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


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.

Walking Sticks

It is very important to have a walking stick at the correct height for use. If the height is incorrect then the support will not be adequate.

Some walking sticks are made of wood, which must be measured and cut to the correct height by a professional. In doing this they should keep in mind the small addition to the overall height once a ferrule is attached.

Aluminium walking sticks are available in a variety of fixed heights; you should choose the height that is as close as possible to the correct height for you. Some aluminium walking sticks are adjustable in height. They are usually telescopic and can be finely adjusted using spring loaded catches.


Crutches must be at the correct height for use to minimise the risk of injury. Both axilla and elbow crutches usually have two adjustment points.

  • Axilla crutches

Measurements should be taken standing in an upright position while you are wearing appropriate supportive footwear. The underarm pad should fit under your armpit with two finger widths of space above. This will ensure no pressure is applied through your armpit when crutches are in use. The hand grip adjusts along the upright(s) of the crutches and should be set at a height level with the bone at the side of your wrist.

  • Elbow crutches

These crutches are measured by lining up the hand grips with the bone at the side of your wrist. Some elbow crutches also have an adjustment for the elbow cuff, which should cradle your forearm just below the elbow joint so that the movement of the elbow joint is not restricted.

Tripods and Quadrupods

It is important to have the tripod and quadrupod at the correct height for use to minimise risk of injury. The most effective method of ensuring this is to stand in your regular footwear with your hands by your sides, so that the physiotherapist can take a measurement between the wrist bone and the ground.

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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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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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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.


  • 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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It is essential to ensure the safety of your walking equipment and it should be checked regularly for signs of wear and tear. Checks should be made at the site of screws, height adjustment mechanisms and vulnerable parts, which include the ferrules, hand grips and underarm pads. Replacement ferrules are usually available from the department who issued the equipment - or if the equipment is no longer safe to use, you should be provided with a replacement. However, if you bought the walking equipment privately, you are responsible for maintenance - replacement parts are usually available from the supplier from whom you bought the equipment.

Advice last checked: 08 October 2014 Next check due: 08 October 2017

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.
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