In the last four or five years, the number of new knee walkers and knee scooters available to patients has grown tremendously — to the point that there is now an overabundance of choice.
Helping patients recover comfortable has become not just a matter of getting them a mobility device quickly, but even helping them find the right knee walker from among the available selection.
To find out which was the best knee walker, eKneewalker President Dan Hanley did what any reasonable person would do: He rented every knee walker he could find from manufacturers across the US, took them home, and tested them out one by one.
Sorry to spoil the story’s ending, but this is how he arrived at the Ramm TLC Pathfinder as eKneewalker’s rental model. After conducting his own experiments, Dan felt the Pathfinder was the best knee walker for keeping patients off their non-weight-bearing foot and the one doctors could confidently refer.
But what Dan discovered in his own knee walker trials was illuminating, and we thought it would be helpful if we shared those findings for anyone shopping for a knee walker or preparing for foot/ankle surgery.
First, though, let’s dial this all the way back to the question of knee walkers versus crutches.
Knee Walkers or Crutches?
“Just try to stand up and put one leg in the air, at any angle, and hold it there for a minute,” Dan recalls from his own experience imagining he had a foot that couldn’t bear weight. “Just feel the effect it has on the rest of your body, even without a cast or a boot.”
Most people will find this uncomfortable. Now, just imagine supporting yourself with crutches pressed up under your underarms, hands gripping the handles tightly. The strain on your neck muscles, your back muscles, your arms and hands starts to get painful quickly, and as long as you’re bound by crutches for your mobility, you don’t really have the option to rest those muscles.
Most people find this unbearable for four weeks, eight weeks, 12 weeks, however long their non-weight-bearing period is.
Sure, a wheelchair is an alternative, but wheelchairs make so many daily tasks difficult: Even brushing your teeth over the sink or reaching in the refrigerator is a challenge.
OK, back to your one-legged stance. Imagine, instead, a comfortable support that meets your lifted leg at knee height. No straining, no reliance on your arms for balance.
This was the first revelation Dan experienced when using the knee walkers.
“I could tell when I would still need crutches — getting in and out of the bathroom, going up and down stairs,” Dan recalls. “You can’t use a knee walker for everything, but a knee walker does make your life a lot easier.”
The Knee Walkers: Weighing the Different Options
Usability and portability emerged as the key differentiating factors between decent knee walkers and the best knee walkers.
“Some of the knee walkers had an extremely wide wheelbase, which doesn’t make sense when people are trying to get through their house,” Dan discovered. “I needed a wheelbase that was wide enough where the knee walker was safe and it was going to keep me upright, but at the same time I wanted something steerable and functional.”
Dan said the bulker options were like resting your leg on an office chair and trying to move around. For optimum mobility, he found the knee scooters with a handlebar for steering plus brakes were the best.
Next came the issue of portability, or whether Dan could easily pack up the knee walker and go wherever he needed to be.
“You’re going to work or you’re taking the train or you’re getting in your car,” he found. “So, the knee walker needs to be collapsable.”
Do Doctors and Patients Find It Useful?
Finally, one last issue for Dan personally arose: Could he get a physician to give his choice for the best knee walker a thumbs up?
This is where Dan’s background in medical sales came into play. He talked to surgeons he knew, showed them the Pathfinder knee walker and asked whether it was something they could comfortably recommend their patients.
Yes, they said, the could. For doctors, knee walkers make a lot of sense.
“The surgeons are putting in all this work to make sure their patients are aligned correctly, that they’re getting optimum results, and part of those results is making sure their patients are not weight-bearing,” he says.
Ideally, doctors and patients are working together to achieve the same goal — health — but it can be tempting to cut corners around doctors’ orders. Say at Week 7 the crutches-only patient feels strong enough to hop over from the couch to the fridge, only to put weight on the recovering foot prematurely, causing a setback in his recovery.
Doctors want to avoid situations like these, so they are keen to offer their patients anything that will allow the patient to keep weight off the non-weight-bearing leg for the entire recovery period. That means whatever is good for the doctor should be good for the patient.
“The doctor wants to give you the best chance possible to heal and get on with your life after six weeks, eight weeks, however long you have,” Dan says. “So, following the doctor’s orders and having a realistic expectation of ‘I have to do this, otherwise something could go wrong,’ is there.
“Nobody, after their recovery is done, wants to do it again.”