How to Use a Walker Correctly

Many elderly people, including those with osteoarthritis and other musculoskeletal problems, or those recovering from a stroke, may eventually require a walker to help with balance, reduced range of motion, and stability. There is a wide range of walkers to choose from, so it's important to consider your individual needs when selecting one. You'll also want to learn how to use a walker safely and effectively.

Medical professional walking with mature man using a walker outside
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Start With the Right Model

Walkers range from simple to deluxe. Some are lightweight without wheels, others are substantial pieces of equipment outfitted with wheels, seats, hand brakes, and other bells and whistles.

Your physical therapist or occupational therapist can help determine the best model for your particular needs. Walkers can be purchased online or at medical supply stores.

Find the Perfect Fit

Once you have selected the model of walker you want, the "fit" of the walker becomes important. When holding on to your walker, your elbows should be bent in a position that feels comfortable and natural. The top of your walker should be even with the crease on the underside of your wrist when your arms are relaxed at your side. Walkers that are too low cause you to stoop over while you walk, which impedes proper body mechanics. If your walker is at the wrong height, you will be prone to aches and pains.

It's also important that you only use a walker that has been chosen and adjusted for you. If you borrow a walker from a friend or family member, you risk injury.

Walking With Your Walker

To get started, push the walker slightly ahead of you, then step into the walker. Keep that pattern going—walker slightly ahead, then step into the walker. The walker should never be too far ahead of you and you should have excellent posture as you take your steps. Also, don't look at your feet, look in front of you.

If you have trouble gripping the walker, platform walkers are available that may prove to be a better option. The platform allows you to rest your elbow and forearm, taking stress off your hands.

Navigating Curbs

While many curbs have wheelchair ramps—which are ideal for walkers as well—you will undoubtedly face a standard curb at some point.

Here's how to go up a curb safely:

  1. Walk up close to the curb.
  2. Place the walker up on the curb.
  3. Push down on the walker with your hands.
  4. Step up with the stronger leg (if one is stronger).
  5. Step up with the weaker leg.

Here's how to step down from a curb:

  1. Walk up close to the edge of the curb.
  2. Place the walker down on the ground.
  3. Step down with the weaker leg.
  4. Push down on the walker with your hands.
  5. Step down with the stronger leg.

Navigating Stairs

Going up and down stairs with a walker can be tricky and may not be possible if you are using one of the heavier models with wheels. Here's how to manage simpler lightweight walkers on the stairs:

To go upstairs with your walker: 

  1. Turn the walker sideways so the crossbar is next to you.
  2. Put the front legs of the walker on the step above you.
  3. Hold the walker with one hand and the stair handrail with the other.
  4. Support your weight evenly between the handrail and the walker.
  5. Step up with your stronger leg.
  6. Next, bring your weaker leg up.
  7. Move the walker up to the next step.

Tips for going downstairs with your walker: 

  1. Turn the walker sideways so the crossbar is next to you.
  2. Put the back legs of the walker on the step beside you.
  3. Hold the walker with one hand and the handrail with the other.
  4. Support your weight on your stronger leg.
  5. Step down with your weaker leg.
  6. Support your weight evenly between the handrail and the walker.
  7. Slowly bring your good leg down.
  8. Move the walker down to the next step.

Keeping your path clear of throw rugs, cords, and clutter are all essential for safe walker use in the home.

Sitting With Your Walker

When you are ready to sit down after walking, here's how to do it:

  1. Stand with your back to the chair.
  2. Touch the back of your legs to the chair so you know you are close enough to sit down.
  3. Slide your weaker leg forward as you shift weight to your stronger leg.
  4. Switch your hands from the walker to the arms on the chair. Then sit down slowly.

Here's how to get back up from the chair:

  1. Put the walker in front of the chair.
  2. Move forward in your chair, place your hands on the arms of the chair, and push up.
  3. Switch your hands to the grips on your walker.
  4. Stand for a minute or so to be sure you feel stable and balanced before you begin to walk.

A Word From Verywell

The right walker can provide much-needed stability and mobility. Always consult with a physical therapist or another healthcare provider before choosing one, and make sure you know how to use it properly and safely before stepping out.

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Article Sources
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  1. Cleveland Clinic, "Walkers"

  2., Consumer Information, "How to Choose and Use a Walker"

  3. St. Luke's Health System, "Discharge Instructions: Using a Walker on Stairs and Steps"