Updated August 23, 2022 – Walkers are a wonderful assistive device that are often used when someone is recovering from an injured leg or foot, or illness which has left them weak. In these instances they are a temporary mobility aid.
But sometimes older adults need mobility aids like a walker to help us at all times. No matter what the circumstances are that you (or a senior loved one) requires the use of a walker – it’s important to know how to use it safely.
So what are the steps on how to use a walker properly? – Know the basic safety rules for using a walker, place the walker a few inches in front of you first and then step back into it. Never use the walker to pull yourself up from a sitting position. Never put your full weight on the walker.
We recommend that you seek the consult of a healthcare provider such as a Physical or Occupational therapist who can recommend the right walker for your needs and give you instructions on how to use your walker.
Although walkers can greatly assist someone’s mobility – it’s important to know that if they are not used correctly, they can cause that person to fall.
(In a recent study released by the Center For Disease Control) Of the falls related to walkers and canes, you may be surprised to learn that most – 87% of elderly falls – were attributable to walker use.Verywellhealth.com
A walking aid like a walker can be a great asset for someone who needs help with their mobility but there are some circumstances where using a walker could cause problems. Read more about The Problems With Walkers here.
There are 2 types of walkers that we’re going to discuss here.
Walkers are the most commonly adopted mobility device and are used to assist with stability, mobility and fall prevention. The purpose of using a walker is to carry out more activities independently when baseline mobility has decreased. It may be the difference between being confined in the home or engaging within the community.seniorsmatter.com
What Is The Correct Way To Use A Walker?
Following are the basic safety rules to follow when using a walker.
- First things first, in order to properly and safely use a walker, the user must have a fair amount of upper body strength. They will be leaning on the walker and either lifting it or pushing it forward. All of which require some strength through their arms.
- Never use the walker to pull yourself up from a seated position because it can tilt and cause you to lose your balance. Instead, push yourself up using the arms of the chair and only put your hands on the walker when you are almost fully standing.
- The handles of the walker should be comfortable and you can do that by adding padding such as these to the walker.
- To sit down – with one hand on the walker, use the other hand to reach down towards the arm of the chair. Once you have a grip on that – release the walker and place your other hand on the other arm of the chair.
- Never try to carry items with your hands and use the walker at the same time. Instead, I recommend adding a Walker Bag to your walker for this purpose or perhaps wearing a fanny pack.
- Make sure you are using a walker that will support your leaning weight – that means about 50% of your weight. You should never put your full weight on a walker (it’s not meant for that).
- If you are obese, please use a Bariatric Walker which is meant for individuals that require support for extra weight.
- If possible – avoid using a walker over throw rugs or any surface that can get bunched up or caught on the feet of the walker. Rolling walkers should be able to maneuver over these areas.
- Never use a walker over electrical cords or other items that may end up tripping you.
- Unlike many rolling walkers – standard walkers do not generally come equipped with walker accessories such as trays or bags. I would recommend to add these (if it’s appropriate for your senior loved one). It makes it much easier to place items in an attached bag then to try to use a walker AND carry that item.
- For rolling walkers with seats – always engage the brakes before you use the walker to sit on it.
- If your elderly loved one is showing signs of cognitive decline (dementia or Alzheimer’s), my recommendation is to assist them while they use their walker. It can be extremely difficult for someone with these issues to learn new skills.
- If the living environment where the walker will be used is too small to accommodate the width of the walker safely – it may be best to install grab bars / handrails throughout the area. The problems are normally with doorways and hallways.
- As long as you are not dealing with a senior who is also a hoarder – it should be possible to declutter the living area of the home to safely accommodate the use of a walker.
- When using a walker in outdoor areas, there may be times where avoiding a crowded area is not possible. But if your senior loved one demonstrates poor judgement (which is very common with cognitive decline) and is unable to decide how to avoid pathways that can be problematic – then I recommend that they be assisted by someone in these situations.
- The use of lighting is extremely important for anyone who is growing older but especially important for those who have problems with their vision. Making the living environment as bright with light as possible can help some seniors. But for those where their visual skills are too poor to be corrected with proper lighting – I recommend that they be assisted whenever they are using a walker.
How Do You Walk With A Walker?
Standard walkers have 4 legs and sometimes you will notice that the users have placed tennis balls at the foot of those legs to help the walkers glide a bit smoother.
The steps and instructions on how to walk with a walker
- Stand with both feet within the frame of the walker and firmly grip the handles of the walker.
- Depending on your balance and strength and type of walker, you will either glide your walker forward a short distance and then step back into it’s frame OR you will lift the walker and place it about 2 inches forward and then again, step back into it’s frame. It’s important to take small steps while using a walker.
- The next step is to step forward with your WEAKER leg first.
- Keep the walker close to you – do not place the walker so far forward from you because it could cause you to lose your balance.
- Look forward (instead of at your feet) when using the walker.
- Always wear non-skid shoes while walking. A walker can provide you with some stability to stand and walk but it will not prevent you from slipping – so the right shoes are important.
- Always keep both hands on the walker. If you place too much weight on one side of the walker it may tip over.
Using A Walker On Curbs
Here are some guidelines on how to properly (and safely) use your walker to manage curbs.
Walking Up Curbs
- Get as close to the curb as possible.
- When you feel that your balance is secure and you can stand on both your legs (or one leg), lift the walker onto the sidewalk, placing all 4 legs of the walker on the sidewalk.
- Then raise your good leg onto the sidewalk first followed by your weaker leg.
Walking Down Curbs
- Get as close to the edge of the curb as possible but be careful not to tip off.
- Lower the walker down onto the lower level placing all 4 legs of the walker on the street or sidewalk.
- Place about 50% of your body weight through your arms onto the walker.
- Then lower your weak leg onto the lower level first followed by your stronger leg.
How To Stand Up Using A Walker
If you are going to use your walker to help you stand up, here are the steps on how to do that properly.
- Place the walker in front of the chair or where you are sitting.
- Move your body forward in the chair.
- Place your hands on the seat of your chair (or the arms of your chair) and push yourself up.
- Place one hand on the handle of the walker and then the other hand on the opposite handle.
- Stand for a minute or so until you feel secure.
How To Sit Down Using A Walker
Here are some instructions on how to use a walker to sit down onto a chair or other seated position.
- Get as close to your seat as possible and then turn around so the seat is behind you and touching the back of your legs. We recommend that you use a seat with arms as much as possible.
- Place one hand on the arm of the seat while leaving the other hand on the walker handle.
- Lower yourself onto the seat.
- If this is difficult, a better option for you may be to place both hands on the arms of the chair before lowering yourself down onto the seat.
A Physical or Occupational therapist can help to assess what would work better for you.
How Should A Walker Be Adjusted?
If this is your first time using a walker, we recommend that you have a Physical or Occupational Therapist adjust the walker so that it is properly set for your height.
To set the correct height:
- Ask the user to stand comfortable with their arms hanging by their sides.
- Measure the distance from their wrist to the floor.
- The grips of the walker should reach their wrists. The top of your walker should be aligned with your wrists.
If you are using a walker that is too big, too small, too short or too tall – it may cause you to lose your balance and fall. It’s important that a walker be adjusted to your proper height as well as your weight.
A 90 lb elderly woman who stands 4 foot and 10 inches will have a difficult time managing a bariatric walker intended for a larger person. The same holds true for a 300 lb person using a walker that is not built to hold at least 150 lbs.
The first step is to choose the proper type of walker and the second step is to properly adjust it for the person’s height.
How To Use A Rolling Walker (Rollator) Properly
The steps for properly using a 4 wheeled walker (aka Rollator walkers) are the same as what I listed above for standard walkers except for:
- You won’t ever be lifting this type of walker when you are walking. It will always be gliding or rolling forward.
- If the rolling walker has a seat, it’s important to put the breaks on first before you turn around to use it as a seat to rest.
How To Use A Walker On Stairs
Although there is a specific technique that caregivers and physical therapists use for going up and down stairs with a walker – when it comes to doing this with an elderly person I would recommend not to. You can see a video here of the procedure.
I would encourage you to instead, use a cane. It’s lighter, easier and safer for you and the family member or person you are helping.
How To Use A Walker With Only One Leg
For anyone who has had a leg amputated or is temporarily unable to use one of their legs, using a walker to help with their mobility takes a little getting used to. But with the help of a Physical or Occupational Therapist, you can do it.
Here are the steps on how to properly use a walker if you only have one leg.
- You want to avoid hopping with your good leg when using a walker. It seems logical to hold onto the walker and hop with your good leg but in actuality, it can cause you to lose your balance and it takes much more energy to “hop”.
- Use a 2 wheel walker (with wheels in the front of the walker).
- While standing in the frame of the walker and holding onto the side grips, move the walker forward about 2 inches.
- Lean your weight on both arms and take a step forward. You are almost sliding your foot forward but it’s not actually a slide. You do lift your foot off the floor but just slightly when you’re stepping forward.
- Repeat this process to keep walking.
Here’s a video showing you exactly how it’s done.
What Should You Not Do With A Walker?
Although walkers are generally very safe, there are still some things that you should not do with them. Here are a few things to avoid:
- Do not use a walker on stairs for the first time if you are alone. This can be very dangerous and can lead to a fall.
- A walker can help you to stand up from a sitting position but only if it’s positioned correctly in front of you. Otherwise, the walker could tip over and you could either fall down onto the floor or fall back down to your seat.
- Do not use a walker that is not the right size for you. If it is too small, you will not be able to reach the handles comfortably. If it is too large, it will be difficult to control.
- Do not use a walker with wheels unless you have been specifically instructed to do so by your doctor or physical therapist.
- Do not push or roll the walker too far in front of you when walking.
- Do not carry the walker instead of using it. If a physical therapist has assessed that you no longer need the walker and can be mobile with a cane, then you can transition over.
- Do not use a walker that is too high or too low for you.
- Never use a walker if it is not properly and fully open and locked.
If you follow these simple guidelines, you should be able to safely use your walker and get the mobility assistance you need.
Where To Get A Walker
Walkers are considered to be Durable Medical Equipment (DME) so they are covered by Medicare. With a prescription from your doctor, you can order a walker from a medical supply store and your insurance company or Medicare will pay for it.
Otherwise, you can certainly purchase a walker on your own either online or from some drugstores or other stores such as WalMart, Costco, etc.
Again, follow the instructions above on how to adjust the walker to the right height for your needs.
Recommended Walker Accessories
Below are some walker accessories that I’ve recommended to my patients and elderly family members.
Walker gliding skis – These work very well to convert a standard walker into one that can be pushed (but without wheels)
Walker Bag – These are great for holding items
Walker trays – I don’t recommend that you keep this tray on the walker while you are walking, but they are a great accessory to turn the walker into a tray table.
Rubber tips – The original rubber tips that came with your walker may wear out so make sure to replace them with new ones.
Walker wheels – Just like the rubber tips, the front and/or rear wheels of your walker can also get worn down so make sure to replace them as needed.