How To Use Walker on Stairs (With or Without Railing)

Stairs are the enemy – even more so if you suddenly have to use a walker to get around. Don’t be intimidated by this enemy. A walker enhances mobility and reduces pain, even on stairs.

Can Anyone Climb Stairs With a Walker?

Probably not everyone. Using a walker requires a certain amount of strength and stability. Utilizing a walker on stairs requires a little more because you will lift or lower yourself.

This YouTube video gives a good picture of using a walker on stairs with a railing.

Ensure Your Walker Is Safe before Climbing or Descending Stairs

Your walker should be safe and well-maintained at all times. However, pay particular attention when using it on stairs.

  • Have the walker wholly open and locked.
  • Do not adjust the height of the stairs. Use your normal adjustments.
  • Have good comfortable handles. You may use more pressure while on the stairs.
  • Have good rubber tips on the legs.
  • Make sure the walker is not damaged.
  • Keep both hands free for the walker and railing. 

How To Use a Walker When Climbing Stairs

Climbing stairs is actually a little easier and safer than descending stairs.

However, it does depend on the presence of a railing. 

How To Climb Stairs With a Railing

Climbing stairs with a railing is usually easier than climbing them without one.

The following stair-climbing instructions work for a standard (no wheels) walker or a two-wheel walker. The wheels could add a bit of instability. 

  1. Stand facing the bottom stair with your walker between you and the first step.
  2. Hold the handrail with the hand closest to it.
  3. Swing the walker to the side, making the crossbar face away from the steps.
  4. Place the leading two legs of the walker on the bottom step. Push them tight against the back of the step for stability.
  5. With one hand on the upper grip of the walker and the other on the handrail, you can balance yourself and help raise your legs onto the step.
  6. Plant your good leg–or best leg–firmly on the step and draw your weaker leg up to join it.
  7. Once you are stable, reposition the walker one step higher. In the same position as on the first step.
  8. Move up to the second step in the same manner as the first.
  9. Repeat until you reach the top.

How To Climb Stairs Without a Railing

Climbing stairs with a walker but without a railing can feel less secure.

But realistically, with a safe and secure walker and the proper adjustments, it is not much different than flat floors.

First, adjust the leading legs seven inches shorter than the trailing legs (7″ is the standard rise on stairs and steps). 

Then, place the leading legs one step higher than the trailing legs. The grips should remain level. 

Once you feel the walker is secure, lift your better leg onto the lower step, get steady, and draw your weaker leg onto the step.

Then, when you are ready, move the walker up one step and repeat the process to the top of the stairs.

This YouTube video shows how this works (note that this walker has electrically adjustable feet, making stair climbing easier).

How To Use a Walker When Descending Stairs

Descending stairs with a walker can be slightly more intimidating than climbing stairs.

How To Descend Stairs With a Railing

Going down a flight of stairs with a railing using a walker is close to a reversal of going up. 

  1. Position yourself at the top of the stairs next to the railing.
  2. Swing your walker to the side, away from the railing, with the crossbar facing you.
  3. Position the walker with the two trailing legs on the step next to you.
  4. With one hand on the railing and the other on the walker’s rear grip, step down onto the next stair with your weaker leg.
  5. When you feel stabilized, move your other foot down to that step.
  6. Move your walker down one step and plant it securely.
  7. Step down to the next stair. Weaker leg first.
  8. Repeat for each step to the bottom.

How To Descend Stairs Without a Railing

Descending stairs with a walker and no railing can be challenging. If you have a cane, you can use it instead because it is lighter, taller, and safer.

However, if you’d like to use a walker and there is no railing, placing your back against the wall can give you more support.

First, ensure your weak leg is leading, then swing the walker in front of you with the crossbar facing you.

Next, place the walker’s rear legs on the stair you are on, and, with most of your weight on the rear walker handle, lower your weak leg to the next step. Follow with your better leg.

Finally, move the walker down one step and repeat the process until you reach the bottom.

Note: Long before I tried to descend the stairs this way with a walker, I would have someone install an excellent, solid handrail for safety.

What Kind of Walker Should I Get for Stairs?

If your home has a bunch of stairs you need to use daily, find a walker that works safely on them.

You can find many types and styles of walkers, some with two wheels, some without wheels, some with adjustable legs, automatic piston legs, rollator walkers, and knee walkers.

Your best option may be to buy two, or even three, walkers—one for the main floor and outside, one for upstairs, and one for negotiating the stairs.

Your best option for stairs is a plain walker with adjustable legs and no wheels. It is the most stable stair option. Also, standard walkers are the lightest, making them easier to lift.

Example: Drive Medical 10200-1 folding walker, weight ‎6 pounds.

Drive Medical 10200-1 Deluxe 2-Button Folding Walker

Final Thoughts

When learning how to use a walker on stairs, always use caution. 

A study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society found that 47,312 injuries associated with walking aids are treated annually. 87.3% involve walkers. The study did not break out the number of stair incidents.

Buy a good sturdy walker. Learn how to use it properly on stairs. Broken hips are not a good bucket list item.

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