Consumer research for older and disabled people

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Walking aids

This guide looks at walking sticks, crutches and walking frames. It will help you decide what kind of walking aid is right for you. And if a wheeled walking frame would be a good choice, this guide will help you choose a suitable model.

Walking frame and close-up images of wheels and hand brakes

Contents

  1. Introduction (this page)
  2. Sticks and crutches
  3. Frames and trolleys
  4. Wheeled walking frames
    4.1 Features
    4.2 Test reports
    4.3 Getting a walking frame
    4.4 Suppliers

You can also download this as a complete guide: Stepping out - wheeled walking frames (PDF). We no longer have any copies of the printed publication.

Acknowledgements: We are grateful to the Department of Health for funding this series of guides, and to the  Association of Chartered Physiotherapists in the Community and the Association of Chartered Physiotherapists in Occupational Health and Ergonomics (both interest groups of the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy) and to the College of Occupational Therapists for help and advice, and to UK Mobility Services for use of their premises during photography. Expert assessments were carried out by: Peggy Frost, Sue Henchley, Marie Hendry, Di Hewetson, Karen Rix and Janet Stoneham. Lab testing was carried out at Intertek, Milton Keynes. Research: Dr Jasper Holmes. Photography: Robin Beckham; John Trenholm.

Introduction

In this guide, we first provide a rundown of the range of aids that are available to help with mobility and preventing falls, and provide advice about how you can decide which type is best for you. 

We particularly focus on information about the different types of wheeled walking frames and what to look out for, if you decide to get on. We asked a group of ten professionals and two walking frame users to assess 18 walking frames. They checked out the various features and assessed them for ease of use. The results appear in our wheeled walking frame test reports

We've also included details of where to buy equipment, organisations that help with information and advice, and where to go for financial help towards getting mobility equipment.

Getting about safely

Many of us have difficulty getting about, whether it's into the kitchen to make a cup of tea, round the garden, down to the high street for the shops, or on walks with family and friends. A wheeled walking frame or some other walking equipment can help. You may need it for a short time while you recover from an injury, an illness or an operation, or you may need it for longer. Either way, the right one can improve your health, freedom and confidence, and help keep you from falling.

It's important to get the right equipment and to make sure that it fits properly and that you know how to use it. Otherwise, it can even make it harder or less safe to get about. It's wise to get advice from an expert if you need anything more than a simple stick. You'll also have to try it out to see if it's comfortable and that you can use it easily.

What kind of mobility aid?

If you're having difficulty getting about, and it's stopping you from doing things you want to do, consider getting some equipment to help - the following is a brief rundown of your options. However, sometimes you may find that you can make life easier by changing the way you do things, or moving things around in your house. Your occupational therapist may advise you about this.

If you decide to get a mobility aid, aim for something that makes you feel safe and that helps you get around as naturally as you can. You might choose different equipment for different purposes - you might find a walking stick is fine indoors, but you need a wheeled walking frame or a scooter for the shops. The options include:

Walking sticks

A walking stick may be all you need. It can help you with balancing and make you feel safer. It also is a way of letting other people know that you have difficulty getting around. If you're comfortable with a stick, and you can get around safely and happily, then great.

Using two sticks together gives you more help with balancing. You might need this if both of your legs are affected, if you can't use one leg at all, or if you just find it especially hard to balance.

Crutches

Crutches are more secure than sticks, as they let you use your arms much more to help with balancing. This can be especially helpful if you can only carry your weight on one leg. Crutches are only really suitable for short stretches or for temporary use.

Walking frames

A walking frame provides more stable support than crutches. For many people, a wheeled walking frame is easier to use than one without wheels, because you don't have to keep lifting it up to move it along. It's important to make sure that it's suitable for the places where you are going to use it. There are a number of features of wheeled walking frames you should consider when deciding on a model.

Wheelchairs and scooters

If some of the trips that you want to make are too long for you to manage with any of the walking aids mentioned above, you may need to think about a wheelchair or scooter

You can also download this as a complete guide: Stepping out - wheeled walking frames (PDF). We no longer have any copies of the printed publication.

Last updated: February 2010


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