A walking stick might be just what you need to give you a little bit of help and to improve your confidence. There's a larger choice available than you might have thought:
- you can get walking sticks made of wood, metal or carbon fibre
- they come plain or in a variety of colours and patterns
- you can get sticks that fold up to fit in a carrying case or handbag
- some are adjustable, so getting a stick of the right length is easy
Types of handle
There's a wide variety of styles. Try any stick that you're thinking about to make sure it's comfortable to hold. The main types are:
T-shaped handle: Gives good grip and control.
Crook handle: The hook is useful for hanging up the stick.
Ergonomic handle: 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, especially 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 that 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 for using sticks and crutches
If you're using one stick, it goes on the same side as the stronger leg and moves when the weaker leg does. If you're 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's a handrail, hold on to it. Use your stick in the other hand. If there's 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's important that 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 joints, and this can be dangerous if you don't notice in time. Check regularly. If the joint 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 joints wear out more quickly. Check this out before you buy.
Last updated: February 2010