Patient Lifts A-Z: The Terms You Need to Know to Shop Smart

When you’re shopping for patient lifts online or in a store, you might encounter some confusing vocabulary. To help you make the right decision here’s what those terms mean and why they matter.


The base of most patient lifts can be opened or closed by the use of a spreader bar (except for some models that offer a powered base). Opening and closing the base allows the lift to go around a standard wheelchair and through a standard doorway. Some models can open wider and close more narrowly than others, so make sure the base of the model you choose can be adjusted to fit your needs.


The boom is the curved piece at the top of a patient lift. The boom does a lot of the heavy lifting.


The casters are the wheels on which patient lifts roll. The usual options available are single or dual casters. You might find that dual casters work best on carpeted surfaces.


The cradle is the part of the patient lift that supports the sling (which supports the patient). There are two types of cradle: swing away and elevating.


The mast is the vertical bar that fits into the base of the patient lift and attaches to the boom up top.

Spreader Bar

A spreader bar is used to open and close the base.

The Sling is the Thing

We’re including the sling in a separate section because it’s such an important element of a patient lift. A lot will be riding on the sling you choose! On a patient lift, the sling is the piece of (very strong) fabric that holds the weight of the patient as he or she is suspended in the air. Slings are usually made from woven nylon, cotton, or a similar material. It’s not too different from a modern hammock. Just as with patient lifts themselves, there is quite a wide variety of slings. Some are padded, for example. Others offer some type of knee support. Physical sizes and weight capacity also vary. Here are a few of the most common type of sling used with patient lifts:
  • Full-Body Sling. A full-body sling (or “hammock” sling) supports the patient’s entire body, with his or her arms inside the sling straps. Head support is optional. Full-body slings are a good choice for patients who are totally or partially dependent, can’t bear any weight, are very heavy, or have limited head control.
  • U-Sling. As its name implies, a u-sling is shaped like a “U.” These are secure, easy-to-fit general purpose slings that can be used for a wide variety of patients and purposes. They feature wide straps that loop around a patient’s thighs and legs for support. One of the nice things about u-slings is that you can take them off or put them on while the patient is seated.
  • Toileting Sling. Toileting slings are similar to full-body slings except they feature a hole in the bottom to allow the patient access to a toilet. These are special-use slings. We recommend you have a sling for toileting and a separate full-body sling for transfers.
What else do you need to know before purchasing a patient lift? Check Patient Lift Buying Guide: Choosing The Right Patient Lift For Your Home Or Healthcare Facility. We hope we gave you all the terms you need to know when considering a patient lift. If we left anything out, or if you have any additional questions, just email us at or call us at 1.888.260.4430 (we'll answer immediately, this isn't an automated system). Of course, if you are looking for a patient lift, you can always find them in our online store or one of our locations in the Greater Cincinnati area.