Knee Walkers (and How to Use Them)
Knee walkers are a vital mobility device for people dealing with foot and leg issues. In this article, we’ll take a closer look at what a knee walker does, how it’s used, and what you need to know before buying one.
What is a Knee Walker?
A knee walker (also known as a knee scooter) is a wheeled device designed to help people with foot and leg injuries move around.
Knee walkers look similar to a child’s scooter, but they have four wheels for extra stability and a large padded cushion to support the injured leg.
The user rests the injured leg on the cushion and uses their other leg to move forward. Most knee walkers are fully steerable and have hand-operated brakes on the handlebars.
Knee Walker Vs. Crutches
While any device that helps improve mobility is a good thing, there is no perfect solution. Knee walkers and crutches both have distinct advantage and disadvantages, which we’ll cover at below.
Knee Walkers: The Good
- Balance: People with balance issues will probably prefer knee walkers. They are lower to the ground and more stable than crutches. The leg rest is cushioned so that the injured leg is comfortable and it prevents you from accidentally putting weight on the leg and knee.
- Easy to learn: Most people can learn how to use them fairly quickly and can move around at a decent pace after a bit of practice.
- Hands free: A nice advantage is that once you stop moving, you have full use of your hands.
- Reduced upper body strain: Knee walker uses will avoid the strain on shoulders, arms, wrists, and hands that is common with crutches.
- Safety: Since weight is more evenly distributed using a knee walker, there is less chances of slipping when walking on wet surfaces.
Knee Walkers:The Not-So-Good
- Slower: Depending upon the surface that you are operating it on, you may need to take it a bit slower than you would if you were using crutches.
- Stairs: It’s not possible to use a knee walker to help you get up or down stairs. Unlike using crutches, there’s no way to make a physical adjustment for getting through narrow halls or doorways. If the walker is too wide, it simply won’t work.
- Tipping risk: While knee walkers are more stable than crutches, users need to take care not to lean too far to the front, back, or side.
- Price: Knee walkers are more expensive than crutches. Knee walkers start around $100 for a basic model and top out around $300 for the deluxe models.
Crutches: The Good
- Faster: With a little practice, people with moderate upper body strength may be able to get around quicker with crutches.
- Cheaper: You can pick up a pair of crutches starting at around $20 or rent them from a medical supplier.
- Portability: Crutches are generally easier to transport than a knee scooter.
Crutches: The Not-So-Good
- Learning curve: One of the downsides to using crutches is that they take some getting used to if you want to be able to maneuver around with ease.
- Soreness and irritation: When using crutches, the bulk of your weight rests on your underarms. With repeated use, the armpits can become irritated and sore.
- Body strain: Using crutches places irregular stress on the shoulders, wrists, and lower back. Crutch users may also find that their wrists, arms, and hands become sore or tired.
- Unable to use hands: Both hands are occupied when using crutches, making it difficult to pick things up and carry them around. Another inconvenience is the fact that there’s no easy way to prop them up against something when they are not in use, so they always seem to be falling over.
- Safety: Crutches are particularly difficult for people with less than perfect balance. They can be unsteady, especially when using them on uneven ground. Getting upstairs using crutches is doable, but it’s a little tricky.
- Convenience: Crutches can be difficult to squeeze through doorways.
How to Use a Knee Walker
Using on a knee walker is fairly simple, but here are a few pointers to help first-timers:
- Adjust the leg rest so that the injured leg sits with a 90-degree bend at the knee.
- Adjust the handlebars so that they are about waist-height.
- To move the walker forward, keep both hands on the handlebars at all times.
- Push gently with the straight leg and move the walker forward.
- Try to rest the full weight of the injured leg on the cushion. Avoid leaning forward or backwards, which could cause the walker to become unstable.
- Move slowly when operating the walker on uneven surfaces or navigating doorways.
- When going through doorways, try to orient the walker so that it enters the doorway as straight as possible. This minimizes instability and reduces the chance of an accident.
Types of Knee Walkers
Patients with knee, foot, or leg injuries now have the choice of three basic styles of knee walkers. These walkers are all of good quality. The choice of knee walker really comes down to the preference of the user.
Basic (economy) knee walker
The simplest and most affordable walker style has wheels at the base of the unit and has a cushioned pad to rest the knee on. It has handlebars that allow the user to lift up the walker to change direction.
The basic style of knee scooter doesn’t have a steering mechanism, so when users want to turn or change direction they must raise the front of the walker, turn it, and set it back down. It can take several repetitions of this process to turn a corner, which can make movement cumbersome in certain situations.
Steerable knee walker
Steerable knee walkers are the most popular style of knee walker. Most of the knee walkers you see for sale online will be the steerable variety.
As the name implies, this style of walker has a simple steering mechanism. This allows the user to easily maneuver the walker without needing to lift the entire device.
Most steerable knee walkers also have a hand brake that is similar to what you might find on a bicycle. This makes it easier to stop and keeps the walker still while stopped.
Many come with basket on the front of the walker, making it easier to tote items around when hands are busy with the handlebars.
Like the basic knee walker, steerable walkers have a cushioned leg rest for comfort.
Seated knee walker
The newest style of knee walker is a seated walker.
The basic design is similar to the other versions, but instead of standing the user sits on a cushioned seat and extends the injured leg forward, resting it on a bar in the front of the walker. The uninjured leg is used to push the user.
Seated knee walkers are ideal for patients will find this model more comfortable than other models.
Most seated knee walkers are steerable and include features like hand brakes and a basket.
All Terrain Knee Walkers
These rugged scooters have features like rear shock absorbers, heavy-duty aluminum frames, and large pneumatic (air-filled) tires.
These knee walkers also tend to have higher weight capacity than standard styles. For example, the KneeRover PRO (above) can support up to 400 pounds.
While all terrain knee walkers are ideal for heavy use, they tend to be heavier and more expensive than other models.
Pay Attention to Weight Capacity
Be sure to check the weight rating before purchasing a knee scooter. Most walkers have a weight capacity of 300 pounds, but it is vital that you take the time to verify that your new walker will support you. Failure to do so could lead to a dangerous collapse or other accident.
Overweight users may need to look for a heavy duty walker with a higher capacity. The above-mentioned KneeRover PRO is one option, but other products like the Essential Free Spirit or NOVA Heavy Walker are also worth a look.
Very obese patients may not be able to use a knee walker and should consider other options, such as a specially designed bariatric wheelchair.
Will Insurance Pay for Knee Walkers?
Since the implementation of Obamacare, there is a greater variance in health insurance plans than ever before. Unfortunately, this means that the only way to know for sure if your health insurance plan will cover a walker is to contact your provider and ask.
It can be helpful to obtain a prescription from a medical professional stating that a knee walker is medically necessary, so don’t hesitate to speak with your doctor about this.
Some Medicare and Medicaid plans, or a combination of both, will cover the cost of a knee walker. Again, the best thing to do is contact your provider and speak directly to a representative. As a starting point, the Medicare website has a downloadable publication explaining what sort of equipment is covered by their program.
Every state’s Medicaid plan is different, but many of them will pay up to 20% for mobility assistance devices. Use this link to find your state’s Medicaid agency.
History of the Knee Walker
Although primitive versions of a knee walker were depicted in ancient drawings, the first modern knee walker was invented in 1993 by Dr. Michael Reid in the U.K.
Dr. Reid invented the modern version of the knee walker after he broke his foot. Dr. Reid claimed that the knee walker could be steered with the knee and could be used as a footrest or chair when not being used.
Dr. Ried’s invention is known as the K9 Orthopaedic Leg Trolley and is still available for purchase today (if you live in the U.K.). Since then, the manufacturers of knee walkers have made different versions and improvements of knee walkers.