Your Guide to Canes, Walkers, and Wheelchairs

Mobility equipment may not be on your list of "must-have" fashion accessories, but using them can help relieve you of pain and give you more independence. You can use assistive devices to change your life in a very positive way.

Only a relatively small percentage of people who suffer from arthritis ultimately require the help of assistive devices and age is often, but not always, a factor. But no matter how old you are, if you're having a hard time walking even short distances, these aids are indispensable. Although you may feel that mobility devices signal "disability," the use of canes, walkers, wheelchairs, and electric scooters can actually help you feel less disabled.

Your doctor or physical therapist will most likely be the first to suggest using an assistive device to reduce pain and help you stay mobile. It's important to also get professional help in choosing the best cane, walker, or chair for your needs, and to get proper instruction on how to safely use your device so you don't fall or otherwise injure yourself. You must also take some time to practice using a walking aid properly to avoid getting hurt.

A cane is helpful if you have arthritis in your knees or hips. It improves your stability by providing balance and support, and reduces pain in your lower extremities. The wonderful thing about canes is that they come in many different styles-from plain, industrial-style metal to carved or colorfully painted wood-so you can actually view yours as something of a fashion accessory and choose accordingly. When you go for your fitting, be sure to wear the shoes you normally wear every day. If you have arthritis in your elbow, however, be sure to discuss this with your health provider, because a cane can add additional stress to that joint.

If you have arthritis in your knees or hips and need more support than a cane provides, a walker is better for distributing the weight on your joints and improving stability and balance. Just as when shopping for a cane, you should wear your normal, everyday shoes to your fitting for a walker. Your walker will be adjusted to fit the distance between your wrist and the floor and changes in heel height will affect this measurement. Also, as with a cane, a walker can put extra stress on elbows and may not be appropriate for anyone with arthritis in those joints.

Wheelchairs and Electric Scooters
While canes and walkers are used when walking unaided is too difficult, wheeled mobility devices become necessary when walking with the help of a cane or walker is still too much of a struggle. If you have any difficulty walking, with or without a walking aid, your health care provider will ask "How much trouble do you have?" or "Are you able to walk at all?"  The answer will help determine whether or not a wheelchair or scooter would be the most helpful and efficient device for you at this point.



University of Rochester Medical Center: Avoid Cane and Walker Injuries

LaPlante, M. "Demographics of Wheeled Mobility Device Users." Space Requirements for Wheeled Mobility: An International Workshop. University of Buffalo October 2003 Web July 2012