How To Use a Walker

Whether you’re recovering in the hospital from an injury or surgery, or whether you have a long-term condition that causes difficulty walking, there may come a time when you need the support of a walker. Learn how to use a walker safely to prevent falls and injuries.


What is a walker?

A walker is a mobility aid that helps provide stability and balance while you walk. In general, a walker is a body-sized frame with handles for you to hold onto and wheeled or rubber feet that “walk” with you.

You might need to use a walker for a short time or a long time. There are also different types of walkers you might use. It’s important to know how to use a walker the right way to reduce your risk of falling.

Types of walkers

The standard walker (also called a Zimmer frame or pulpit frame) comes in two variations. These are the walkers that healthcare facilities typically provide. They’re generally intended for limited, indoor use.

There are also several specialized types of walkers designed for more specific uses. Your healthcare provider might recommend a more specialized walker for you based on your condition and needs.

Four-point walker

The standard “four-point” walker has four rubber-tipped feet. You lift the walker and step forward with it, following with your feet. This model provides the most stability for people with balance issues.

Two-wheeled walker

The two-wheeled walker has wheels on the front two feet and rubber tips on the back two feet. Instead of lifting this walker to take a step, you slide it forward. This allows for a more natural walking pattern.

Specialized walkers

Beyond the basic models, there are some specialized types of walkers, including:

  • Rollators: An all-wheeled walker, also called a mobile walker or rollator, is an alternative mobility aid that you can use outdoors or to go shopping. It has three or four larger wheels with brakes for traversing uneven terrain. They often have storage and a seat for rest breaks.
  • Forearm support walker: Also called a platform walker, upright walker or gutter frame, this walker allows you to bear weight on your forearms instead of your wrists. A padded “gutter” supports your forearms, positioned at 90 degrees. The walker may have two or four wheels.
  • Reverse walker: A reverse or posterior walker is a four-wheeled frame that you pull behind you rather than pushing in front of you. You hold the frame at the sides of your hips rather than in front. This option provides more posture support and stability if you tend to tip backward.
  • Knee walker: A knee walker is a specialized walker that you use when you can’t walk on one foot. It’s usually a short-term solution. The walker has four wheels and a platform that you rest your knee on. You push yourself along with the other foot while holding onto the handlebars.


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Who needs to use a walker?

You might need to use a walker temporarily if you’re recovering from an injury or surgery. You might need long-term use of a walker if you have a long-term condition that affects your ability to walk safely.

Some reasons you might use a walker include:

  • Recovering from an injury to your leg, ankle, foot, hip or back.
  • Rehabilitation after surgery or an illness that immobilized you.
  • Relearning to walk after temporary or partial paralysis.
  • Musculoskeletal conditions that affect your posture and mobility, like arthritis or scoliosis.
  • Neurological conditions that affect your coordination and muscle strength, like Parkinson’s or MS.
  • Cardiopulmonary (heart and lung) conditions that affect your tolerance for exercise.
  • Needing help bearing your own weight.
  • Needing help with balance and staying upright.

Procedure Details

How should I prepare before using a walker?

Once you and your healthcare provider have selected the right type of walker for your needs, you’ll need to adjust it to your body and environment. That means adjusting the height and feet if necessary.

Getting the right fit

Most walkers are height-adjustable within a 5-inch to 10-inch range. For regular walkers, you’ll want the handles to be at about hip height. This means they’ll be level with your wrists when your arms are slightly bent.

Make sure you’re wearing your walking shoes and standing in a comfortable posture when you adjust the height of your walker. If the standard model doesn’t fit, you can request a bigger or smaller one.

Walker accessories

Both the four-point walker and the two-wheeled walker have rubber-tipped feet in the back. Some people attach other fittings to these feet to move more easily over their floors or to protect their floors.

Examples include:

  • Ski glides: These insert into the feet to provide a little less friction than the rubber.
  • Felt pads: These are adhesives that stick on to the feet, like the ones for your furniture.
  • Tennis balls: Cut an “X” into a tennis ball and fit it onto the foot for an easy floor buffer.
  • Fixed casters: Non-swiveling casters with your front wheels may move better over carpet.

You can also get custom grip pads with more padding and less sweating than the standard plastic ones. These can add comfort and reduce stress on your joints if you expect to be using your walker for a while.


How do you walk with a walker?

These instructions are for walking with a standard, four-point or two-wheeled walking frame. Specialized walkers have different features that may fit your body differently and require different techniques.

Going from sitting to standing

  1. Place your walker a step in front of you with the open side toward you.
  2. Push up from your bed or seat to standing. Don’t use the walker to pull yourself up.
  3. Once you’re standing, take a minute to find your balance.
  4. Grasp the handles of the walker and step inside the frame.
Check your posture

You should be standing comfortably upright, with your shoulders relaxed. with your arms just slightly bent (about 15 to 25 degrees) to hold the handles. Your feet should be just inside the frame. If you’re too far forward, you run into the front bar. If you’re too far back, the walker can’t support you as it should.

Walking with a walker

Here’s the correct way to use a walker:

  1. Check your pathway. Scan ahead to check for any obstacles in your path. Make sure to check the floor for anything that could trip you, like a loose rug, threshold, cord, puddle or pet.
  2. Your walker takes the first step. Start by lifting or pushing your walker a step forward. A step is whatever’s comfortable for you — whether that’s a foot, a few inches or a few centimeters.
  3. Start with your weaker leg. With your hands still on the handles, press into the walker to help bear the weight of your first step. Use this support to bring your injured or weaker leg forward.
  4. Follow with your stronger leg. With your walker still in place, you can now bring your stronger leg forward next to your other leg. When you’re ready, you can again step the walker forward.
  5. Face forward. Don’t look down at your feet. If this makes you feel unsure, slow down. Take the time to step carefully. With a wheeled walker, you may be able to walk in a continuous motion.
How to walk with a walker using only one leg

If you can’t bear any weight on one leg, you can use your walker more like crutches, bearing more weight on your arms. After stepping forward with the walker, press down onto the handles to hop your good leg forward, keeping your other leg raised. Move the walker forward again to hop to your next step.

How to go over a step or curb

If you have to take a step up or down with a walker, the general rule is to step up with your stronger leg and step down with your weaker leg. As before, your walker takes the first step up or down. Once it’s in place, you can lean into your walker to step up with your strong leg or step down with your weak leg.

Going from standing to sitting

  1. Locate the seat you’re aiming for and how much space you’ll have to turn in front of it.
  2. When you get within range of the seat, carefully turn your walker so you can back into the seat.
  3. Carefully back up until you feel the seat behind the backs of your legs.
  4. Keeping one hand on the walker, use the other hand to reach back and find your seat.
  5. Move your weaker leg forward and lean into your stronger leg to lower yourself down.

Risks / Benefits

What are the benefits of using a walker?

If you have difficulty safely getting around on your own, using a walker can:

  • Make you more independent and self-sufficient.
  • Help you exercise and build strength and endurance.
  • Allow you more opportunities for socializing.
  • Help you recover faster from injury or surgery.


What are the risks or downsides of using a walker?

Becoming more mobile than you’re used to being and using a new device can raise your risk of falling. Learning to use your walker the right way and practicing basic safety guidelines can minimize this risk.

What should you not do with a walker?

To reduce your risk of falls and injuries when using a walker:

  • Don’t use the walker to pull yourself up from sitting to standing.
  • Don’t bend your back to lean into the walker.
  • Don’t step forward with your foot until all four feet of the walker are on the ground.
  • Don’t slide a rubber-footed walker or lift-step a wheeled walker.
  • Don’t look down at your feet while you’re walking.
  • Don’t try to carry something heavy on your walker.

Additional Common Questions

Which leg goes first when using a walker?

Your injured or weaker leg goes first. Use your grip on the walker to bear most of the weight of your first step. Then, follow with your stronger leg. It’s a three-step pattern: 1) walker, 2) bad leg, 3) good leg.

If you don’t have a weaker leg, it doesn’t matter which one you start with. Some people use a wheeled walker just for general support. You don’t have to think about your step pattern too much in this case.

Do you slide or lift a walker?

Whether you slide or lift your walker depends on the type you have. If your walker has four rigid feet, you’ll lift it and place it in front of you. If it has wheels in the front, you can slide or push it forward.

Don’t try to lift a wheeled walker. The wheels are for gliding. If you lift and place them, they could run away from you. And don’t try to push a rubber-footed walker. It won’t glide and might skid on the floor.

A note from Cleveland Clinic

Using a walker isn’t too hard once you get the hang of it. But it is important to learn the right technique. This will ensure that your walker supports you as it’s meant to, without causing any new issues.

A reliable healthcare provider can help select the right type of walker for your needs and adjust the fit to your body. They can also show you in person how to use a walker to get around safely on your own.

Medically Reviewed

Last reviewed on 04/19/2024.

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