A walking aid—a walker, crutches, or a cane—helps substitute for a decrease in strength, range of motion, joint stability, coordination, or endurance. It can also reduce the stress on a painful joint or limb. Using a walking aid can help you be more safe and independent in your daily activities.
Almost everyone has used a walking aid at some time, even if it was just playing around with crutches that belonged to someone else. As a result, most people think they know how to use this equipment. But there are some simple principles that will make using your walking aid easier and safer.
General safety when using walking aids
- Look straight ahead, not down at your feet.
- Clear away small rugs, cords, or anything else that could cause you to trip, slip, or fall.
- Be very careful around pets and small children. They can be unpredictable and get in your path when you least expect it.
- Be sure the rubber tips on your walking aid are clean and in good condition to help prevent slipping. You can buy replacement tips from medical supply stores and drugstores. Ice tips are also available to use outdoors in winter weather.
- Avoid slick conditions, such as wet floors and snowy or icy driveways. In bad weather, be especially careful on curbs and steps.
- Never use your walking aid to help you stand up or sit down. Even if you still have one hand on your walking aid, put the other hand on the surface you are sitting on or the arm of your chair. Use that hand to guide you as you sit down and to push with as you stand up. If you are less steady on your feet, rest your walking aid securely nearby, so it doesn't fall and you can reach it easily. And use both hands on the sitting surface to help you sit down or stand up.
- Always use your strong or uninjured leg to take the first step when you go up stairs or a curb (see instructions for curbs and stairs below). When you go back down, step with your weak or injured leg first. Remember "up with the good, and down with the bad" to help you lead with the correct leg. Ask for help if you feel unsure about going up and, especially, down stairs.
Using a walker
A walker with four legs is the most stable walking aid. Your doctor will recommend a walker if you need to keep all or nearly all the weight off one leg, if your general strength or endurance is decreased, or if your balance is not always good.
Be sure your walker fits you. When you stand up in your normal posture and relax your arms at your sides, the walker's hand grips should be level with your wrists. Then, when you rest your hands on the hand grips, your elbows should be slightly bent.
To walk using a walker
- Set the walker at arm's length in front of you, with all four legs on the floor. If your walker has wheels on the front legs, just take your weight off your hands and push the walker forward.
- Use the handles of the walker for balance as you move your weak or injured leg forward to the middle area of the walker. Don't step all the way to the front.
- Push straight down on the handles of the walker as you bring your good leg up, so it is even with your injured leg.
To go up or down a curb using a walker
Try this first with another person nearby to steady you if needed.
- Stand as close to the edge as you can while keeping all four legs of the walker on the surface you're standing on.
- When you have your balance, move the walker up or down, to the surface you are moving to.
- Push straight down on the handles for balance and to take weight off your injured leg.
- If you are going up, step up with your stronger leg first, then bring your weaker or injured leg up to meet it. If you are going down, step down with your weaker leg first, then bring your stronger leg down to meet it. Remember "up with the good, and down with the bad" to help you lead with the correct leg.
- Get your balance again before you start walking.
To use your walker on stairs
Most people should not use a walker on stairs. Talk with your physical therapist to see whether it is appropriate for you to use your walker on the stairs. If it is, have your physical therapist show you how to do this correctly.
Current as of: March 1, 2023
Author: Healthwise Staff
Anne C. Poinier MD - Internal Medicine
Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine
Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
Joan Rigg PT, OCS - Physical Therapy