Types of walkers
If you have difficulty balancing or you're at risk of falling, a walker can make it easier for you to get around — whether you use the walker temporarily or as a permanent aid.
If stability is a significant concern, you might choose a standard walker without wheels — which you must pick up to move. Many people, however, choose between two-wheel and four-wheel walkers.
A two-wheel walker allows you to place weight on the walker as you move. The legs with wheels allow you to easily push the walker forward, and the legs without wheels prevent the walker from rolling while you're stepping forward. If you don't need to lean on the walker for balance, you might be able to walk faster with a four-wheel walker.
Selecting a grip
Most walkers come with plastic grips, but you have other choices as well. You might consider foam grips or soft grip covers, especially if your hands tend to get sweaty. If you have trouble grasping with your fingers — secondary to arthritis, other joint pains or nerve problems in your fingers — you might prefer a larger grip. Choosing the correct grip will relieve unnecessary stress on your joints and help prevent joint deformities. Whichever grip you choose, be sure it's secure so that it won't slip while you're using the walker.
Fitting your walker
Adjust your walker so that it fits your arms comfortably. This will reduce stress on your shoulders and back as you use the walker. To tell if your walker is the correct height, step inside your walker and:
- Check your elbow bend. Place your hands on the grips. Your elbows should bend at a comfortable angle of about 15 degrees.
- Check your wrist height. Stand inside the walker and relax your arms at your sides. The top of your walker should line up with the crease on the inside of your wrist.
Taking your first step
If you need to place weight on the walker as you move, start by pushing the walker forward. Keep your back upright.
Stepping into the walker
Next, place one leg inside the walker. Don't step close to the front bar. Keep the walker still as you step in.
Stepping with the other foot
Finally, place the other leg inside the walker. Repeat the process by moving your walker forward and stepping into it one leg at a time. If you use the walker only for balance, you can stand inside it and walk as you normally would — simply guiding the walker in front of you.
Don't lean over the walker
When you use the walker, it's important to stay upright as you move. This will help protect your back. Always step into the walker, rather than walking behind it. Be careful not to push the walker too far in front of you or set the handles too high.
Also, avoid hurrying and taking large steps when you turn. Change directions slowly. Never try to climb stairs with a walker.
Accessories can make it easier to use your walker. Trays can help you carry food, drinks and other items to a table. A pouch attached to the side can carry books or magazines. Some walkers can be fitted with seats or baskets. Be sure not to overload your walker, however.
Whatever walker you choose, make sure you maintain it. Worn out or loose rubber caps or grips and loose or excessively tight brakes may increase your risk of falling while using a walker. For help selecting and maintaining a walker, consult your doctor or physical therapist.