Walking sticks and crutches
A walking stick might be just what you need to give you a little bit of help and improve your confidence. There is a larger choice than you might think.
You can get walking sticks made of wood, metal and carbon fibre.
They come plain or in a variety of colours and patterns.
You can also get sticks that fold up to fit in a carrying case or handbag and some are adjustable so getting a stick of the right length is easy.
What type of handle?
There's a wide variety of styles. Try any stick you are thinking about to make sure it is comfortable to hold.
The main types are:
Gives good grip and
The hook is useful for hanging up the stick.
Shaped to fit your hand closely so the pressure is spread across your palm. Good if you have very stiff or painful hands or find it hard to grip. Left and right-hand handles are different.
Swan neck handle
Can make the stick feel more balanced.
Three and four footed sticks
You can get sticks with three or four feet at the bottom which helps keep them steady. These sticks can be quite tricky to use safely, specially on uneven surfaces or stairs. You should not get one of these sticks without taking advice from a professional.
The most usual type of crutch is the elbow crutch, which has a cuff around your lower arm to keep it steady.
You usually bear your weight on your hands, though if this is difficult for you, your therapist may recommend crutches which support your whole forearm.
Crutches can be tiring to use so most people combine them with a wheelchair or scooter.
Crutches are usually adjustable. The top part, between the handle and the elbow cuff, is sometimes adjustable too. You need to make sure this part fits.
You should always get professional advice before choosing crutches.
Tips on using sticks and crutches
If you are using one stick, it goes on the same side as the stronger leg and moves when the weaker leg does. If you are using two sticks or crutches you either move them both together with the weaker leg or move them in turn together with the opposite leg. You should take advice about this, and you may have to practise to get it right.
If there is a handrail, hold on to it. Use your stick in the other hand. If there is no handrail, the stick goes on the same side as the weaker leg. Lead with your stronger leg when going up and your weaker leg when going down. If you use two sticks, you should talk to your physiotherapist about managing stairs.
Make sure it fits
It is important your sticks or crutches are the right length or they could make walking more difficult and painful. Non-adjustable sticks may need to be cut to size.
The handle should be level with your wrist bone when you are standing in your natural upright position with your arms straight down. The wrist bone is the hard lump that sticks out on the same side as the little finger.
Check the ferrule
Sticks and crutches have rubber feet, called ferrules, which keep them from slipping. Check these regularly for wear and replace them if necessary. Replacements are easy to buy and fit. You can also get special ferrules that give added grip or stability.
Check for wear
Adjustable sticks and crutches can become worn around the joins, and this can be dangerous if you don't notice in time. Check regularly. If the join is very worn, replace the stick.
Clicks and rattles
Folding sticks and adjustable sticks and crutches sometimes click or rattle as you walk with them because the sections don't fit together very well. This can be annoying, and it can also make the joins wear out more quickly. Check this out before you buy.