Common Mobility Devices Used in Physical Therapy

Caregiver helping a man with crutches.
Your physical therapist can help you learn to walk with crutches. Jose Luis Pelaez Inc./Getty Images

Occasionally after injury or illness, you may need help with walking or moving around. If you have surgery, a fracture, or a condition where weakness or other impairment limits the normal use of your legs, you may need an assistive device to help you walk. Limitations in your balance may also require you to use a device to help you walk. You may also need another person to help provide assistance when walking or moving.

If you are injured, one goal you may have is to move around safely and independently. Various tools and devices are available to help you walk and move about independently. When choosing a device to help you walk or move about, be sure to work closely with your doctor and physical therapist to help choose the right device and to ensure the device is the correct size for you. Remember that it may take practice to use your assistive device correctly.

  • Standard Walker: A standard walker is a metal device that has four legs that contact the floor. You may need to learn to use a standard walker if you are only allowed to put partial weight on one or both legs. If you are using a standard walker, you should stand inside the four legs and hold the walker with both hands. This type of walker provides you with maximal stability. To advance the standard walker while walking, you will need to lift the walker up off the floor, which can become quite tiring or cause shoulder pain.
  • Wheeled Walker: A wheeled walker is a walker with two or four wheels on the bottom that help the walker roll across the floor. This type of walker is easy to use and you do not have to lift the walker while walking. However, the wheeled walker may roll away from you, and therefore is less stable than a standard walker.
  • Axillary crutches: Axillary crutches are crutches that extend up to your armpits. They are useful if injury or surgery prevents you from putting one foot on the floor. Axillary crutches are commonly used after knee surgery when bearing weight on the leg may be restricted. Axillary crutches can take some practice to use, but they allow you to move quickly while walking. Crutches provide less stability than a standard or wheeled walker. Axillary crutches can also pinch the armpits, so be sure your crutches are fitted properly.
  • Lofstrand or Canadian crutches: These crutches, also called forearm crutches, have a small cuff on the top near the handle that allows the crutches to be secured to the forearms. These allow you to use your arms without having the crutches fall to the ground. Lofstrand crutches take practice to use, and provide less stability than other devices, such as a walker or axillary crutches.
  • Quad Cane: A quad cane is a cane with four small prongs that extend out from a metal base on the bottom of the cane. These prongs make contact with the floor and help to provide a wide base of support for the cane. There are two types of quad canes. Wide base quad canes have a wide metal base from where the prongs extend. These quad canes provide more support, but are bulky and may be difficult to lift. The other type of quad cane is the narrow base quad cane. This quad cane has a narrower base, which provides less overall support. Since it is narrower, it is easier to maneuver while walking.
  • Standard Cane: A standard cane, or straight cane, is a single walking stick with a curved handle to hold on to. Some standard canes are adjustable, and others are wooden and need to be cut to the right size before use. A standard cane can be used when you need extra support or balance, but it provides less support than crutches or a walker.

The use of mobility devices is common after injury or illness. Choosing the right device, sizing the device correctly, and using the device correctly are essential to ensure a safe return to your maximum ability.

Source: O'Sullivan, S. B. (1994). Physical rehabilitation: assessment and treatment. Philadelphia: F.A. Davis Company

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