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How to Choose and Use a Walker

A walker may be helpful to you if you are frail, weak, have an injury or loss of feeling in your legs, or have poor balance and fall easily.

There are many types of walkers, for different purposes and ability levels. Common types are the standard walker, the front-wheeled walker and the four-wheeled walker. Wheels can be placed on the front of walkers to make walking easier. Four-wheel walkers with heavy metal frames are easily moved forward. These walkers may also have padded seat cushions and backrests.

What You Will Need

  • A properly fitted walker that is right for your level of activity
  • An appointment with a physical or occupational therapist or other professional who can show you how to safely use your walker

Steps to Take

How to Fit the Walker

  1. How to Use a Walker_1_2 Step inside the walker wearing your normal shoes.
  2. Place your hands on the grips at the sides. Your elbows should bend slightly at about 15 to 20 degrees.
  3. How to Use a Walker_3 The legs of the walker can be made taller or shorter by pushing buttons on each leg and sliding the tubing until the buttons lock in place. The top of the walker should be about level or slightly below your waist.

How to Use the Walker

  1. Wear nonskid shoes or slippers with rubber soles. Push up from the chair to stand up. Do not pull up on the walker.
  2. Place the walker 8 to 12 inches (20.3 to 30.5 centimeters) in front of you with the frame surrounding the front and sides of your body. Place your hands on the hand grips. How to Use a Walker_2
  3. Lift or roll the walker forward holding the hand grips for support. Do not push the walker too far in front of you. Do not start to walk until you feel ready, and the walker itself is steady and still. How to Use a Walker_3
  4. Step into the walker taking a step forward with one leg, then step with the other leg. Use your arms to support your body. Walk with small and equal steps. Practice this until you can walk smoothly. How to Use a Walker_4
  5. Look straight ahead rather than at your feet.
  6. Use rubber tips to keep the walker from slipping on carpeted floors. The walker glides over the carpet more easily when you put tennis balls on the rubber tips. . How to Use a Walker_6

Common Questions

Q. How can I use the walker safely at home?

A. Wear shoes with rubber soles and take small steps. Remove throw rugs and keep walking areas well lit. Do not stand up too fast or walk when you feel lightheaded.

Q. When does a walker need wheels?

A. If you have weak arms, you may not be able to lift a walker. Front wheels help when you are pushing or rolling the walker forward.

Q. How do I know if the walker is the right size?

A. A walker that is too high or too low can cause shoulder and back pain and you can lose your balance. A doctor or physical therapist can help you with proper fit and show you how to walk safely.

Call Your Doctor

Contact your doctor if at any time you:

  • Have shoulder or back pain
  • Have difficulty walking or experience a fall
  • Develop problems with balance
RESOURCES:

Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians
http://familydoctor.org

Ortho Info—American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons
http://orthoinfo.org

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

The Arthritis Society
http://www.arthritis.ca

The College of Family Physicians of Canada
http://www.cfpc.ca

REFERENCES:

Choosing the right cane or walker. Health in Aging- American Geriatrics Society website. Available at: https://www.healthinaging.org/tools-and-tips/choosing-right-cane-or-walker Updated June 2019. Accessed March 6, 2020.

Gell NM, Wallace RB, et al. Mobility device use in older adults and incidence of falls and worry about falling. Findings from the 2011-2012 National Health and Aging Trends Study. J Amer Geriatr Soc. 2015:63(5):853-859.

How to use crutches, canes, and walkers. Ortho Info—American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons website. Available at: http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=A00181. Updated February 2015. Accessed March 6, 2020.

Prevent falls and fractures. National Institute on Aging website. Available at: https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/prevent-falls-and-fractures. Published March 15, 2017. Accessed March 6, 2020.

Walkers: fitting and patient education about walker use. EBSCO Nursing Reference Center website. Available at:https://www.ebscohost.com/nursing/products/nursing-reference-center. Updated December 1, 2017. Accessed March 6, 2020.

Last reviewed November 2019 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Laura Lei-Rivera, PT, DPT, GCS  Last Updated: 3/6/2020