do you need a Therapist to assess you with your wheelchair?
  • What is the average time you are going to sit in the wheelchair daily?
  • Will you be controlling the chair by yourself or will need some assistance with the chair?
  • Will a pressure-relieving cushion be a part of your wheelchair?
  • What is the best measurement of the wheelchair as per your body composition?
  • Which chair will be best suited as per your height, weight, limb length etc?

A well-trained wheelchair salesperson is someone who will keep all of these factors in mind and will answer you in the best possible way. 

Best Wheelchair for Flexible Transportation and Storage​

When it comes to flexible transportation and storage we are wired to think of foldable wheelchairs.

Folding wheelchairs when folded take up much less space, and can easily fit into a small closet or in the trunk of a vehicle.

For wheelchairs to be easily folded you need to look into the armrests and leg rests of the wheelchair. If taking off the armrest and leg rest is easy then the foldable wheelchair gets a ten out of ten.

The only addition to that is if the chair is configured with quick-release wheels then the wheelchair gets a bonus point

But most of the rigid frame wheelchairs don’t come with these easy-to-fold features and require their own seat in a vehicle to get transported from one place to another.

Features to look for in a good Easy-To-Fold Wheelchair​

Transfer of effort and power​

If you are someone who is going to be controlling the chair yourself, you need to consider the transfer of effort to power and motion of the wheelchair.

The transfer of energy is very efficient with a rigid frame.

If the wheelchair is pushed by someone, some of the energy from every push is absorbed in the frame as it flexes mainly because of the flexibility of folding frames.

It can lead to quicker fatigue for the user.

Surface used ​

The surface on which the wheelchair will be used also plays an important factor.

A foldable wheelchair would move over rough surfaces very easily if compared with a rigid frame wheelchair, this is mainly because of their tendency to flex.

The frames of the folding wheelchair offer a softer suspension, which enhances the ride for the user, and in addition to that, all four wheels of the chair maintain better contact with the land even if the ground is uneven or a little rough.

Simply put foldable chairs are more flexible in nature when it comes to the surface used.

Foot/Arm placement ​

An important feature of the wheelchair is the comfort that the armrest and leg rest provides to its user.

If you still have some doubts regarding any of the things, do let us know in the comments below. We will be happy to help you with it.

To choose the right kind of wheelchair it is very important that the chair provides the user with adequate leg length from the back of the knee to the back of the buttocks.

Easy resting of the forearms on the pads will be achieved if the armrests are set at a perfect height and which does not lead to any kind of discomfort like pushing the shoulders skywards.

As per leg rest is concerned it should be set to allow the thighs to be fully supported by the seat or cushion.

Configuration of the Chair​

We have covered all the important points and features that you should keep in mind while choosing the right type of wheelchair for you, be it a Rigid frame wheelchair or a Folding frame wheelchair.

If you will be controlling the chair by yourself most of the time, then you need to choose the chair with proper wheel alignment. This is something that an OT/PT or other professional will help you with. 

But just to give you an insight of what you should be looking for in the wheel alignment is that the wheel should be placed within the shoulder and fingers reach the axle in order to keep the shoulders and wrists safe which would lead to less energy consumption while pushing the chair.

This is important to consider as it will help you with the balance of the wheelchair. And help you with the wheelchair skills to manage the chair whenever in use.

If you are someone who is newly injured, the wheelchair wheels which are a little farther will be easy for you to use until you develop the strength and balance and get used to the chair.

Also Read: Power Chair VS Electric Wheelchair

The Bottom Line​

Hopefully, this article has made the concept between the rigid frame wheelchair and a folding frame wheelchair clear.

We have tried to put everything one needs to know about both types of frames and make this the ultimate and complete guide on rigid and folding wheelchairs.

But it’s important to mention that you should always make sure to speak with a healthcare professional before making a final decision.

Leave a Comment