Saturday, 3 January 2009

Senior Safety - How to Safely Climb Stairs When One Leg is Weak

Climbing stairs can be a challenge if you have had an injury or one leg is weaker. Here are a few safety pointers. I am assuming that you are able to bear full weight on both legs.

General stair safety; good ideas for all stairways:

  • Clearly mark the top and bottom step with contrasting paint or tape.
  • Have a stable railing installed on both sides if possible.
  • Keep pathways and steps clear of obstacles.
  • Have adequate lighting so that each step can be clearly seen.


Hold on to the railing and step up with the strongest leg first, and then bring the weaker leg up to the same step. An easy way to remember the sequence is "up" symbolizes "good" as in "thumbs up" or heaven; good legs go up first. If you use a cane, it should be held in the hand opposite the weaker leg and should be advanced simultaneously with the weaker leg. The railing should be used with the other hand to add stability. If there is only one railing, use it even if it is on the side that you would normally use your cane because it is more stable than a cane. If this technique is too difficult for you, try standing sideways facing the railing so that the stronger leg is on the "up" side. Hold on to the railing with both hands and slowly climb the stairs sideways, one step at a time.


Hold on to the railing and step down first with the weaker leg, and then bring the stronger leg down to the same step. Again, an easy way to remember the process is "up with the good leg and down with the bad." This way, the stronger leg is doing the work of supporting the body weight as you descend. As above, when using a cane, it should be held in the hand opposite the weaker leg and advanced simultaneously with the weaker leg. If this technique is too difficult, try the sideways descent, holding on to the railing with both hands, with the weaker leg on the down side.

If the weakness or injury is a short-lived problem, the above instructions may be enough to keep you safe on the stairs. If stair climbing continues to be a serious safety issue for you or your senior loved ones, and it is necessary to use stairs to stay in your home, another option is to install a stair lift. This device will automatically lift you up or down the stairs while you sit in a chair. A stair lift may actually be a less expensive option than modifying the downstairs or renting or buying a hospital bed for a downstairs living area.

In any event, safety is the primary concern; I hope these stair climbing instructions will help you stay safe and independent in your home.

Ronna Sather is a licensed physical therapist with over 30 years of professional experience, assisting and guiding thousands of families dealing with the safety and independence of elderly loved ones at home. You can visit her website at to find more articles, resources and products which promote senior safety and make life easier in the home environment.

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