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HealthInfo Waitaha Canterbury

Walking frames

Tāparepare hīkoi

Walking frames come in different shapes and sizes and meet a range of needs. It's important to know what you're looking for before you buy one.

People are often reluctant to consider using a walking frame. They may wait until a health professional tells them to use one or they feel so unsafe walking that they have no choice. But a frame can be just another tool to help you enjoy life.

The right walking frame can open up your world, as well as keeping you safe. It can help you walk further, for longer, and keep doing the things you love.

Some people choose to use a frame to allow them to get out beyond their garden gate, and others find they need one just to get around the house.

If you cannot walk safely within your own home, you may be able to get a walking frame through Te Whatu Ora – Health New Zealand (via Enable). Ask your general practice team to refer you to a physiotherapist who can give you advice about your mobility and assess you for this.

If you're buying a frame yourself, it can be expensive, so it's important you get the right one. You may like to print off this guide and take it shopping with you!

Things to consider when choosing a walking frame

Your needs

Think about why you need a walking frame and where you're likely to use it. If it will be indoors and you have a small house, you'll need a small frame that turns easily. If you're going to use it for long walks outside on rough ground, you'll need a sturdy frame with large wheels and possibly a seat.

Wheels

Most frames are four-wheeled, and this is a safe, stable option. A three-wheeled frame might be recommended for very small houses but they're less stable and may not be safe if you have trouble with your balance. It's possible to get some very small, stable four-wheeled options for small environments.

Some walking frames have four stoppers instead of wheels. These are fantastic for people who walk slowly and have poor balance or difficulty taking weight on their legs. They're very safe as they cannot run away, but they limit walking speed as you need to lift them forward at each step.

Brakes

If you'll only use your frame indoors or on very flat surfaces, you may not need brakes. Brakes are useful if you'll ever go up or down a slope or steps or if you sometimes walk too quickly and need to slow down (for example, if you have Parkinson disease). If you have a walking frame with brakes, make sure you can easily put the brakes on and take them off again.

Seat

A seat can be very useful if you get tired or breathless when out walking. It can allow you to go further, more confidently, as you'll be able to stop and rest. On the negative side, a seat means a bigger, bulkier frame that is further away from you and can cause you to lean forward a little.

Remember that the seats on walking frames aren't designed to be sat on for a long time. Do not sit on your frame and have somebody push you! If you often need someone to push you, consider buying or hiring a wheelchair.

Folding

Most walking frames are able to be folded but can fold in different ways. If you'll need to take your frame out in a car or taxi, you should check that it folds neatly and isn't too heavy to lift into a car boot.

Basket and tray

A basket or bag can be incredibly useful if you're going out to the shops. But they add extra weight and bulk to your frame. Look for a basket or bag that you can easily take off when you do not need it. If you use a frame indoors, a basket and tray combination is fantastic for keeping things close by, like your phone, tissues, your book, knitting or anything else you need! They can become a portable coffee table but be careful not to overload them.

Extra options

Most mobility shops hold the basic models. If you do not think a basic model will meet your needs, you can get all sorts of accessories, such as armrests, single arm steering options, holders for oxygen bottles or comfortable handles for arthritic hands. Have a good talk to the supplier about all your needs or have a thorough assessment with a physiotherapist if you need anything extra.

Measuring up a frame

It's important that your frame is the right height for you. If it's too low, you'll start leaning forward, and if it's too high, it will not provide the proper support. When you push your frame, your elbows should be slightly bent, and your shoulders shouldn't be hunched up.

If you aren't sure if your frame is at the right height, ask a physiotherapist to check it for you.

  HealthInfo recommends the following pages

On the next page: Using a walking frame

Written by Jessie Snowdon (physiotherapist), On the Go Physio, Christchurch. Copyright 2011. Adapted by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Last reviewed November 2022.

Sources

Page reference: 171823

Review key: HIDAH-120231