Wheelchair vs prosthesis

People with lower limb amputations could benefit greatly from a wheelchair – a device that funders are often reluctant to provide. HEINRICH GRIMSEHL shares the benefits that this assistive device offers

The patient cannot have a wheelchair and a prosthesis,” I hear the case manager say. They must pick one or the other. Well, I beg to differ. The patient needs both! Here’s why:

Getting a break

An amputee cannot spend 24 hours wearing their prosthesis. This is impossible. The stump needs time to rest and heal; and the skin needs time to breath and regenerate. Typically, after a long day an amputee would wash and retire their prosthesis. During these times a wheelchair is essential, otherwise the patient would be stranded. Crutches are not an option, because it will only increase the risk of falling on the stump and this is usually a train smash.

Uneven terrain or long distances

Generally, amputees can manage their activities of daily living just fine. They can get through an entire day wearing their limb. But, if they must negotiate uneven terrain or long distances all in one go, the stump becomes painful and bruised. I am referring to two kilometres or more. For long distances a wheelchair is essential.

Standing for hours

Sometimes patients must stand for hours on end. For example, while collecting their grant from the South African Social Security Agency or attempting to vote for their favourite party. A wheelchair is needed to take the strain off their prosthesis.

Heavy objects

Carrying heavy loads for example 25 litres of water. What is needed? You guessed correctly, a wheelchair!


A prosthesis is an essential tool for an amputee who has had more than one limb amputated. It helps them tremendously to move around and to stabilise themselves when, for example, moving an object from one place to another while using both hands.


A wheelchair also helps with balance; braces them from falling forwards or backward when negotiating inclines. Balance is essential when transferring from a wheelchair to a toilet a car or a bed. Not even to mention its value when reaching up high to remove an object from a shelf.


Then there are also cosmetic reasons. Most people like to look normal.

The above are but a few simple examples, there are many more. It should however clearly indicate why amputees need prostheses and wheelchairs!


Heinrich Grimsehl is a prosthetist in private practice and a member of the South African Orthotic and Prosthetic Association (SAOPA). email: info@hgprosthetics.co.za

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