The inside scoop on canes and walkers

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Senior holding a cane

If you have pain, weakness or difficulty maintaining your balance when walking, it may be time for a cane or walker.
Before you make the purchase, however, consider getting evaluated by a physical therapist. Some people may think they need a cane or walker — or even a wheelchair — when they might instead benefit from physical therapy, says Suzie Skinner, a physical therapist with Tidelands Health Neurological Rehabilitation Center in Murrells Inlet.
“You may not even need a cane or walker, or you may not need one all the time,” she says. “A therapist can help determine what can make you the safest.”
While canes and walkers are relatively straightforward pieces of equipment, there are a few considerations to keep in mind if you would benefit from one:

Differing needs

If unsteadiness or pain are affecting just one side of your body, a cane is probably your best bet. However, if both legs or feet are troubling you, a walker will provide more stability.

Size matters

It’s important to get a cane or walker that’s fitted to your height and weight. For instance, a cane that’s too short or too tall may make you more prone to falling. Or, if your weight is over 250 pounds, a heavier duty cane or a wider walker will provide you with more stability. When you’re being fitted for a device, make sure you’re wearing shoes and clothing you normally wear in everyday life.

Options

Canes come in single-point or four-point (quad) bases. Single-point canes tend to be good options if you need light support, whereas a four-point cane tends to be best for those who need more help with stability. The downside is that four-point canes tend to be a bit heavier and require you to walk a bit slower.
Walkers have three main designs: rolling, four-wheeled and standard. Rolling walkers have two wheels, four-wheeled walkers have four and standard walkers are stationary and must be picked up and moved forward.
Most four-wheeled walkers are also equipped with a fold-down seat that allows the person using it to stop and rest.

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To safely use any walker, Skinner says, the person must have the strength and energy to move the device.
Standard walkers provide the most stable support and are often the easiest to use, especially for people who are new to the devices.
Four-wheeled walkers tend to move more quickly than rolling walkers, so they’re best for people who are more mobile and have better endurance and balance. It’s important the user is able to control the momentum of a four-wheeled walker so that it doesn’t roll away from the person or roll so fast the individual can’t keep up.
Rolling walkers move slower than four-wheeled walkers and generally do not have a seat.
“When making your choice, the key is to make sure your cane or walker is fitted well for you and addresses your personal needs, capabilities and preferences,” Skinner says. “If you have questions, don’t hesitate to connect with a physical therapist or other qualified provider.”

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