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April 23, 2007 12:03 AM

Broken: Walker feet

WalkerFrom Kazanjy's Flickr photostream:

A lady in downtown Palo Alto, California let me take a picture of her walker legs.  This picture exemplifies one of the failings of a common user hack to make walkers actually work: tennis balls over the feet.

The problem is that tennis balls are made of low impact rubber, which doesn't perform well under the duty cycle of scraping along pavement all day.

Someone should design a walker properly so that the user doesn't need to modify its feet.


I can imagine the tennis balls as an extra layer to be worn down, but I always thought they were for higher visibility, so other people are less apt to accidentally kick them, and so that if the user accidentally puts them on someone's foot, the force is dispersed a bit.

Posted by: klew at April 23, 2007 12:16 AM

My grandmother's walker had that hack done to it. It was to make it easier to slide without having to actually pick it up. The rubber feet that are standard on those don't slide well at all, so the walker must be picked up slightly to get it to move. The tennis balls give it less friction, allowing the user to push it along without picking it up, but still they still provide enough friction to allow it to support the user without moving when their full weight is on it. I figure a good solution would be wheels with some sort of friction lock that stops them when the users full weight is on it, but allows it to move more easily as less weight is applied.

Posted by: bkofford at April 23, 2007 12:50 AM

It does make them easier to slide (mentioned) and the basic rubber feet wear out, are harder to replace than tennis balls, are not as visible (mentioned) and get caught on carpet edges that the curve of the tennis ball slides over.

A far more serious problem with these style walkers is that they promote stooping over and that exacerbates the problems users already have.

I looked at a few sites and found that the bottom crossbar has been eliminated - the one people would hit so they would position the walker further in front of them, stoop over . . .

Posted by: Marketing Canapes at April 23, 2007 01:12 AM

All the walkers I see in Australia these days have wheels, with brakes connected to both handles.

Posted by: TRS-80 at April 23, 2007 05:19 AM

I suspect that it's a liability issue. To make the walker slide well enough probably poses a risk of it sliding out from under them.

Posted by: Loren at April 23, 2007 10:14 AM

Loren. As TRS_80 said, the wheels have brakes. Although I doubt you would be able to respond fast enough after having your walker go flying away from you.

Posted by: Narcissus at April 23, 2007 11:30 AM

Oh you weren't talking about wheels, sorry.

Posted by: Narcissus at April 23, 2007 11:31 AM

The aids TRS-80 refers to are not walkers. They're called rollators, and come in 3- and 4-wheeled varieties and different braking options. The lady is this picture could use a consult with a medical supplier -- time for an upgrade!

Posted by: ejvalentine at April 23, 2007 11:59 AM

No matter how you look at it, these tennis balls need replacing. They, like the regular feet on walkers, will need replacing more when used outside on pavement, than they will inside on smooth floor and carpets. As far as changing the feet on all walkers to behave more like the tennis ball hack... that would likely just cause the medical supply houses to start selling 2 packs of tennis balls with holes in them, and charge you 4 times more than the cost of tennis balls for the privelege(?sp)!

Posted by: Tim at May 9, 2007 02:39 AM

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