How to Choose a Stair Rail for Limited Mobility

Chad Birt

Written by Chad Birt on Tue May 16 2023.

Couple in their home.

Despite the challenges of getting older, most Americans say they want to age in place. AARP’s Home and Community Preferences Survey found that 77% of people 50 and older “want to remain in their homes for the long term.” 

Understandably, many people prefer to stay in a place where they’re familiar. But as you age, routine activities like going up and down stairs, getting in and out of the shower, or walking to the mailbox can present potential risks. If you live in a home with more than one floor and have limited mobility, installing a railing (or railings) can make things easier. 

In this article, we discuss how railings can improve home safety for people with limited mobility and highlight what to consider before buying your own railing.

Railings and Home Safety

Railings are like canes and walkers, providing something to lean on and helping reduce the risk of slips and falls. 

“Stair rails allow individuals to distribute weight to their arms instead of relying solely on their legs,” said Melanie Musson, an experienced caregiver for people with limited mobility and a home safety expert at “Railings also provide stability if you feel shaky or off-balance.”

While most stairs already have a railing on one side, installing a railing on both sides of the staircase may be helpful for those with limited mobility. “If a user favors one side of their body, having a stair rail on both sides makes it possible for them to use their strong side when going up and coming down,” said Musson. 

Things to Consider Before Installing Stair Rails

If you’re thinking about upgrading your current stair railings or installing a second rail on the opposite side, consider the following factors:


A stair railing should align with the user’s height. “There are industry standards, but those standards are based on averages,” Musson said. “A railing specialist can visit your home, take height-specific measurements and then position and install the railing so it’s most beneficial for you or your loved one.”


Not all railings have ergonomic designs or a design that provides comfort or ease of use. Therefore, choosing a railing that will help prevent falls is important. 

“A wide, flat stair rail is hard to get a grip on because it doesn’t fit the natural contours of your hand,” explained Munson.  “A rounded stair rail two and a half inches wide, on the other hand, provides a better, more natural fit.”


Stair railings are made from various materials, including plastic, metal, and wood. Though the material is mainly an aesthetic choice, metal and plastic have certain advantages. Handrail grip tape tends to adhere to these materials better than wood. 

Self Versus Professional Installation

It depends on your comfort level. If you have a background in construction or architecture and feel confident in your skills, you can save some money doing it yourself. 

That said, installing a railing requires precision and expertise. “Your railing needs to be able to hold the full weight of the user at every point,” reiterates Musson. “A professional can ensure it’s adequately anchored to achieve maximum safety and reduce the risk of injury.” 

Added Safety Features

There are several additions that can be added to a railing to improve user safety, including:


It’s best to avoid going up and down stairs at night, but sometimes it can’t be helped. Rail or baseboard lighting is an easy way to illuminate each step so you can avoid accidents.

“One thing that’s nice about baseboard lighting is that you can keep it on all the time, even when overhead lights are off,” highlighted Musson. 

Rail grip tape

Some railings are slippery and hard to hold onto. Wrapping rail grip tape around the railing at strategic points can help you make it up and down the stairs without losing your grip. 

Rail reflectors

If you’re on a fixed income, installing rail or baseboard lights may not be an option. However, adhesive rail reflectors are an affordable alternative that can make it easier to go up and down the stairs in the dark. 


Stair rails can make it much easier to age in place if your home has more than one floor. Although most stairs already have railings, certain conditions, like arthritis and multiple sclerosis, can make going up stairs or gripping onto wide banisters harder. 

Installing a second railing on the opposite side of the stairs can make a big difference. When shopping for railings, remember to consider things like height, material, and ergonomics. Once you make a purchase, we recommend hiring an expert to install it to ensure the perfect fit.

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Chad Birt
Chad Birt

Chad Birt is a freelance medical writer who resides in Astoria, Oregon. When he isn't behind a keyboard, you can find him hiking, camping, or birdwatching with his wife Ella and their two dogs, Diane and Thoreau.