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How to choose and use a walker


Walkers benefit those with impaired balance, weakness, pain or poor endurance. Here’s help for selecting and maneuvering one properly:


Understand the options. There are two main types of walkers: standard, which has no wheels; and rolling, which has wheels. In general, the standard walker provides more stability but tends to require more energy. Rolling walkers are more energy efficient and allow for a more normal walking pattern. A physical therapist can advise on the type of walker best suited to the person.

 Rolling walkers come with two or four wheels, which may be fixed or swivel, and a variety of wheel diameters. Typically, rolling walkers with fixed five-inch wheels on the front legs are recommended. In order to help the walker slide more easily over the ground, either “glides” or tennis balls can be placed over the rubber caps of the rear legs. Glides are more helpful on carpet, whereas tennis balls are better for wood or tile surfaces but wear out quickly if the walker is used out-of-doors.


Adjust the height. It is important to adjust the walker properly to the height of the person using it. To do this, have the person stand with arms resting at his or her sides and adjust it so that the handles are at the height of the person’s wrist. When her hands are on the walker, the user’s elbows should be slightly bent.


Teach proper sequencing. Generally, the standard walker is advanced by picking it up and placing it back down so that the rear legs of the walker are approximately in line with the person’s toes. (Remind the user not to let the walker get too far ahead of her.) Next, she should advance the weaker or more painful leg, followed by the stronger or less painful leg. If there is neither weakness nor pain, the person should simply take two steps after advancing the standard walker as described above and repeat; if using a rolling walker, she would push the walker ahead so that the back legs line up with her toes, take two steps and repeat, or push and walk continuously as if pushing a shopping cart.