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Types of Walkers

What is a walker?

A walker is a type of mobility aid that offers stability and support while walking. Walkers are more stable than crutches or canes. They have a wide base of support that gives stability front to back and side to side. Special pediatric walkers are also available for younger children. Walkers may come with or without wheels. Rollators are a type of wheeled walker.

Benefits of a walker

Patients may need a walker for different reasons. Using a walker can:

  • Help with balance and lower the risk of falls
  • Provide support when muscles are weak
  • Limit weight bearing on the lower body
  • Help patients move safely if they have reduced feeling or control in legs or feet
  • Reduce pain or fatigue during walking or standing
  • Assist in sitting down or standing up

Fitting a walker

A walker is safest and helps most when it fits well. A walker that is the wrong size can be hard to use, cause falls, or result in pain and soreness. It is important to have good posture when using a walker to prevent stress on the back or arms. A physical therapist can help adjust the height and width for proper fit. All 4 legs of the walker should be the same length.

To get the best fit, have the patient stand up straight. Check the height:

  • With arms relaxed at the side, the height of the handgrip should be at the level of the wrist.
  • When hands are placed on the handgrip, arms should be slightly bent at the elbow (20 degree bend in elbow).

Types of walkers

A physical therapist will evaluate the patient to identify the best style of walker. Each walker is unique to needs of the person. Walkers may have no wheels, 2 wheels, or 4 wheels. Different accessories, such as baskets, pouches, and seats, may be added to make it easier to do daily activities.

Standard walkers

A standard walker has 4 straight legs and no wheels. The height and width are adjusted to fit the patient. To use a standard walker, pick up the walker and move it forward. It is important to make sure that all 4 legs are on the floor before taking a step. Gliders or caps can sometimes be added to the legs of the walker (glider walker). This can help the walking pattern to be more natural.

Rolling walkers (wheeled walkers)

Wheels can be placed on the front of the walker to provide a smoother walking pattern or more natural gait. Wheels may also be used if patients are unable to lift and move the walker. Rolling walkers are designed with the support in front (anterior walker) or in back (posterior walker). A physical therapist can help decide which is best for the patient.

  • Anterior rolling walkers (front support) — An anterior walker provides support in front of the body. The base of support is larger to make it more stable for walking. This type of walker usually has 4 wheels and is used by pushing the walker forward.
  • Posterior rolling walkers (back support) — A posterior walker provides support behind the body. This type of walker can have 2 (front legs only) or 4 wheels (front and back legs). The back legs have rubber tips or ratchet wheels to prevent backward rolling. This type of walker can help with posture and balance during standing and walking. To use a posterior walker, stand in the middle of the walker with the support in the back. Holding the side handles, pull the walker from behind while stepping forward.
  • Rollator walkers — A rollator is a type of wheeled walker. It has 3 or 4 wheels, handlebars with hand brakes, and a seat. A rollator walker can turn easily and move faster, making it more natural. However, it requires more coordination and balance to use. To use a rollator, stand behind the walker and push forward using the handlebars.
  • Gait trainers — A gait trainer is a special type of mobility aid. It is used for patients who need help learning to walk, improving gait, maintaining posture, or supporting body weight. Gait trainers are similar to wheeled walkers. However, they use custom straps, supports, and positioners to address specific limitations and mobility needs.

Does insurance cover walkers and rollators? Walkers, rollators, and gait trainers are often covered by insurance if there is a medical need. Families should work with their care team to choose the best walker for their child. In most cases, your doctor or physical therapist will need to prescribe the device and provide documentation of medical need. This is known as a Letter of Medical Necessity or Doctor’s Statement. Each insurance plan is different, so check with your insurance company to learn more.

Learn more about what insurance covers.


Reviewed: September 2019