There are many situations when you might need to use a walker either temporarily or permanently. When you have difficulty walking on your own, a reliable walking aid can really make a difference.
Walking with a walker may seem simple at first glance, however, many questions arise when you start using one. Learning how to use your walker properly is usually a simple process and it’s a critical step towards safety. There are many types of walkers out there, that’s why always make sure you also read the manual that might contain important information about a specific model.
While it’s true that using a walker in the wrong way can eventually lead to injuries, using it properly can be extremely beneficial as it lets you walk confidently without fear of falling. In this article, we’ll discuss some important general rules, however, if you’re in doubt or have any questions, do not hesitate to ask a professional for help.
Before we go into the details, I must emphasize how important a safe environment is. Make sure the pathways are clear and there are no obstacles and tripping hazards in your home. Pay special attention to pets: sometimes they change their location rapidly and they might trip you.
And now, let’s see how you can get the most out of your walker.
First Step: Adjust the Walker to Your Height
No matter what type of walker you use, the first thing you should do before using it is to adjust its height.
As a rule of thumb, when you step inside the walker and grab the grips, your elbows should be bent at 15-30 degrees (make sure your shoulders are relaxed).
Another way you can adjust your walker is to stand inside the device and check where the handholds reach your extended arms: they should hit the middle part (the creases) of your wrists.
Do not skip this step: go and check the height of your walker now and adjust it if it’s necessary. Using your walker without adjusting it to your height is uncomfortable, leads to fatigue arms, and increases the chance of falling.
Note that you might need to readjust your walker if your shoes vary greatly in height.
How to Use a Standard Walker
What is exactly a standard walker? To put it simply, it’s basically an adjustable frame (usually made of aluminum) with four legs and with no wheels.
Here’s how to use it:
- Lift the walker and put it forward a short distance (about an arm’s length).
- Make sure all four legs of the walker are touching the ground.
- Step forward with one leg: your foot should land about halfway between the legs of the walker (if you have an injured or sore leg, bring that one first).
- Put your weight on your arms and step through the other (good) leg.
- Repeat the process from step number one.
- When you turn, lift the walker up just a little bit.
So the basic sequence is the following: walker – sore leg – good leg
Note: A standard walker is usually not the best choice for people who have balance issues because they might fall backward while picking up the walker. For them, a walker with wheels on the front is a better option.
How to Use a Walker With Wheels
One major advantage of a walker with wheels on the front over a standard walker is that you don’t have to pick it up every time you step forward. Instead, you can slide it on the ground, providing support all the time. This feature is especially beneficial for older adults and people with balance issues and weaker muscles.
Many people are afraid of having a wheeled walker because they think it can easily roll away while they use it. However, if there are only two wheels on the front of your walker, it won’t get away from you because the other two legs (that have no wheels) provide enough resistance to prevent that scenario. So if you use the walker correctly, you don’t really have to worry about that issue.
Here’s how to use it safely:
- Push the walker forward about an arm’s length (you don’t have to lift it).
- Make sure all the wheeled and non-wheeled legs are touching the ground.
- Step forward with your sore leg into the middle of the walker (if you don’t have a sore leg, it’s up to you which foot you step with first).
- Put your weight through your arms and take a step with the other foot.
Note: Do NOT push the walker way too far in front of you because that could lead to a fall.
Note: Walkers with four wheels (and usually with a seat) are called rollators. In this article, we don’t go into details on the use of rollators because that’s a whole different story. While it’s true that they’re very easy to maneuver and they also allow you to have a rest when you get tired, they’re not recommended for people with balance issues, sore or injured legs, and for those who need firm support while walking.
Read more about the differences between walkers and rollators here and find out which mobility aid is best for you.
Do you have narrow and small spaces in your home? Check out our article about the best narrow walkers on the market here.
The Proper Way to Sit Down and Get Up From a Chair When Using a Walker
Transferring from sitting to standing and from standing to sitting with the aid of a walker often causes difficulties for many people. Unfortunately, these maneuvers can easily lead to a fall when done improperly.
I recommend that you use chairs with arms, preferably with long ones. Those will let you push up from the chair and make the transfer much safer.
This is how you go from standing to sitting:
- Walk close to the chair, turn around and make sure you can feel the chair on the back of your legs.
- Make sure all the legs of the walker are on the ground.
- Reach back to the arm of the chair with one hand at a time and sit down slowly (you can move your sore leg forward if that’s comfortable for you).
From sitting to standing:
- Put the walker in front of you at a comfortable distance (make sure it’s not too far away and you’re facing the open side of it).
- Slide toward the edge of the chair, lean slightly forward, and use the arms of the chair (and not the walker) to push up. Do not tilt or pull on the walker: make sure all four legs keep touching the ground during the transfer.
- Grab the handholds of the walker with one hand at a time.
If you use a chair without arms (not recommended), in the second step you should put one hand on the walker and the other one on the side edge of the chair seat and then push up and grab the other handhold of the walker. You can make the transfer easier if you slide back your strongest leg a little bit and stand up from that position.
Get On and Off the Toilet Safely With a Walker
First of all, you want to make sure the height of the toilet is appropriate (the toilet seat should be about two inches above the top of your knee). If it doesn’t have the proper height, install a toilet seat riser.
The other thing you want to do is install toilet safety rails or bars that will give you firm support when transferring into a sitting or a standing position. They have the same function as the arms of a chair. Note that some toilet seat risers come with handles which can be a convenient solution as it eliminates the need for separate safety rails.
So if you want to get on or off the toilet with the aid of your walker, first you need to have the above-mentioned safety devices installed and then you just have to follow the same steps as you do when transferring to or from a chair.
How to Walk With a Walker If You Have a Non-Weight Bearing Leg
If you have a fracture or any surgical intervention and you can’t put any weight on one of your legs, you should ask your physician if using a walker is a safe solution in your situation. In certain cases, using another type of walking aid might be a better option.
When you can use only one leg to move forward, it’s physically more exhausting and you can easily overload your muscles and joints. And that’s a real concern for many people, especially for seniors who have weaker muscles and usually suffer from several chronic systemic diseases too.
This is how you can use a walker with a non-weight bearing limb (with only one leg) if your physician has given you the green light:
- Lift the walker (or slide it if you have a wheeled one) and move it forward a short distance.
- Make sure all legs (and wheels) of the walker are touching the ground.
- Do a small hop while putting your weight on your arms. Do NOT hop over the middle of the walker because you might lose balance and fall forward.
How to Use a Walker on Stairs and Steps
Going up and down the stairs is one of the most difficult and hazardous maneuvers that you can do with your walker. I don’t recommend that you try it alone for the first few times and I also encourage you to consult with your doctor about whether your physical condition allows you to use your walker on the stairs. Often it’s a better idea to ask someone to carry your walker for you.
If your doctor gives you a green light, here are some tips that will help you manage your walker while going up and down the stairs (make sure you only use stairs with railings):
Note: To make this work, the stairs should be wide enough so that your walker fits comfortably next to you. Also, make sure the stairs are clear of any clutter, cords, and other tripping hazards. Follow these steps to make stairs safe for seniors.
- Get close to the stairs, grab the railing with one hand and use your other hand to turn the walker sideways (90 degrees): now the walker is next to you on the opposite side of the railing that you’re holding.
- Lift up the walker and put the two legs that are in front of you (that is to say that are farther away from you) on the first step (while you’re continuously holding onto the handrail with your other hand).
- Make sure the legs sit in the corner of the steps (where the upper and the lower steps meet) and the walker is stable: you should test it by pushing on it each time before you step up.
- Step up with your good (or stronger) leg and then bring the weaker one up while pushing down the front handhold of the walker with one hand and holding onto the railing with the other one.
- Put the walker on the next step and repeat the process.
Always go slow and double-check the stability of the walker.
- Get close to the stairs and grab the handrail with one hand. Turn the walker sideways with your other hand so that it’s next to you on the opposite side of the railing that you’ve grabbed.
- Keep holding onto the railing and put the two back legs of the walker on the same step as you’re standing. Make sure the legs sit in the corner of the steps.
- Test the stability of the walker by pushing on it.
- Step down with your weaker (or sore) leg and then with the stronger one while pushing down the rear handle of the walker with one hand and holding onto the railing with the other one.
- Move the walker onto the next step and repeat the process. Go slow and steady.
Again: climbing stairs with a walker is hazardous and risky and if you do it improperly it can lead to serious injuries. Always ask your doctor whether your physical condition allows you to climb stairs with a walker on your own.
How to Go Up and Step Down From a Curb With a Walker
If you use your walker outside, sooner or later you’ll have to pass through a curb to reach your destination. Here’s how you can do that safely:
To Get Up a Curb:
- Get close to the curb (if you’re not close enough you’ll face difficulties when placing the walker on the curb and that would also increase the chance of a fall).
- Lift up the walker and put it on the curb.
- Make sure the walker is stable and all four legs are on the curb.
- Push down on the walker.
- Step up on the curb with your stronger leg and then bring your weaker leg.
To Get Down a Curb:
- Get close to the edge of the curb.
- Put the walker down on the ground.
- Check for stability and make sure all the legs of the walker are on the ground.
- Push down on the walker.
- Step down on the ground with your weaker leg and then bring your stronger leg.
Wrapping It All Up
As you can see, with a little bit of practice you can confidently use your walker in most situations. It’s important that when you start using your device, have someone you trust next to you who can help you if necessary.
Fall prevention is extremely important, especially in the case of seniors. Do not use the walking frame on your own until you are confident. Make sure you also check out these simple fall prevention tips for the elderly.
When in doubt, always consult with your doctor who can give you personalized advice considering your actual condition. Unfortunately, an article, such as this one, can only give you general information regardless of how comprehensive it is. So make sure you get in touch with a professional before you start using a walker and also if you have any specific concerns.
Image: Freepik (pressfoto)