At some point in your life, you could find yourself using a walking aid to support recovery from an injury or surgery, or simply to enhance your mobility. Walkers, crutches and canes are designed to meet different therapeutic needs, but they all have something important in common. They should be carefully fitted to your body. A walking aid that is correctly fitted and used properly is a game changer in helping you get around. On the other hand, one that is fitted or used improperly can slow your recovery and even introduce new stressors to the body.
Here are some tips that can help you achieve the best possible results with a walking aid.
When it comes to walkers, one of the most important things to remember is that size really does matter. Walkers should be adjusted to your height to enable your posture to be as normal and erect as possible. The handles of the walker should be at the same level as your wrists when your arms are in a relaxed position. Individuals who are shorter than about 5’2” or taller than about 6’3” may need to special order a walker that will better accommodate them. Medical supply stores should help you fit your walker correctly.
The best way to use a walker is the same way you push a shopping cart. It should move with you fluidly. Don’t slide the walker to a new spot, pause, and then step to that spot. Instead, the walker should move forward at the same time that you’re stepping forward.
The rear feet of your walker can be outfitted with something to help it slide easier, such as plastic skis or tennis balls.
You may feel compelled to use that beautiful wooden cane you inherited from your grandfather, but there’s a slim chance it actually fits your frame. Today’s canes are adjustable. They can also come with a footed base to make retrieving them easier.
The top of the cane should be at the same height as your wrist when you’re standing with your arms relaxed. And while it may seem counterintuitive, the cane should be used on the opposite side of the body as the injured leg. To walk properly with a cane, advance the injured leg and the cane at the same time.
When crutches are correctly fitted, the handle grips should be at the same height as your wrists when your arms are relaxed. Your arms should have a slight bend in the elbow as you walk with crutches; they should never be completely straight. You should also be able to place four fingers’ width between the armpit and the top of the crutch. Never rest your armpits on top of the crutches when walking or standing because it can pinch nerves in this part of your body.
For any walking aid, always consult with your health care provider or therapist about correct fitting and proper use. It can make a big difference in your recovery and overall health.
To learn about keeping your home a safe place to walk, read our blog post on How to Fall-Proof Your Home.
Karri Iten, PT, DPT, OCS, is a licensed physical therapist, a certified specialist in orthopedics and an APTA credentialed clinical instructor. She has practiced at HPRC’s main location at St. Francis Hospital in Columbus, Georgia since 2016.