How to Use A Knee Walker on Stairs: The Complete Guide


Mobility while recovering from an injury or surgery below the knee can be tricky. You need to keep weight off the recovering parts to reduce pain and the risk of reinjury. A popular option that has been found to greatly increase mobility is the knee walker, sometimes called a knee scooter. However, there is one great obstacle if you use one: stairs.

You should not attempt to negotiate stairs while using a knee walker. The goal of using a knee walker is to increase mobility while decreasing pain and the chances of reinjury. Due to their cumbersome weight and wheels, knee walkers are unsafe to use on stairs, making the likeliness of reinjury high. 

However, if you find that a knee walker is the best option for your mobility needs and you live in a home with stairs, there are still options. Read on to learn the benefits of knee walkers as well as how to best negotiate stairs when using a knee walker (if you absolutely have to) to get around. 

Negotiating Stairs 

So, you need to get up some stairs, and you’ve committed yourself to using the knee walker to get around. As we’ve already said: you can’t use the knee walker to go up or downstairs. But that doesn’t mean you have to avoid stairs until you’ve recovered. From the cheap and straightforward to the complicated and expensive, here are a few ways to negotiate stairs.

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The Sit and Scoot

One option is to sit on the stairs and scoot up and down on your backside. While being the cheapest solution, it’s likely also the least dignified. And once you’ve reached the top of the stairs, how are you getting the knee walker up with you? One option is to have someone carry the knee walker for you.

If you don’t have anyone to carry the knee walker for you, you may have to pull it with you as you scoot up and down the stairs. This can become difficult as the scooters can be cumbersome. 

This is an option intended for use within the comforts of your own home. Another option to go with this is to have two knee walkers: one on the first floor and the other on the other floor.

Use the Knee Walker in Tandem with Other Mobility Devices

If sitting and scooting is not for you, you can also consider using another mobility device to get up the stairs. Once you get to the stairs, you switch to the other mobility device and make your way up or down. This assumes you have a sturdy handrail you can use a crutch to get up the stairs. If you don’t have a sturdy railing, you should have one installed. Click on the Amazon link to get the most current price.

Or, you could use an iWalk hands-free crutch with a handrail. The iWalk hands-free crutch is easier to use than a standard crutch, but with the time it takes to put on and take off, it might not be practical to use this way every time. Click the Amazon link below to get the most current price.

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 Also, you’re still left with the issue of how to get the knee walker up the stairs if you don’t have someone to assist you, but it is better than getting on the ground and scooting up. 

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Install A Ramp

If you have space and it’s only a small number of stairs, you can consider installing a ramp on your stairs. With this option, you will need to consider your strength and balance. Going up a ramp and maintaining your balance will be more strenuous than rolling over flat terrain. 

You won’t be able to use a handrail while taking your knee walker up a ramp because you will need both hands to steer. However, so long as you keep your balance on the knee walker itself and use your brakes to control your ascent/descent, this shouldn’t be a problem. 

This will likely be your best option if you have a small set of stairs leading into your home. So long as you can safely get in and out of your home, that leads us to the next option.

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Set Up Your Living Area on The Ground Floor

If you have the option, cut the stairs out as much as possible until you’ve recovered by setting up temporary living quarters on the ground floor. You may not have all of the comforts of your room, but you also won’t have to struggle up and down the stairs risking reinjury. 

Advantages and Disadvantages of Knee Walkers

There are multiple options for getting around while recovering from surgery or injury below the knee. One might ask, “If you shouldn’t use a knee walker to get upstairs, why not just use something else?” Here are some of the advantages and disadvantages of using a knee walker so you can decide for yourself:

AdvantagesDisadvantages
Keeps bodyweight off the injuryNot possible to use a knee walker to get upstairs
Keeps leg elevatedChallenging to use over terrain that isn’t flat
Easier to keep a decent walking pace (on certain surfaces)While it is easier to balance, users face a tipping risk if they lean too far in any direction
Access to both hands while not movingHands are occupied while moving 
Less strain on the upper body than with crutches/ require minimal upper body strengthTurning radius makes knee walkers difficult to use in narrow spaces.
More comfortable than crutchesMore expensive than crutches
Easier to balance
Able to stand upright
Reduces atrophy (to an extent)

The amount of atrophy prevented by using a knee walker is debatable, though. You are using both legs to maintain balance on the knee walker, but otherwise, your leg remains stationary. 

Consider an Alternative

While this is a guide to using a knee walker on stairs, it may be better to consider an alternative to the knee walker, such as the iWalk hands-free crutch. It combines the best of both crutches and knee walkers: 

  • Hands-free so that you can do more while still being compliant with the doctor’s orders
  • Keeps your leg in a non-weight bearing position and elevated
  • Less atrophy to your upper leg because you will be using all of your upper leg muscles to walk
  • Can be used to go up and down stairs (depending on how long your legs are, you may have to walk backward to get downstairs). You are using both legs to balance, and you have both hands free to use a handrail.
  • Not limited to flat and even ground like with a knee walker.

One potential disadvantage is that, unlike with a knee walker, you will have a much harder time finding the iWalk hands-free crutch to rent and will likely have to purchase one. However, the hands-free crutch is eligible for purchase with an HSA and an FSA; it may also be reimbursable by your insurance provider, depending upon your plan and coverage. 

Conclusion

The best advice for using a knee walker on stairs is not to do so at all. It’s dangerous and will likely lead to either new injury or reinjury. This goes for whether you are using a knee walker to recover after surgery or injury or if you’re using it to help get around during your daily activities. 

If the latter is the case, then it will be safer to walk up the stairs using the handrail than it would be to ever try and maneuver a knee walker up the stairs. Also, if you’re using a knee walker due to limited mobility rather than recovery, it would likely be better to have more than one option (walker and knee walker perhaps) as well as cutting as many stairs out of your life as possible.

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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