Canes and similar medical equipment can help minimize the impact of motion and provide much-needed support in a wide range of applications. Some use them while recovering from injury while others rely on them to help offset the impact of more permanent concerns. Canes, crutches, and everything in between are, in a word—useful.
Before we dive into how one should use a cane to ensure minimal negative impact, let’s consider some basic thoughts. For example, what does a cane do? Canes can help with balance; they can decrease the amount of weight on certain joints, and can also increase your base of support.
There are also different types of canes that can help maximize your benefits given your specific conditions. For example, forearm crutches are a type of cane designed to allow for greater weight support. These types of canes are better suited for cases where larger percentages of bodyweight need to be supported.
There are some basic guidelines for using any cane or crutches that can help avoid unnecessary complications. These are basic tips, and you should always confirm which your doctor about anything specific you need to do for your situation. These basic types include using a cane that’s the right height, being wary of slippery surfaces, and not leading with affected limbs when walking on uneven surfaces.
Types of Canes & Crutches
There are many different types of canes, crutches, and medical devices designed for support. The two most general categories are temporary and long-term equipment. Canes and crutches for temporary and short-term use generally are designed to be used with less weight. These products don’t often have features like adjustable heights, ergonomic designs, or molded support parts. Devices for long-term use need more consideration for needs like comfort, durability, and even aesthetics.
These types of equipment may be “loaned” to you by your doctor or physical therapist. In such cases, expect canes or crutches to have worn spots and a limited number of features. There are companies, such as Vive Health, that specialize in affordable medical equipment that offers a fuller range of options. For example, the Vive forearm crutches feature adjustable height design, molded arm supports, and are designed to limit the impact of walking to help minimize pain. Not all medical devices are created equally—that’s important to remember!
Universal Safety Tips for Canes and Crutches
Safety is important because, well, it helps keep us safe! In certain cases, safety is arguably more important than others. For example, failing to be as safe as possible while buttoning up one’s shirt might cause one to miss a button. Failing to be as safe as possible while handling a hand grenade—that could have dire consequences.
Canes, crutches, and similar medical devices are used in situations where existing injuries are already present. Taking adequate safety measures not only ensures the prevention of new issues but also helps existing ones to heal or have a minimal negative impact on one’s health. In other words—safety is pretty darn important when it comes to canes and crutches. Here are some basic but sometimes overlooked safety tips for how to avoid risk when using canes and crutches:
- Don’t use a cane or crutch that is too long (or high)
- Don’t position the cane or crutch on the wrong side (ask your doctor)
- Don’t extend the cane or crutch too far away from your body (it can slip more easily)
- Do be extra careful when using your cane or crutch on wet or slippery surfaces
- Do ask your doctor to comment on how you plan to use your cane or crutch
- Do make considerations for where the cane or crutch may apply pressure to your body.
Numbers Don’t Lie
These may seem like obvious and simple tips; one’s that no one would need to hear. Canes and crutches are often required when other medical concerns or present, such as following a stroke or when impairing medications are required. These situations can compromise one’s sense of balance, reasoning skills, and even motor skills.
In other cases, further injury results from patients simply not using their canes, crutches, or supportive devices are recommended. A 2017 study found that, among 262 people that used canes or walkers and had fallen in the past, 75% of those falls were during times when the supportive device was not being used. That’s an example of avoidable risk. Generally speaking, those that use walkers have a higher risk of falling than those with canes (all things being equal.)
Keeping an eye on how one’s cane or crutches may be wearing down with use is important as well. There are several key areas on which to keep an eye out for damages. The two most important areas to watch are where the cane or crutches meet the ground and where they meet your body. Handles, rubber bottoms, and joints are all subject to wear and tear.
Other areas to watch out for damage to include push-buttons for height adjustments, fasteners for securing devices to one’s body, and any areas where bolts and screws are used. Check out AHRQ’s maintenance guide for crutches for a better overview of the considerations one should make. Bottom line—you want to ensure the equipment you depend on to help you isn’t likely to break and hurt you!