Four-wheel walkers* (4WW) are wonderful tools. They empower individuals to get out and about safely, improve balance, have a host of convenient accessories, are easy to transport and provide a place to sit when chairs are in limited supply.
Just like any tool, however, the benefits of a 4WW are unlocked when used in a safe way complementary to its design.
Below are the top three considerations to ensure you, or your elderly Mum or Dad, are making the most of this versatile piece of equipment.
1) Setting the walker height
Occasionally, I get a ‘physio shudder’ when I drive past a man or woman using a walker that is way too high, or too low. I often get the urge to pull over and quickly adjust the height of the walker like some kind of walker vigilante (thankfully I don’t do this!).
However, I am grateful to be able to share some knowledge here that may help you or a loved one. A good rule of thumb when considering walker height is to use the crease of the wrist as a guide.
The wrist crease should be in line with the handles when the user is standing upright with their hands resting by their side.
If it’s too high or too low, you can adjust the walker height with the knobs on either side of the walker handles. Make sure these are both set to the same height for an even grip.
Bonus tip: When using a walker shoulders should be relaxed.
2) Holding the walker too far away
The walker user is the driver, not the other way around!
There are two reasons why people typically walk with a walker too far ahead of them.
The first is they were just never taught to keep it close to their body. A simple instruction should fix this.
The second reason is that they experience back pain when they walk, and standing upright with the walker feels painful.
So, naturally, they keep the walker further away to be able to lean forward and reduce the load through their back. In this instance, they should seek treatment to manage their back pain so they can walk comfortably and then get into the habit of using the walker with the correct technique.
3) Standing up with a walker
Walkers have wheels. Which is great for smooth sailing around the community but not so stable for pulling to stand with.
Where possible, a person using a walker should lock their brakes before standing and should push off using the armrests of the chair they are standing from. Then, once they are balanced, hold on to the walker handles. This approach ensures a strong and stable stand before heading off.
The same can be applied, but in reverse, to sitting down.
And there you have it!
I hope this article has empowered you to be confident in your walker use and to understand a few common traps and how to avoid them. If you would like to get in touch with a physiotherapist to help you or a loved one with a mobility assessment, pain management or finding a suitable gait aid, please reach out – we’d love to hear from you!
* Clarification around names: 4-wheel walkers may also be referred to as four-wheeled frames and/or rollators. For the purposes of this article, I will be referring to them as 4-wheel walkers (4WW)
Article written by Emily Johnson, TPC Physiotherapist