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The History Of The Zimmer (or Walking) Frame

Posted by Jan Payne on June 29, 2020

A few Zimmer (walking) frames available for sale on the Ability Superstore website. Also showing are some accessories such as the Buckingham Caddy

It’s not an easy thing to admit that you need help walking. If you are recovering from an injury, or are just a little unsteady on your feet, a walking aid can make the world of difference.

A walking frame is a mobility aid for people who just need a little bit more stability. There are walking frames (often called Zimmer frames), Tri walkers (often called three-wheeled walkers) and Rollators (or, four-wheeled walkers).

People tend to think of a Zimmer, or walking frame, as an item often seen in care homes and in hospitals. They are frequently used in news items on TV to depict an elderly person who may be unsteady on their feet and need a little extra support.

However, walking frames are used by many different people, including children. They are particularly useful when recovering from an operation and walking has become slightly more difficult, as the muscles in the body start to heal.

The Zimmer, or walking frame, has been around for a long time. The Burrell Collection in Glasgow, (a museum which houses over 8,000 fascinating artefacts and objects from Sir Willian Burrell and his wife Lady Constance since 1944), includes an embroidered priest's vestment. This ceremonial robe shows a figure leaning to walk with a three-wheeled walking frame, (in today's terminology, a Tri walker).

In a famous painting by the artist Hieronymus Bosch (1450-1516) called – Triptych of the Temptation of St. Anthony (painted around 1501) – there is an illustration of a man walking, enclosed within a frame with four wheels (today we would call this a wheeled-walked, or Rollator). The painting currently hangs in the Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga in Lisbon, Portugal.

Incredibly, walking frames go back even further, with the oldest known representation of one being a 1st or 2nd century Egyptian terracotta figurine, currently on display at the British Museum in London.

The walking frame, as we know it today, was invented in the UK by William Cribbes Robb of Stretford in the late 1940s. The frame design used to help people to walk was taken and improved on by an American company called Zimmer Holdings, based in Indiana, USA. This company had been making walking frames and orthopaedic products for several years. Zimmer Holdings was originally founded to produce aluminium splints, so the progression to walking frames was natural.

Zimmer Holdings took William Cribbes Robb’s design. They fitted two small wheels to the two front legs, making it easier for many people to use. When walking frames are equipped with two front wheels, they become wheeled-walkers rather than Zimmer frames; (complicated, I know!)

There have been two other patents for walking frames, both by Americans – a non-wheeled frame by Elmer F Ries in 1965 and a wheeled frame by Alfred A Smith in 1970.

Over the years, the word “Zimmer” has become interchangeable with the word “walking” however, “Zimmer frame” is one of the most searched products in Google in 2020.

The walking frame provides independence to many. Some care homes have tried to liven up the dull-looking grey NHS style frame by running “pimp your walking frame” competitions!

This ingenious, yet simple mobility aid, can also be accessorised with items like the Buckingham Caddy; glide skis; walking frame apron bag, to name just a few. We will cover the additional items available to make a Zimmer frame even more useful in a different news article.

It’s also important that a walking frame is used correctly and we will also cover that topic in a separate news article.

It’s often the simple items in life which work the best, and that is certainly true for the walking frame in the world of mobility products.