Do You Need to Use a Walker or a Wheelchair? Here’s How to Know

Walkers and wheelchairs are vital to many people, especially with the growing number of elderly. Whether as a long-term measure or temporary solution, they are used for many problems, especially those that impact mobility. However, the decision to utilize a walker or wheelchair in your day-to-day life can be a difficult one to make.

Chronic pain and shortness of breath are both major signs you might need help with mobility. Additionally, growing tired after minor exertion, not healing quickly after an injury, and needing temporary assistance during physical therapy can point towards a need for a walker or wheelchair.

While a doctor can always advise you on whether you need to use a walker or wheelchair, it is important to understand some of the reasons yourself. Today, you will learn more about walkers and wheelchairs and when you may need to use one.

Common Uses for a Walker

Walkers are typically prescribed for people who need just a little extra assistance than what a cane would give them. When used properly, walkers can alleviate pressure from the legs and provide stability for those recently injured or managing an ailment that affects their mobility.

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  • Balance and Carrying Assistance: If you have a balance disorder like vertigo, using a walker can help assuage your fears of falling, especially if you have fallen in the past. Walkers can also provide an additional surface to carry your belongings on, freeing up your hands, and thus providing stability.
  • Arthritis: Being on your feet all day can be a nightmare for those who suffer from arthritis. The addition of a walker allows the user to continue with their daily activities while also giving them a tool that allows them to rest easily when needed.
  • Promotes an Independent Lifestyle: Some people who experience chronic pain or limited mobility can find themselves becoming more sheltered and unable to do the things they used to enjoy. Using a walker can help a person be more independent and partake in the activities they want to do.

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When to Transition to a Wheelchair

If a walker does not help as much as you need, it may be time to transition to a wheelchair, either part-time or full time.

You may find a wheelchair more helpful if:

  • Walking, even with a walker, causes excessive pain
  • You have developed an abrupt change in mobility
  • You are still falling or fearful of falling even with a walker
  • You want to avoid injury and strain to your upper body
  • You find it difficult to move for longer periods of time with a walker

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Are You Qualified for a Walker or Wheelchair?

A doctor can ascertain your need for a walker or a wheelchair, but you will also need to qualify for one for it to be prescribed.

To qualify for a walker, it must be deemed medically necessary, you must meet the requirements dictated by your insurance or Medicare, and you should have a valid diagnosis from your doctor.

Wheelchair qualifications typically follow the same guidelines and require a written explanation from your doctor on why a cane or walker will not suffice.

A Few Walker and Wheelchair Difficulties

For first-time users, operating in a world that is not always friendly to the differently-abled can be overwhelming. While challenging, these obstacles should not deter you from living your best life with the help of an assistive tool like a walker or wheelchair. Consider these things:

  • Location and Environment: Sloping hills, uneven terrain, and even older buildings with smaller door frames can be a challenge to navigate for walker and wheelchair users. Your home may not be built for easy accessibility when using your walker, and learning to move around with ease can be a learning curve.
  • Overall Body Strength: Some users who utilize a walker find that they simply do not have the upper body strength needed to stay mobile for very long. If you plan on using a walker for an extended period of time, you will need to be patient as you build up your strength.
  • Inaccessible Spaces: Although the world has become largely more considerate to those using walkers or wheelchairs, there are still some improvements to be made. Some places may lack ramps and elevators, and some modes of transport may not be accommodating.

Additional Injury or Strain

Wheelchair and walker users should also be aware of the strain they are putting on other parts of their bodies. 

Walkers may provide balance and added mobility, but stay vigilant on your body’s response to moving in this new way. If your arms are getting sore or becoming bruised, take breaks often as you adjust to things, or implement better pads on your walker. 

Wheelchair users can suffer from pressure sores from sitting in one position for too long. Make sure you sit on a comfortable cushion and adjust your sitting position often to avoid the risk of developing sores. 

Another issue wheelchair users may face if using a manual wheelchair is hygiene. Your hands get dirty and fatigued from pushing yourself around all day. Maintaining hygiene can be especially challenging if you do not have access to soap and water for extended periods of time. Wearing gloves or carrying wet wipes can help with this.

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Part-Time vs. Full-Time Wheelchair and Walker Use

Depending on the severity of your ailment, you may only need to use these tools on a part-time basis. 

A part-time user may use a walker or wheelchair in certain situations, such as:

  • For support, while they heal from a surgery
  • When their ailment is treatable, but they need assistance with mobility
  • When their fatigue is only detrimental sometimes 

Full-time assistance might be needed if you can relate to any of the following:

  • Your mobility is greatly limited
  • Your chronic pain gives you more down days than up
  • You have a chronic condition that does not allow you to move freely on your own

Should You Get a Manual or Electric Wheelchair?

Both manual and electric wheelchairs have their benefits and shortcomings, so you will need to decide which is best for your needs.

While a manual wheelchair is typically smaller, and therefore easier to handle, you will need to build up some upper body strength before you can maneuver with ease, and you may be deterred by the extra gear you will need, such as pushing gloves and wheel covers to prevent excess debris. Some top benefits of a manual wheelchair include:

  • Fewer parts overall, so repair and maintenance are easier on the wallet
  • Easier to transport due to smaller frame and collapsible models
  • You do not need to charge them, so they are ready for use at all times

On the other hand, electric wheelchairs may provide ease of use and less strain on your hands and arms, but they can be cumbersome to transport and do not always allow for as much mobility as you would like. Electric wheelchairs can provide benefits such as:

  • Decreased discomfort and pain due to the ability to shift your position and weight more often
  • They do all the work and can navigate inclines with relative ease
  • Sturdier machines, and can prevent injury with an electronic brake system


While figuring out whether you need a walker or wheelchair is dependent on your individual situation, there are certain things to look out for. If you are experiencing any of the above signs that you may need help with mobility, consult a doctor to find out more about your situation and what would work best for you.


Steven Abbey

Steven Abbey is a author for Senior Living Headquarters and owns a home in a retirement community. His wife owns a successful family business that has served tens of thousands of people. He also has a electrical technician degree.

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