Living With Polio

Of Crutches and Canes

Have you thought about using a cane or crutch but dismissed the idea because you’d be self-conscious? Think you’ll look “disabled”? Figure that you’ve gotten along okay without walking aids so far, so why start now?

Good question.I know that feeling well and talked about it in “Facing Reality.”

But ask yourself if you are really getting along okay. Do you tire quickly when you walk? Is your gait unsteady? Does it take effort to keep your balance? Are you afraid of falling or do you fall easily? Do you cut outings short because walking takes too much effort? Do you tend to reach out to hold onto stable objects as you walk?

If the answer is yes to any of these, you have good reason to try a walking aid. The experiment won’t cost much and you might be able to borrow one for a trial run. Go to a full length mirror and watch yourself walking with and without the aid. Don’t be surprised if the added support makes you look less disabled.

When muscles are weak, we compensate any way we can. This may include bending forward, leaning to one side, walking asymmetrically, or distorting the body in various ways. These compensations squander energy and can make you look more conspicuous. Canes or crutches can help you walk more normally and the extra bonus is having more energy to enjoy the fun stuff of life. When considering a walking aid, a cane may be adequate if you only need minimal support.

Underarm crutches provide more support and stability than a cane, but can cause damage to nerves in the armpit if you lean on them too much. Thick crutch pads that slip over the arm rest offer comfort and added protection from too much pressure. Many other devices – including padded hand grips and larger crutch tips – offer additional assistance for comfort and safety.

Forearm crutches, also called Lofstrand or Canadian crutches, have a handle and a metal or plastic cuff just below the elbow which gives support without putting pressure in the armpit. Here again, the crutch handle should be at wrist height to enable you to straighten and “lock” your elbow when you bear weight on the device.

Okay, now that you’ve watched yourself walking in a mirror, do you still think the walking aid makes you look more disabled?

© 1999-2008 Grace R. Young
Courtesy of Diane Young and Sharon Lark.

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Assistive Devices