Walkers: How to Use a Walker Correctly

Mandy Chamberlain MOTR/L Education & Tips for Independent Living 23 Comments

So you've decided you (or a loved one) needs a walker - it's a big step! Hopefully I can make the process easier by giving you some walker basics.

I am going to walk you through on how to adjust your walker, how to correctly use it, the differences in a rollator versus a standard front-wheeled walker and which ones are the best. I also have a video from Seniors Flourish's YouTube Channel at the end of this post demonstrating exactly what this all looks like.

How Tall Should a Walker Be?

An adjustable walker is definitely the way to go! There are a lot of resources that state that when you are standing up as tall as you can, try to keep a 20 degree bend in your elbow...but really...what does that even mean?

I like to do a quick height test. Stand up as straight as you can and place the walker right in front of you. Is the top of the walker at the height of your wrist? If not, it needs to be adjusted. If it is too high, hitting your forearm, lower it down. If it is too low, touching your fingers, raise it up.

All four legs of the walker should be the same height - so when you look at the number on the leg of the walker, they should all be the same.

It should be comfortable so you are not bending down to reach it or have your shoulders up toward your ears because it is too tall.

By adjusting it to your wrist level, it brings the height to the recommended 20 degree bend in the elbow, but without measuring or cracking out your 10th grade geometry!

 What's the Best Way to Walk with a Walker?

Remember: Your walker is like your best friend - you want to keep it close; it is your partner-in-crime; it is your support; you never want it to be alone...

First and foremost, all four wheels need to be touching the ground before moving and you need to stay inside the walker. Meaning, when you are actually walking with the walker, your hips should be in-line with the walker legs closest to you. It shouldn't look like you are pushing the walker in front of you or the front of the walker is so close to you that you can't take a decent step forward.

Your belly should be facing the front of the walker at all times. If you want to turn, you need to keep the walker in front of you and take small steps to turn versus doing a crazy twisty turn with the walker while you are holding it in the air!

A walker is meant to be there if you start to fall or lose your balance, so you need to keep it close.

What's the Difference Between a Front Wheeled Walker and a Rollator?

Basically, a standard front wheeled walker has two wheels on the front legs and two straight legs on the back. It is the kind of walker most people are familiar with and the most stable of the two.

Tips on How to Adjust, Use & Choose the Right Walker for your Patients. | SeniorsFlourish.com

A rollator is a fancy walker of many names... "The Cadillac," "4-Wheeled Walker," "Rolling Walker," "3-Wheeled Walker," "The Fancy Kind of Walker," or even "Bernie" (which was the name given to one of my patient's walkers!). Most of these walkers have four wheels, a seat and brakes that you push down to lock when standing up or sitting down. They work best for people that need a little bit of stability or someone that needs rest breaks, like people with lung conditions, low endurance or easily short of breath.

Tips on How to Adjust, Use & Choose the Right Walker for your Patients. | SeniorsFlourish.com

The type of walker you use is best determined by a physical therapist who can determine which is safest for you based on your balance, how much weight you can put through your legs and arms, strength safety and endurance.

Video on Using a Walker

What do I Look for in a Walker?

I always recommend a standard walker with 5" wheels on the front and "skids" (or also called "glides") on the back legs. Sometimes walkers come with skids when you buy them and other times, you have to purchase them separately. They make the walker easier to push and they eliminate need to lift it while you are walking.

I know some people use tennis balls, which do work great, but you will definitely have to replace them, so I would recommend buying skids right from the get-go. 🙂

Standard walkers are 32" to 40" high and great for people between 5'5" - 6'6". They are typically 25"-29" wide so take the width into consideration if you have narrow doorways or halls. There are narrower walker that are typically 22"-24" wide but you have to specifically look for those if you need it.

Quick tip: To give more clearance using a walker through narrow doorways, trade the two front wheels so the wheels are on the inside of the walker. This makes the overall width of the walker smaller without compromising safety.

Also, if you are short, make sure you buy a [easyazon_link identifier="B00KH9MUJS" locale="US" nw="y" tag="senioflour-20" cart="n"]junior sized walker[/easyazon_link]. They are typically between 25.4"-32.4" high and for people 4'10" - 5'5".  This way, you will be able to lower the walker to a safe and comfortable height.

[easyazon_link identifier="B000FEE9EE" locale="US" nw="y" tag="senioflour-20" cart="n"]Bariatric walkers[/easyazon_link] are wider and have a weight capacity up to 500 lbs.

If you have arthritis, limited movement or weak hands, make sure you look for a [easyazon_link identifier="B0041POQCS" locale="US" nw="y" tag="senioflour-20" cart="n"]trigger release walker.[/easyazon_link] In general, a regular walker with easy 2 push button release works great, but I find over time, they get more difficult to push and the trigger release style seems to stand the test of time!

Tips on How to Adjust, Use & Choose the Right Walker for your Patients. | SeniorsFlourish.com

Bottom line: Having a good fitting walker helps keep you from falling, hurting yourself and enables you to stay as independent as possible.

There are lots of fun options out there to both display your personality and have a practical walker that will help you prevent falls!

Here are a couple of my favorite standard walkers:

[easyazon_link identifier="B0041POQCS" locale="US" tag="senioflour-20" cart="y"]Trigger Release Folding Walker[/easyazon_link] - This standard walker has a different type of fold mechanism. It lets you fold it without letting go of the walker, PLUS it is easier for people with arthritis or painful hands.

[easyazon_link identifier="B001HOM4U2" locale="US" nw="y" tag="senioflour-20" cart="y"]Folding Walker with 5" Wheels[/easyazon_link]- This walker is basic, but checks all the boxes for a dependable walker - has built handles, rear skids, is adjustable and 2 buttons for  quick fold up.

Here are a couple of my favorite rollator walkers:

[easyazon_link identifier="B002VWK3FM" locale="US" nw="y" tag="senioflour-20" cart="y"]Drive Medical Rollator[/easyazon_link] - I like the curved back support for when you need to sit and zippered pocket for extra privacy of personal items when out and about.

[easyazon_link identifier="B005S1CHKC" locale="US" nw="y" tag="senioflour-20" cart="y"]Drive Medical Steel Rollator[/easyazon_link] - Some of my patients have felt like this rollator was more stable because it is definitely heavier than it's aluminum counterpart, but the trade off can be worth it.

Favorite Rollator Accessories:

[easyazon_link keywords="Rollator Walker Seat and Backrest Covers" locale="US" nw="y" tag="senioflour-20"]Rollator Walker Seat and Backrest Covers[/easyazon_link] - These are so fun! If you are not afraid to show your personality, these rollator covers come in so many colors and styles that you could have one for every mood and season.

[easyazon_link identifier="B0016JDBEG" locale="US" nw="y" tag="senioflour-20" cart="n"]Rollator Walker Tray[/easyazon_link] - Gives a little extra support to plates of food and drinks when using the walker to get it to the table.

Interested in purchasing some of the items that Seniors Flourish loves? Help us out! If you click on any of the above links and make a purchase, it doesn’t cost you anything extra and a small portion of the sale helps support this site. I really appreciate it!

Comment Below: Why are some people so resistive to using a walker?

 

 

Looking for more OT treatment ideas, education videos, clinical resources, patient handouts, assessments and support? Check out the Learning Lab membership and join today!

Comments 23

  1. Hi Mandy,

    My Mom and Dad are still getting around town driving here and there on short stints and to the mall to walk with friends. My Dad is a falls risk and currently only uses a cane, however, a walker is definitely in order for him. However, they are both too weak to get it in and out of the car if we were to get him one. Any suggestions for how to get it in and out of the car when they are alone?

    1. Post
      Author

      In general, most people will fold it up after they are in the car and drag it across the seat to the passenger side. I wish there was an easier way. Anyone have additional ideas?

  2. Hi – you made a statement regarding turning the wheels inside to allow for decrease width and it does not compromise safety – is there literature to prove that statement? I work in a hospital with narrow bathrooms and the walker clears the doorway with the wheels turned in and wasn’t sure if this was ok as I do not want to compromise patient safety. I understand the physics of it but I was hoping to get actual literature to prove it to my administration that this is a viable option. Also, the package insert doesn’t say anything about that but it’s seems so reasonable. Please get back to me!!!!

    1. Post
      Author

      Great question and it made me dig around to see what I could find. I did not find literature per se, but I did find a 1989 patent for when they started manufacturing walkers with adjustable/interchangeable wheels for the purpose of having an alternative position (wheels on the inside). https://patents.google.com/patent/US4800910A/en
      I agree, I would never want to compromise patient safety. In general, I do not put the wheels on the inside unless there is an access issue. My logic is increase access is better than the pt not using the walker to get into the desired area. I also have never in my 16 years as a therapist had any safety issue with this, but awesome question and worth digging into!

  3. Dear Mandy,
    What a great video on using walkers. My mom is 95, living independently, very healthy, until she recently had severe pain in her hip due to bone on bone pain (x-ray showed no cartlidge left!) She feels that she is too old and afraid to have hip replacement surgery and has been using a cane. I believe that a walker would help her get around her house much better than one (or two canes that she uses now!) She is small, 113 lbs and 5ft 2inches tall. Pain management doctors have refused to give her any pain pills—only advising tylenol (which does nothing). Her family doctor has tried a few prescription strength anti-inflamatory/pain pills like Ketorolac, but they do not work either. Please advise about the walker, which one you think would help her , if you think that it would be better than one cane or two! I can purchase it online for her.
    I feel like I could convince her to let me buy a walker for her if I tell her I consulted an expert like yourself because it is so depressing to see her suffering when I visit. But she insists on remaining in her home! Thank you so very much!!! Sincerely, Linda Collins, Maumee OH 43537 419-705-8325 (my mom lives in Cleveland OH)

    1. Post
      Author
  4. Hello, I am a Hand Therapist working with a patient who has a (B) contracture from MCS. He is only able to open his hands about 3″. Is there an adaptive walker or brake that you know of to accommodate him? Thanks! Christine OTR/L

    1. Post
      Author

      It gives a wider base of support/more stability and I typically leave them there if they are not getting in the way of anything in the environment.

  5. Walker must be used with every step, a cane is not an option, how to get the walker out of the front passenger side of the car, over the console and under the steering wheel is my
    dilemma. It’s the trigger release walker. Before surgery, could have held on to the car and leaned against it to get to the backseat door, but no more, can’t bend very mush to the right to grab the walker, much less drag it across the front seat so that I can have it open and ready for me when I stand up. Any ideas or suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

    1. I’m right there with you. I’m 46 and broke my hip 2 weeks ago. I’m cleared to drive but can’t figure out how best to drag the walker over my legs and into the car (and back out again when I reach my destination). I can’t put it in the back seat and walk around because I’m not allowed to put more than 50% weight on the broken leg. This is very frustrating and going to get expensive because it’s the only reason I can’t go back to work.

      1. Post
        Author

        Hi Wendy! Getting walkers in and out of cars are a pain! Is there any reason why you couldn’t use crutches? These are still a pain to get in and out of the car, but might be a better option

      2. I have the same issue. I use a rollator but keep an aluminum fold up walker in my car. I had issues walking with nothing but the smooth side of the car to hold on to.

        Now I push the driver seat all the way back. Sit with my feet outside, swivel around then pull the walker close to fold the sides in and pull in in, wheels to the outside and slide it onto the passenger floor top side down, wheels up. I reverse this to get out, pulling the walker wheels to my left towards the opens door and onto the ground, I open the sides and swivel myself around feet on the ground.

        Hope this helps. The wheels up on passenger floor is the trick as it doesn’t fit otherwise and gets stuck.

  6. Hi If I use a tall walker, I walk real good as I stand tall, an no severe pain in back.short like u say I am hunched over. same sitting I say give me thick pillow for height I can stand fight up. So doesn’t work for all. Now the new tall walker that’s what I am talking about. That s what people need. I do .An maybe I can walk with cane again, once my body learn up tall. I had to lean to walk again hard they gave me pillow I should them I can get up. Any way I want tall walker. Was going to have son make one now they are out.. oh the price. That’s what people need. I want my life back, can’t do it hunched over an pain. Thank u want to share. Dianna

    Dianna Sandholdt

  7. My dad has is using a rollator. He first started on a regular walker and used a wheelchair. He does like the rollator to walk. But he does not like to sit on the rollator in some instances. Especially when he wants to look in the frigerator or pantry. He says that it does not feel safe when he gets up from it. And it does have a tendency to slide a bit on the floor as the wheels are hard plastic and have no traction. SO, he transfers into the wheelchair to look in frig and pantry. Its such a production just for this. I have tried to explain to him that he should use his rollator for this. What would make the rollator more stable when pushing up from it. The OT folks said put it up against a wall, but this is not practical always. I thought about different wheels with more traction and more rubber than plastic. Or even a different rollator that is more sturdy… im frustrated. I wanted the rollator to be his only assistive device…….instead of two or three things all over the house. He is very stubborn about change.

  8. I really wish you would help me, Mandy. I’m 72 and a disabled veteran. I feel my balance has become steadily worse and worse. With the recent onset of ice makes it more of a risk. I first began wondering about all this while pushing a grocery cart outside, believe it or not. I’ve never used any kind of ambulatory aid, not even a cane. I think the main thing that worries me is if I showed up over night with a walker, what would my friends think? Beyond shocking, not to mention embarrassing. I wear hearing aids with limited improvement and am scheduled for an evaluation for implants. This would be all through VA. I’ve started having issues with sciatica and have had neuropathy over 2 years.
    That kind of sums it up. I would ask my primary caregiver at VA for her advise and have not really discussed it with her yet.

    1. Post
      Author

      Hi Martin! My first suggestion is to ask your primary care physician for a physical therapy prescription/evaluation. They would be able to fully evaluate the exact type of assistive device you would need (straight cane, quad cane, walker, rollator, etc). They will also be able to determine why you are having difficulty with balance and if there are some exercises/balance activities/footwear to reduce your fall risk. The VA has great benefits and they should be able to get you set up. It is great that you are being pro-active in your health and keeping yourself safe. 🙂

  9. I am 4’10and recently had a laminectomy, so it was suggested I use a walker. Previously I used a cane. Several discussions between my husband and I the proper way to use the walker. I have both and appreciate any advice.

    1. Post
      Author

      Hi Beth! My first thought would be to use a petite (or junior) standard walker with 2 wheels on front because of your height. But honestly it depends how recent your laminectomy was and what your current balance/strength/medical status is! Were you using a cane due to symptoms caused by your back that is no longer there? Do you need neuro muscular retraining/balance training that would be best addressed by a physical therapist? I would see a physical therapist that can most appropriately recommend the adaptive device and help you address the physical limitations that is best for YOU!

  10. We understand for proper use of a cane it should be on the “good” leg side. If a person is unable to hold a cane using the “good” side upper extremity, is it better to use the cane on the bad leg side or is it time to graduate to a walker. My mother, like most, would like to use nothing but her stability will not permit this. She also likes to hold my arm; however, I believe this makes her less independent and makes it more likely for me to sustain an injury either by her pulling me down or attempting to catch her. She is 90 and I am 68 and I would like for both of us to remain mobile for as long as possible.

    1. Post
      Author

      Hi Suzan – tricky to give sound advice since I cannot evaluate her strengths and limitations as well as her difficulty with gripping on her “good” side. That being said, you can get a referral to an occupational or physical therapist to help your mom determine the best type of assistive device or recommendations for exercises to increase her balance so she does not have to use a cane or walker. 90 is not too old to improve! But, I definitely agree, that you BOTH want to stay active and healthy, but in general, using it on the weaker side is not very helpful and she might have more stability with an adapted grip on the cane or even use a walker that has a platform or adapted handle so she can hold on more successfully.

  11. I’m an ol’ hippie who’s retired and handicapped with Rheumatoid Arthritis. I need to walk downhill to get to my NA meeting, but afraid to use my walker. No wheels for downhill, please. I can’t find attachments that will prevent my landslide. Lol. Thank God and NA, clean for over 23 years. Peace…John 14:27 ✝️

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *