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Things to consider when choosing walking equipment

Things to consider when choosing walking equipment

As a general rule, you should not consider buying mobility equipment privately without first consulting your physiotherapist.

It is important that the walking equipment is right for you. Also, to ensure appropriate equipment is selected, it is important that your lifestyle and home environment are professionally reviewed.

We recommend that you speak to your physiotherapist about how and where to use the walking equipment. For example, the equipment may not be suitable to use outdoors, or over long distances, as you may get tired. Also, you should contact your physiotherapist to adjust the walking equipment if you think your needs may have changed.

Read more about the safe use of walking equipment.

  1. Height
  2. Weight
  3. Material
  4. Base type
  5. Maintenance


HEIGHT

Walking frames

It is very important to have the frame at the correct height for use.

  • If the frame is too high, you will find it difficult to straighten out your elbows sufficiently and will not take enough body weight through your arms. This will also result in elevating your shoulders, therefore reducing stability and comfort.

  • If the frame is too low, it will encourage you to bend low with poor posture.

  • Always be measured for the height of your walking frame wearing appropriate and supportive footwear.

To use the frame correctly, you should lift and move it slightly in front of you. To ensure that the arms are in the best position for weight bearing, the height of the hand grips should be at the level of the wrist bone when your elbows are very slightly bent.

The correct height for walking sticks, tripods and quadupods
It is very important to have the walking stick at the correct height for use. If the height is incorrect then the support will not be adequate, or may cause discomfort. For example, if the walking stick is too high, this will result in you raising (elevating) your shoulders, therefore reducing your balance and comfort. Remember that these are general guidelines. There may be reasons why you require a different height, so check with a healthcare professional.

The most effective method of checking the height is to stand in your regular footwear with your arms hanging relaxed with a slight natural bend at the elbow (flexed at 15 degrees). Have someone measure the distance between the wrist crease and the ground (Elmamoun and Mulley 2007). This should be the height of your walking aid.

Over time your height measurements and posture will change, so if it has been several years since you were provided with your stick, you should check that it is still a suitable height for you (Marston and Brookes, 2005). Do not significantly change the height of a walking stick if you have had it for some time as you will have got used to it. If you need to change the height of a stick, perhaps because your overall height has reduced with increasing age, make a number of smaller changes over time. Please remember there may be a reason why a stick length was chosen, for example sometimes stick length is adjusted for individuals who have had a stroke (Mulley 1988).

Wooden sticks can be measured and cut with a saw to the correct height. In practice, when therapists are measuring wooden sticks, they turn the stick upside down and mark the point where the stick should be cut, keeping in mind the small addition to the overall height once a ferrule is attached.

Metal sticks are available in a variety of fixed heights - the nearest suitable height should be chosen. If they have a telescopic mechanism, this can be finely adjusted using the spring-loaded catches.

The correct height for crutches
Crutches must be at the correct height for use. Both axilla and elbow crutches usually have two adjustment points.

The overall height of axilla crutches can be adjusted. This should be measured by standing upright in appropriate and supportive footwear. The underarm pad should fit under the armpit with two finger widths of space above to ensure no pressure is applied through the armpit when the crutches are being used.

The handgrip adjusts along the upright side of the crutches and should be set at a height level with the protruding bone at the side of the wrist.

The overall height of elbow crutches can be adjusted. This is measured by lining up the handgrips with the wrist bone. Some elbow crutches also have an adjustment for the elbow cuff, which should cradle the forearm just below the elbow joint so that movement of the elbow is not impeded.

The correct height for walking frames
It is very important to have the frame at the correct height for use.

If the frame is too high, you may find it difficult to straighten your elbows sufficiently and may not take enough body weight through your arms. If the frame is too low, it will encourage you to be bent over in a poor posture. However, a physiotherapist may deliberately set up a frame at a low height for people who tend to fall backwards - this will encourage them to lean forwards (Elmamoun and Mulley 2007)

When being measured for the height of your walking frame wear appropriate and supportive footwear. Generally, to ensure that the pushing handles are in the best position for weight bearing, the height of the handgrips should be at the level of the wrist bone when the user’s elbows are very slightly bent (at an angle of about 15 degree flexion) (Hall et al. 1990). Some models are available in a number of fixed heights - the nearest suitable height should be chosen. Others have telescopic handles, with spring-loaded catches, so that their height can be more finely adjusted.

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WEIGHT

Walking frames

Heavy frames tend to be more stable, but may be difficult for you to lift. Walking equipment designed for heavy duty use may be steel reinforced, adding to their weight.

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MATERIAL

Walking frames
The majority of walking frames are made of aluminium with a chrome finish. Some are made of steel which may be better for heavy duty use.

Walking sticks

  • Wooden

Wooden walking sticks usually have a crook handle and are not as adaptable as metal walking sticks. Wooden sticks should be cut to the correct height by a professional. They are available in various diameters and strengths which are designed to take different weight.1

  • Metal/Aluminium

These tend to be stronger than wooden walking sticks. Some are fixed length, others are height adjustable. The ferrules of metal walking sticks must include a metal disc to prevent the end of the stick cutting into the rubber of the ferrule.

  • Crutches

Most axilla crutches are made of wood although a few styles are made of metal, either aluminium or steel-reinforced aluminium for heavy-duty use. Some metal crutches can have a coloured paint finish. All crutches must be fitted with an appropriate ferrule. The ferrules of metal crutches must include a metal ring to prevent the base of the crutch cutting into the rubber of the ferrule.1

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BASE TYPE

Generally, the wider the base of support, the more stable the walking equipment will be. All walkling equipment without wheels should be fitted with rubber ferrules to maximise grip.

Frames with four legs
Frames with legs that are spread widely apart will be the most stable but may be difficult to get through doorways. If the doorway is particularly narrow, you may have to walk through sideways. Narrow four legged frames are available, but may not be as stable.

Frames with three legs
Frames with three points of contact with the ground are compact and fold flat for storage, but are not as stable as four legged frames.

Wheels/castors

  • Larger wheels or castors are more manoeuvrable than fixed wheels, especially over rough ground.
  • Fixed wheels are easier to push in a straight line.
  • Small solid wheels or castors are really only suitable for use indoors.
  • Pneumatic (air-filled) wheels will require pumping up from time to time, but provide more suspension than solid rubber tyres. You may find this helpful if you experience pain in your hands or wrists.

Number of wheels

  • Two wheels

Frames with two wheels can glide across the floor surface, allowing you to adopt a more flowing walking pattern (gait). Alternatively, they can be used like a non-wheeled pulpit frame, except that the frame does not have to be lifted up to move it forwards - you push it instead.


  • Three wheels

Triangular frames, have a single front swivel castor and two fixed back wheels and are suitable for outdoor use. They are more manoeuvrable than four wheeled walkers, although not as stable. Like four wheeled frames, they enable you to adopt a flowing walking pattern. As with all mobility equipment, it is essential that triangular walkers have regular safety checks with particular attention paid to the locking mechanism (usually a cross brace), which maintains the frame in an open position.

  • Four wheels

Large wheels and/or large swivelling castors make manoeuvring easier. However, they may be too mobile if you need to lean or push against the frame for support. When used appropriately, this style of frame will allow you to adopt a more flowing walking pattern.

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MAINTENANCE

All walking equipment should be checked regularly for signs of wear and tear. Particularly vulnerable parts include the ferrules, which are the rubber cap placed on the end of the walking stick or frame to provide grip and stability on the floor surface. The ferrules must be replaced if the slip-resistant rings or bobbles on their underside lose their definition, or if the rubber shows signs of cracking. Replacement ferrules are usually available from the issuing department, for example the hospital physiotherapy department. Some high street chemists stock them and they are widely available online. You will need to measure the diameter of the 'leg' of your walking aid to ensure that you get the correct size of ferrule.

Equipment that is height adjustable can show signs of stress at the height setting after prolonged use. Handgrips can also become worn. Although certain handgrips can be replaced, they are less easy to obtain. It may be easier to replace the whole walking aid.

If you feel that your walking device is structurally no longer safe to use, inform the issuing department which may provide you with a replacement. If you have bought your walking device privately, then you are responsible for maintenance and upkeep.

Further reading: DLF's factsheet Choosing walking equipment

Advice last checked: 26 January 2018 Next check due: 26 January 2021

All advice is either supported by references (cited in the text) or is based upon peer reviewed professional opinion. Our advice is impartial and not influenced by sponsors or product suppliers listed on the site.
Conflict of interest statement

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