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Measuring up for the Best Walking Aid for You

Measuring up for the Best Walking Aid for You

Who Needs a Walking Aid?

Each and every one of us can develop a mobility difficulty at some stage in our lives, whether it be by accident, illness, old age, or some other event or happening.

Mobility helps us achieve and maintain independence and so, when mobility is affected, finding a walking aid which will help you retain that independence is a must.

Retaining a level of independence also helps maintain confidence and self-esteem.

Be aware that one walking aid doesn't fit all. Getting the right one for you means looking at your lifestyle, your mobility situation and also your body balance and strength, to weigh up which walking aid will best serve you.

Walking aids can take many shapes and forms:

  • Walking sticks
  • Walking canes
  • Crutches
  • Walking frames (no wheels)
  • Walking frames with wheels.

Walking Sticks

A walking stick is a temporary accessory for giving balance and stability when walking on uneven terrain e.g. walking uphill, climbing gentle hills, or walking along a rugged lane.

Walking sticks give minor support and should not be bought as a mobility aid.

Walking Canes

A walking cane is a mobility aid which helps reduce weight and pressure on an injury over a period of rehabilitation time.

By transferring the body weight to the upper body, arm and wrist, an injury such as damage to the knee, or a foot injury, can be given respite, whilst still allowing the person to go about some of their normal duties.

Walking canes with one prong touching the ground are much easier to use and manoeuvre than walking canes that have four prongs.

Some walking canes have four prongs touching the ground, allowing the user to distribute their weight evenly over the sturdy device.

A walking cane which suits a man may not suit a woman. Differences in design can incorporate wide or smaller handles, slender of wider canes and some which are lighter in weight than others.

Walking canes need to be height-adjustable, to support the user in standing comfortably upright, rather than standing on tiptoes or stooping.


Crutches reach into the user's armpits and so the shoulders take the body's weight, giving damaged parts of the body a chance to repair.

In order to be effective, the crutch height must exactly match the user's underarm height and frame.

Crutches allow the user to walk on one leg, by swinging the body forward when the crutches are in place a little forward from the user. Crutches take all of the pressure off an injured lower limb.

Walking Frames

A standard walking frame stands in front of the user and allows the user to make small steps forward, with the sturdy walking frame taking on board their weight and also steadying their balance.

This special aid can be used both inside the house and for short journeys outdoors e.g. spending time in the garden.

This mobility aid may be used by people who have a temporary mobility difficulty, or by someone who needs a little extra support when walking.

A zimmer frame is also a walking frame but simply known by its own brand name (Zimmer), just like we sometimes say hoover (Hoover is also a brand name) for vacuum cleaner.

When walking more slowly (e.g. strolling, or moving about the house), a walking frame is a good choice.

The user must lift the light-weight frame forwards a few inches, place it securely on even ground and then step towards it, continuing this action to arrive at the desired point.

A walking frame allows the user to transfer sixty four percent of his/her body weight onto their shoulders, arms and wrists, giving respite to joints and muscles in the body.

The user of a walker without wheels will need a degree of upper body strength, so as to lift the frame forwards for each step taken.

Walking frames come as both three- and four-legged support frames. The right one depends on how much assistance the user needs in walking.

For manoeuvrability, a three-legged walker will move easier in tight spaces e.g. in the home.

Some standard walkers sport two legs and two wheels. Lifting the back of the walker rather than the whole item may seem more comfortable but having only the wheels touching the floor could lead to the walker running away from the user and result in a fall.

Rubber ferrules are attached to the base of each leg, to give more grip and to keep the walking aid steady.

Walking Frames with Wheels

Walking frames with wheels allow the user to move by pushing the walker, rather than lifting it forward, as is the case with the standard walking frame.

Walkers with wheels should not be bought for the purpose of supporting the user's body weight, as too much pressure can cause the wheeled walker to slip out from under them.

If balance isn't an issue for the individual, a wheeled walker is an excellent choice, as it allows the user to travel quicker over distance.

A walker with wheels requires less arm strength, with the wheels doing the moving forward, as opposed to lifting a walker which has no wheels.

It gives some support to the user and requires less upper body strength than the walker without wheels.

Walking frames with wheels have hand-operated brakes on each of the wheels, allowing the user to be fully in charge of how far the walking aid travels forward and to be able to lock it in position, when standing stationary.

Walking Frames with Three Wheels (Tri-Walkers)

The tri-walker has one wheel at the front and two at the back, which allows for greater manoeuvrability and much easier turning.

Whilst a tri-walker is lighter in weight and easier to pack, the space between the three wheels provides a small platform to carry a bag but doesn't provide seating.

Walking Frames with Four Wheels (Rollators)

Also known as rollators, four -wheeled walkers have larger tyres and have better grip and manoeuvrability than standard walkers with smaller moulded wheels.

The walking frame with four wheels also houses a seat, giving respite to the user when needed.

Four wheel models can prove more difficult to manoeuvre, making turning difficult in tight spaces.

A four wheel model is safer outdoors than the three wheel model, as it provides better stability, moving over bumps on pavements and uneven turf more safely.

How to Use a Walking Frame with Wheels

A walking frame with wheels must be adjusted to suit the height of its user. Handles at an inappropriate height could lead to instability and falls.

To gauge the correct height for the handles for safe use, the user must place his / her straight arms at an angled and forward downward position (similar to that when walking a dog on a lead). Handle height should equal the distance then measured between wrist and floor.

Before sitting on the wheeled walker seat, be sure that the brakes are on and that the seat is located up against a wall or some other fixture, to prevent it sliding away from you.

When sitting on the seat of a four-wheeled walker with wheels, the user's feet must be flat on the ground, to give stability.

When walking, the walker should be close to the user's body, so as to support an upright frame.

Allowing too much distance between body and walker, or leaning into the walker, can lead to loss of control and stumbling.

When folding a wheeled walker for storing, always set the brakes before folding, so that it doesn't run away from you.

When getting a folded wheeled walker ready for use, make sure that the bar under the seat has locked into position.

When using the brakes, squeeze upwards to brake and press down to permanently lock into position e.g. for sitting, or for folding the walker.

When using a four wheel walker, you will need a wider turning circle to make a u-turn.

Do not lean onto the walker to stand up straight, as this could cause the walker to tilt and the user to fall.

Overloading a walker, either overfilling the basket or hanging shopping bags from the walker frame, will add to the weight of the walker and make it more difficult to push and manoeuvre.

When using a walker with wheels in the home, beware of items which could cause the walker to come to a sudden halt (e.g. a rug) and the user to fall.


When choosing the right walking aid, real thought must be put into the pending user's upper body strength, balance and current walking ability.

A larger or heavier walking aid will prove to be more stable than a smaller or lighter one, as it heightens stability.

Smaller walkers (triangular frames) are more suitable for indoor use, where turning space may be prove too restricted for four-legged / four-wheeled frames.

Before using a walking aid, be sure that any height adjustments to meet your requirements have been applied, as an un-adjusted aid will prove more dangerous that purposeful.

Posted in:
Sally Madeley-Carr, OT

Sally Madeley-Carr, OT

Sally qualified as an Occupational Therapist in 1996 and is a well-respected professional in the field of rehabilitation equipment and living aids. She has worked in private practice and within the NHS, developing a broad experience with adults and children. Click here for Sally's registration with the Health and Care Professions Council. The HCPC regulates health, psychological and social work professionals in the UK.

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