Walking Sticks – Ability Superstore’s Definitive Guide To These Mobility Aids
Posted by Mike Phipps on May 23, 2022
The Oxford Dictionary of English defines a – walking stick – as a ‘stick with a curved handle used for support when walking’; but there’s a lot more to walking sticks than just that!
For example, how do you change the height of a walking stick; what’s the difference between a walking cane and a walking stick; are there any different ferrules available?
So, Ability Superstore has put together this definitive guide for you.
If you have any questions when you’ve finished reading this article, don’t hesitate to call us on 0800 255 0498or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or fill in our contact form that can be found on this link.
First Things First – Is There A Difference Between Walking Sticks And Walking Canes?
Surprisingly, no, there isn’t!
Traditional walking sticks and walking canes have one point of contact with the ground and are often used by people who have an issue with balance. The stick, or cane, allows a person to put their weight through the stick, which helps them with balancing.
Nowadays, the terms walking stick and walking cane are interchangeable, but most people tend to favour the words – walking stick.
And, if you're feeling patriotic, there are even walking sticks with the Union Jack on – there's bound to be one that will suit your needs and taste.
And it doesn’t stop there – there are even folding ones.
Folding sticks are convenient for people that don’t use their walking sticks all of the time, as they can be quickly and neatly stored away, taking up very little room.
Folded sticks tend to come in four, or five sections/pieces, securely held together by a long elastic strap. When folded, the walking sticks are easy to carry around.
To fold, or collapse these types of sticks, you simply pull apart each section. The sections then fold up alongside each other.
To make the stick whole again, you ‘free’ the sections and the stick simply snaps together!
There are even cleverly designed walking sticks that have seats, making them perfect for when you’re out and about and need to have a rest.
For added stability and confidence, there are tripods and quadruped sticks with three, or four legs.
Tripods and quadrupeds have much wider bases than standard walking sticks. These big bases make it difficult for the stick to fall over, or slip out from your grasp, which is ideal for people who are slightly wobblier on their feet. In fact, due to the extra stability that the three and four legs give, confidence increases in many people, giving them peace of mind and a chance for a little more mobility than normal.
What Are Walking Sticks Made Of?
There are many options available, but the most common materials tend to be either wood, or metal.
Classic, traditional wooden walking sticks are made from long-lasting wood, such as chestnut, hazel, oak and ash.
Wooden walking sticks look great; they’re stylish, strong and come with many handle options such as right, or left-handed ones, comfort and arthritis grips, to name just a few.
The advantage of a wooden stick is that it can be sawn precisely to the correct height.
Metal walking sticks are much lighter than wooden ones. The height of the stick can easily be adjusted by way of E-clip style pop-out clips, or spring-loaded ball buttons, and by set increments that are usually spaced approximately 2.5 cm (1 inch) apart.
These clips give you an extra degree of flexibility and, of course, metal sticks are very strong. A big selection of different handles are also readily available.
Are Crutches A Type Of Walking Stick?
In some ways, crutches can be viewed as a walking stick, as the Oxford Dictionary of English defines a crutch as – ‘a thing used for support, or reassurance’. However, Occupational Therapists tend to view crutches as ‘mobility aids’.
Crutches tend to be used in pairs, although they can also be used individually. They are primarily designed to take a person’s weight from their legs, through to the arms, when someone is unable to fully utilise their legs.
Typically, crutches are used for short periods due to injuries, such as a broken leg.
There are many different types of crutches. The one you might be aware of is known as an elbow crutch.
The area at the top of the crutch (known as the cuff), tends to be semi-circular in shape, and can be open or, more commonly, closed, which is when a complete ring is formed. It is because of this cuff that a crutch provides excellent support. It allows a person to safely let go of the grip, whilst still keeping the crutch on their arm. This enables a person to do things like open and close doors safely. On some elbow crutches, the angle of the cuff can also be adjusted.
Another type of crutch is the forearm crutch, with armrests. These are great crutches for people that struggle using their hands, as a person’s forearm rests in the ‘tray’ and it is the forearm that takes the weight of a person. People with conditions like arthritis benefit from this type of crutch.
Another crutch is the bariatric one. These are intended for people with a bigger body, as they are designed to support more weight.
If someone finds using a crutch painful, there are comfort pads that can be purchased to provide additional cushioning.
Do Walking Sticks Have Different Handles?
Yes, they do! There are many to choose from.
It’s important to pick the handle that will suit you the best. Choosing the right handle/grip can sometimes be determined by the amount of pain, or discomfort, someone may have in their hands.
You also need to bear in mind how often you will be using your walking stick, so you can get the level of comfort right.
Ergonomic handles are great for people suffering with conditions like arthritis and rheumatism, or for those that suffer from poor mobility, as they offer good support and balance.
The handles are carefully designed/moulded to fit the hand's contours and are comfortable to grasp, allowing for extra stability.
These ergonomic handles allow for the weight and downward pressure of a person to be spread evenly across the whole hand, therefore relieving strains and joint pains that can sometimes come with standard handles. This makes the handles perfect for those with weak, or damaged hands.
Sometimes, you might hear the word – anatomic – being used alongside the word – ergonomic.
These words tend to be interchangeable on some websites, such as those based in America, however, anatomic means the shape of the handle, while the word – ergonomic – means how the pressure and weight of a person is evened out across the handle.
Ergonomic handles are also good for women, as they tend to be smaller than standard handles.
Crook handles are classically shaped and recognised around the world. The shape is ‘borrowed’ from shepherd’s crooks typically used by sheep rangers/herders.
The crook handle is a good, basic and stable handle that provides a simple and easy comfortable grip. The design of the handle allows the walking stick to comfortably hang over your arm when not being used, or the side of a chair, or the edge of a table.
The crutch handle is another classic and popular choice. The handle is at a right angle, and this directly supports a person's weight.
Being at a right angle means that the handle is straighter than most, allowing for a good, easy-grip with the palm of the hand.
The comfortable right-angle can help promote a healthy wrist alignment due to the angle you hold your arm.
This handle was developed by Dr Fischer of Austria and is another handle that is good for arthritic and rheumatism sufferers.
The handle is easy to grip and allows for a person's weight to be spread evenly across the palm of a hand; the handle tends to be slightly bigger than standard handles.
The design is basically a mould/contour of the palm, so you need to make sure you buy either a right-handed model, or a left-handed one, depending on which side you use your walking stick.
It may look a little unusual, but if you’re looking for a firm and secure grip that fits like a glove, then the Fischer handle will be perfect for you
The Derby handle can be recognised by the distinctive hook at the end of the handle. It is very supportive and comfortable to hold and tends to be looked upon as being a little more elegant than other types of walking sticks.
If you want to add some fun into your walks, then novelty handles are perfect for you. The choice is endless – from breeds of dogs, frogs and pheasants, to William Shakespeare and for the avid Disney collector, there are even vintage Mickey Mouse ones!
What Is A Ferrule?
Every walking stick ends in a ferrule. It’s at the bottom of the walking stick. The ferrule cushions the impact of the walking stick on the ground and the shock that travels into your hand and then your arm. Ferrules add stability to your walking stick.
Ferrules come in all shapes and sizes and can be made from rubber, plastic and metal, or a combination of materials.
The ferrule you choose depends on where you will be using your stick. For example, at a formal event, a discreet, ‘fine’ ferrule would be suitable. If you’re planning on walking on some soft ground, then a ferrule with a spike would make the perfect addition to your walking stick.
The most common type of ferrule are the ones made from non-slip rubber which actively helps your stick grip the hard ground, providing added stability and preventing slippage. It is suitable for both indoors and out.
And, just like the soles of your shoes, ferrules can wear away with extended use, or when the stick is supporting a heavier weight. So, it’s a good idea to check the ferrule every month for signs of wear and tear.
If you do need to replace a ferrule, then don’t worry, as they are easy to replace. We’ve put together a short video to show you how to do this. There's also a blog – click here to read it.
What’s The Next Stage, Once I’ve Decided On Material And Handle Style?
The next thing to do is the measuring, to ensure the stick's length is just the right height for you.
Unfortunately, people don’t all come in the one standard size – that would be too easy! Arms and legs vary greatly in length. Add to that the height of the heels on our shoes, and it can all become a little confusing on working out the ideal height of your walking stick.
It’s crucial that you spend some time ensuring the walking stick, or crutch, is the right height for you to avoid any potential pain and strains.
Metal walking sticks are easily adjusted through a series of E-clip style pop-out clips, or buttons, that tend to be spaced approximately 2.5 cm (1 inch) apart.
Wooden walking sticks need a little more care and attention.
What Is The Correct Length For A Walking Stick?
If your walking stick is too long for your height, your shoulder will be forced too high, which will then make your elbow stick out. If this happens, you will be prevented from putting pressure on the handle, and this will limit the support the walking stick gives you. If this goes on for too long, you may well end up with aching shoulders and a painful, sore neck.
On the other hand, if your stick is too short for your height, you will tend to bend forward too much, or possibly lean over to one side. If you end up doing this, you will more than likely hurt your back, or your shoulder, or your hips – possibly all three!
Whether too long, or too short, an incorrect walking stick length will put too much pressure on your joints, affect your posture and could cause pains and strains.
As a general rule, the length of your walking stick should fit just below the bone on your wrist to the floor.
What Is The Correct Length For A Wooden Walking Stick?
To work out the perfect length of your wooden walking stick, first, put shoes on that you use most of the time, or the ones you use when you go out walking. Now relax your arms and have them hang loosely by your side. Try to have a slight bend at your elbow. Stand as upright as you can manage with both feet together.
The length of your walking stick should be the same distance between your wrist crease and the ground.
For a more accurate method of getting your stick to the perfect length, you will need someone to help you, as it’s hard to stand up straight and take measurements at the same time!
Ask a friend to take a measurement from the floor, approximately 15 cm (6 inches) away from your ankle to your wrist bone. Doing this ensures that your wrist is at the ideal comfort position when holding a walking stick. Your arms need to be slightly bent, and your shoulders need to be level.
Then, for added certainty, do the measurements again, and mark that measurement on your stick, measuring from the top of the handle down the shaft towards the tip. Then saw it at that point with a small hacksaw.
Don’t forget to remove the rubber ferrule from the cut end and replace it back onto your shortened stick.
Do try and remember the old adage – measure twice, cut once!
A lot of metal walking sticks have an inbuilt adjustment mechanism, making it much easier to get the correct height.
Simply push in the small button on the side of the stick. Then move the inner part of the shaft, up or down, until you reach the right length, then simply release the push button into the correct hole.
Some metal walking sticks have an external ‘E-clip’ instead of a push-button mechanism, so in these instances, simply remove the E-clip. With the E-clip removed, slide the two parts of the walking stick together until you get to the required height. Then all you have to do is to pop the E-clip back in.
What Is The Correct Length For A Crutch?
The correct length for a crutch depends entirely on the type of crutch it is.
For underarm crutches, the height of the handgrip from the ground can be set in the same way that you would do for a walking stick.
For crutches like the elbow ones, or forearm ones, the crutch's height can usually be adjusted. However, the crutch's length needs to be adjusted, so your arms are in a position that allows you to use the crutches effectively, with your elbows slightly bent. You do need to make sure your shoulders aren’t raised, as this will, in time, give you some sprains and strains.
Most often, if a healthcare professional issues you with some crutches, they tend to make sure they are at the right length.
Which Hand Should You Carry Your Walking Stick In?
One of the things about walking sticks that can confuse a few people is which hand should you hold a walking stick in.
Here at Ability Superstore, we’ve found that the best thing to do is hold a walking stick on the same side as your ‘good’ leg, i.e. on the opposite side of your body where you need the extra support.
Which Hand Should You Have Your Walking Stick In When Your Leg Is injured?
If your injured leg is your right leg, you should hold your walking stick in your left hand. You would then move forward with your right leg, and your walking stick should be brought forward at the same time. You need to remember to move the walking stick and the injured leg together.
Which Hand Should You Have Your Walking Stick In When All You Need Is Support
If you want to use a walking stick for some extra support, balance and stability, then you won’t really have a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ leg.
In this instance, we recommend you carry the walking stick in your non-dominant hand.
If you’re right-handed, then your dominant hand is your right hand, making the left hand the non-dominant one. In doing this, it allows you to keep your dominant hand free for doing everyday things like opening doors.
It might seem strange at first because it will feel normal to have the walking stick on your ‘good leg’ side. So, keep practising, and if you cannot get it to feel right, then use your walking stick on your ‘good’ side.
It can take some time to become accustomed to using a mobility aid like this, but as they say, practice does make perfect.
How Do You Use A Walking Stick When Using Stairs?
We asked Ability Superstore’s Occupational Therapist, Kate, to give us some advice for when using stairs and she said, “Go up with the good, down with the bad”.
So, try using your dominant, or stronger leg first when going upstairs, followed by your weaker, non-dominant leg and your walking aid.
When coming downstairs, you should step down first with your walking aid and weaker leg, then lower the good leg to the same step.
If there is a handrail, then use this and hold the walking stick in the opposite hand.
If you are using two sticks, then first move one stick forward, followed by the opposite leg. Next, move the second stick forward, followed by the other leg, creating four distinct and separate movements.
If you’re using a tripod, or a quadruped, then all points of the stick should be in contact with the ground when the stick is in a forward position.
When going downstairs, place the stick and weaker leg on the step.
How Do You Use A Crutch?
Walking with a pair of crutches tends to be a little simpler and needs less practice, as walking with two aids comes more naturally.
Push off through both of your crutches and then ‘land’ on your ‘good’ or stronger leg.
Over time, as the injured leg gets better, you may feel you can take more weight through the leg that’s getting better. However, you should still push off with both of your crutches to start with.
Are There Any Accessories I Can Buy For My Walking Stick?
Yes, there are, and these include items like…
Straps are really helpful when it comes to holding onto a walking stick, stopping you from accidentally dropping it onto the floor.
Straps also allow a person to keep their stick close by when you need to do something like getting a tissue out of your pocket.
There is a massive choice of holders for when you’re not using a walking aid.
Holders tend to be made of plastic, and they attach to the shaft of the stick. This then allows the stick to be balanced on the edges of things like tables and kitchen work surfaces.
A walking stick that folds is great and convenient, as they take up very little room. However, sometimes, walking sticks are challenging to keep broken apart so, a great way of ensuring they keep closed is a bag.
Specially designed for walking sticks, these are a must-have. The bags can be easily slipped into a pocket in readiness for use in a flash.
Folding Stick Clips
Another way to keep a folding stick apart is to use a folding stick clip.