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What are the differences between walking frames, wheeled walkers, Zimmer frames, and rollators?

There are loads of mobility aids available if you’re needing a little help with walking. Walking frames and wheeled walkers, Zimmers and rollators – they could all be of use!

But what’s the difference between walking frames, wheeled walkers, Zimmer frames, and rollators? And which one suits your needs?

Walking Frames

Walking frames offer support for people when they’re walking around both indoors and outdoors. They provide stability and balance to those who are a little less steady on their feet.

Designs come with three or four legs (depending on how much stability or assistance you need). There are rubber ferrules attached at the bottom of each leg to give you some grip on the ground and hold the frame in place.

Generally, walking frames are used by people who may be recovering from an injury. Or if someone is having some difficulties with balance when staying mobile.

When using a walking frame, 64% of the user’s weight is transferred through the arms. This makes them a lot more stable/ comfortable than crutches.

A few additional benefits:

  • Walking frames are easy to use
  • They can fit into smaller areas, such as public transport, car boot and/or the corner of smaller homes, when not in use.

Walking frames with wheels

If you’re finding it too difficult to move your standard walking frame, it is possible to get one fitted with wheels which makes it easier to move. With a two-wheeled walking frame, the wheels are fitted to the front legs whilst the back two legs have the same rubber ferrules.

This means that you only need to tilt the frame forward and lift the back two legs to be able to move around. This is ideal for using around the house.

Zimmer Frames

There isn’t any difference between walking frames and Zimmer frames. Zimmer is a brand of walking frame – a bit like the Hoover is a brand of vacuum cleaner.

However, the reason Zimmer frames are so popular is because they are very light weight and the frame is adjustable.

The non-wheeled version is more stable than a narrower, wheeled Zimmer frame. Although they are potentially harder to manoeuvre around the home.

The user of the Zimmer frame will have to have reasonable strength in their arms, as the frame needs to be lifted every time they step forward.

Wheeled Walkers

Wheeled walkers are fitted with 4-wheels. They come in lots of different configurations and provide stability whilst still being easy to move.

If the individual has trouble with balance, a wheeled walker may not be the best option. The wheels could increase their risk of a trip or fall.

However, if balance isn’t such an issue, and the wheeled walker is just used for aiding to walking, wheeled walkers are the way to go.

The wheeled walker requires less arm strength, and they can also partially support body weight and balance.

A few additional benefits:

  • 4-wheeled walkers can also be used as a temporary seat for people who need regular breaks.
  • Many also have storage, so can be used as a carrier for shopping etc.

Rollators

In terms of the differences between wheeled walkers and rollators, they’re actually pretty much the same thing. A rollator refers to a 3-wheeled or 4-wheeled walking aid.

Rollators should not be used to actively support body weight, as they are liable to slipping out from under the individual if too much weight is unnecessarily put onto the frame.  However, they do sport hand-operated breaks if the user needs to use these.

Rollators can be used indoors, and outdoors and the walker can offer comfort for individuals suffering from illnesses such as arthritis, including mid and lower back pain.

Walking frames and Zimmer frames vs. wheeled walkers and rollators

We’ve already explained that a Zimmer frame is just a particular make of walking frame. And that rollators are just a class of wheeled walkers that sometimes have 3-wheels instead of 4…

But what about walking frames vs. wheeled walkers? The terminology is quite similar, but there are a couple of key differences between wheeled walkers and walking frames.

For people with balance problems, a walking frame is recommended for stability. However, we wouldn’t advise using a walking frame to travel longer distances. They are best for indoor use and short outdoor journeys e.g. around the garden.

A wheeled walker can be used for longer trips out, providing user has good enough balance!

Walking frames and wheeled walkers side by side.

Walking frames and wheeled walkers are very different and are suited to people of varying abilities.

Wheeled walkers and rollators also tend to have large tyres rather than the smaller, moulded wheels you’d see on a walking frame. Larger wheels are easier to manoeuvre, have better grip, and do better with outdoor use (which is mostly where you’d use a rollator).

They’re available in three-wheeled and four-wheeled models and they are a bit smaller than walking frames.

Brakes is another key difference. Wheeled walkers and rollators are fitted with brakes. Walking frames are not. That’s because the former has wheels on each leg. They need brakes to ensure it stays steady and stationary when you need it to!

A brake lever on a wheeled walker.

Wheeled walkers are fitted with brakes so that you can lock the walker in place when you’re wanting to stay stationary.

 

  Walking Frame Wheeled Walker Zimmer Frames Rollators
Wheels Not usually Yes Not usually Yes
Foldable Yes Yes Yes Yes
Breaks No Yes No Yes
Seat No Yes No Yes
Indoor Yes Yes Yes Yes
Outdoor Yes (short distances) Yes Yes (short distances) Yes

Summary

Walking frames and wheeled walkers offer different levels of support and mobility to people who have varying needs. If you need help staying upright when walking around then a walking frame would be a good option; but if you’re steadier on your feet and wanting something that will help you carry your shopping around town, then a wheeled walker is the better option.

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Comments

  1. Eliza bond says:

    Please tell me should the front legs with wheels be the same height as the back legs without wheels???

    1. Leanne Godfrey says:

      Hello Eliza,

      Thank you for your comment.

      Yes, the front legs with the wheels are the same length as the back legs on a wheeled walker.

      I hope that helps! Any further questions, please do get in touch.

      Kind Regards,

      Leanne

  2. Veena says:

    What is the best aid for an elderly person who has balance issues but is otherwise active and can walk longer distance?

    Thank you

    1. Leanne Godfrey says:

      Hello Veena,

      Thank you for your comment.

      It’s hard to say which aid is best for a specific individual without hearing more about their circumstances.

      From the options included in this blog post, a wheeled walker is typically the best choice for someone who still walks longer distances.
      However, depending on how severe their balance issues are, they may get enough support just by using a walking stick.

      If you’d like to speak to one of our mobility specialists, please feel free to give us a call. We’re available Monday to Friday, 8.30am to 4.30pm on 01423 799960. Someone will be more than happy to offer advice.

      Kind Regards,

      Leanne

  3. Lynne franks says:

    I am currently having balance issues I’ve been using crutches but finding it hard to walk when I get into open spaces so I was wondering if a frame with wheels would be suitable. I have a large body frame..

    1. Tristan Hulbert says:

      Hello Lynne

      Many thanks for your comment. Walking aids such as wheeled walkers do give a lot of support which is evenly distributed across both sides, which can sometimes make it easier than using crutches.

      If you want to discuss things through further, please feel free to give our team a call on 01423 799960 – they will be able to talk through what you are looking for and maybe provide some advice on what products might be most suitable for you.

      Many thanks!
      Tristan

  4. Richard Stratford says:

    mother is ninety years old, falls continually when out, am looking for a “walking frame with wheels, brakes and basket”

    to purchase or rent, lives in Gloucestershire

    can you help or recommend anyone pls?

    1. Tristan Hulbert says:

      Thanks for your enquiry Richard!

      I will ask one of the team to get in touch

      Kind regards
      Tristan

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