What’s the Difference Between a Transport and a Manual Wheelchair?

According to the 2012 National Health and Aging Trends survey, one in every four seniors uses a mobility device. The most common and widely accepted of these devices is the simple cane. Unfortunately, it only supports individuals who can stand on their feet. Those who have difficulty moving around typically use manual wheelchairs and chairs. Both chairs share the same basic design and look almost alike, but they have subtle differences, which we’ll look into next.

Photo by james williams on Unsplash


The most obvious difference between the two mobility chairs is how they’re used. While a wheelchair lets seniors push themselves around, a transport chair needs a caregiver to do the pushing. This difference in who’s doing the pushing accounts for the subtle design differences between both devices.

Size of the Wheels

Although both chairs have four wheels, the size of the back wheels varies for obvious reasons. Manual wheelchairs need large rear wheels for users to reach and push. The tire must be large and soft for a smoother outdoor ride. In addition, the chair needs small, freewheeling front wheels to allow the chair to turn in tight spaces.

In contrast, transport chairs only need four small wheels because their users don’t touch the wheels. And even though the rear wheels are slightly larger for stability, the size difference between them and the front free-wheeling wheels is barely noticeable.


Because of their indoor use, transport chairs tend to be narrower than manual wheelchairs. Their smaller width of 17 inches or 19 inches makes them easier to maneuver in tight corridors and around narrow doors. Manual wheelchairs, on the other hand, have a standard seat size of 19 inches, which can be as large as 22 inches, depending on the patient’s preference. However, small 17-inch seats are still available on order. Likewise, transport chair seats as large as 22 inches are available if needed.


The most portable wheelchair of the two is, of course, the transport wheelchair. Being narrower, lighter, and smaller than a manual wheelchair, it’s easier to fold, carry, and store. The large rear wheels in manual wheelchairs must be strong if they’re to handle the extra strain of being pushed by strong arms and of being used outdoors. Their large size and large tires make them heavy, which in turn adds weight to the chair.

Lightweight steel transport wheelchairs are predominately used indoors, so they don’t need to be as robust or as heavy. With that said, manual wheelchairs – though heavier – are still designed to fold and store as easily as possible.

Handle Design

Although manual wheelchairs are designed to allow users to propel themselves, they still have handles for caregivers to use, though rarely. For this reason, these handles have the most basic design. This is unlike handles on transport chairs, which see constant use. As such, they’re designed with the caregiver’s comfort in mind.

My Say

Transport and manual wheelchairs both increase a patient’s mobility, but they do it differently. And as a result, their design, size, and weight among others, differ even though they share the same basic design.

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