Cane and Able

Whether you’re talking comfortable shoes or contact lenses, proper fit is key. The same is true for canes, crutches or wheelchairs. For people who spend a majority of their daily lives using them, fit can be crucial, says Dr. Thao Tran, The Institute for Rehabilitation and Research (TIRR), Houston, and The University of Texas-Houston Medical School.

In most cases, physicians, therapists and rehabilitation representatives work together to make sure that patients get the proper fit. Your doctor or physical therapist should discuss the biomechanics (physical principles of body movement) that make for efficient use with you. “Learning how to use a cane or crutches properly helps you prevent injury and become biomechanically efficient,” said Ginny Keely, P.T., M.S., of Southwest Texas State University’s Physical Therapy Department.

All About Canes
Get the most from your cane with these tips from Keely:
Canes are valuable for people with weak muscles, balance problems or those who need to reduce the pressure on weight bearing body parts (hips or knees).

For cane length, look to a qualified health professional.

Your elbow should be at a 15-degree to 25-degree angle when you are holding a cane.

Ergonomic handles or “pistol grips” decrease pressure and discomfort in your hand.

Make sure a healthy rubber tip is securely fastened on the end of your cane to avoid skidding or falling on slippery surfaces, such as tile or wood floors.
Cane or Walker?
According to Tran, a cane be used if the person’s balance is good, and if the weakness is on one side of the body (the cane is used on the stronger side of the body).

A walker should be used if the person’s balance is poor or fair, if there is weakness on both sides of the body, and if there are any weight-bearing restrictions on one or both legs.

Winning With Wheelchairs
If a wheelchair is your ride, look to these helpful suggestions from Tran and rehabilitation experts.
Many models of wheelchairs are now available, from complex motorized models to specialized racing chairs.

View the wheelchair not as an embarrassment, but as a way to conserve precious energy and gain mobility.

Have a wheelchair fitted by trained wheelchair fitting specialists, who usually work in conjunction with a physical therapist.

Your therapist should perform a musculoskeletal evaluation. Fitting specialists should make accurate measurements and recommend features to accommodate your particular postural and mobility needs.

Because they grow and change so fast, young people need more frequent fittings to make sure they’re getting the proper support from their wheelchairs.

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