As baby boomers age and remain active, sales of trekking poles, walking canes and sticks are climbing, and online retailers are stepping up their response to consumer demand with even more variety of models and customized options. These days, you can now get a smart cane, trekking pole or even a beautifully hand-carved wooden walking stick suited perfectly to your size, fitness goals and lifestyle.
Benefits for active adults
Walking devices offer a bevy of great benefits. Active older adults want balance, stability and endurance to maintain or improve their exercise routines. Walking poles help accomplish exactly that: they reduce load-bearing weight on knees, hips and spine. With this extra support, you can get better exercise, enjoy the outdoors and stay active — even with physical limitations that might otherwise limit weight-bearing pressure on your hips, knees or feet.
But walking devices such as poles and canes aren't just for hikers. They can also be a godsend to injured weekend warriors rebuilding their routine after setbacks, knee or hip replacements or other surgeries. They provide secure support and peace of mind to less-active folks living independently, who may need a little extra help navigating through daily activities.
Direct benefits of using a walking device
According to physical therapists, the direct benefits of using a cane or walking aid include:
Stability — Canes work their magic by helping redistribute weight from lower extremities, improve stability by increasing the base of support from the ground up and provide “tactile” information (through the hand) to help improve balance. For people living with arthritis, osteoarthritis or other joint conditions, canes provide essential support for everyday inside activities as well as external environments.
Safety — People often feel safer and more stable using a cane, whether at home or when out and about.
Posture — Our bodies have a natural tendency to stoop as we age. Walking aids help you use and strengthen lower and upper body muscles that support the spine, insurance for proper balance and posture.
Endurance — For active adults, canes and poles offer added support and actually help maintain and even improve muscle strength and endurance. This goes for folks rehabbing from injury or surgery, or even working to reach new fitness goals. Studies by the American Academy of Family Physicians have shown that assistive devices like canes increase safety as well as exercise intensity.
Faster healing — Studies show that cane users heal faster from injury or surgeries. This is especially true for patients recovering from common hip and knee replacements, knee surgeries and other orthopedic surgeries.
Independence — Maintaining an independent lifestyle is one of the most — if not the most — meaningful benefit of canes and other mobility aids. Many older adults are able to remain independent for years with a little extra help from these friends.
Right-size and proper use are key
Even taking these convincing benefits into account, doctors comment that most patients with assistive walking devices have never been instructed on proper use and often have canes and other devices that are inappropriate, damaged or the wrong size. Overlooking these important details often lead — paradoxically — to an increased risk of falling.
If you’re finding it a challenge to walk from point A to B, or beginning to feel less confident about your ability to walk independently, it’s time to seek a professional balance assessment. A trained physical therapist will evaluate your balance and steadiness while doing a range of everyday tasks such as:
Moving from a sitting to standing position
Your ability to reach up, down or around while staying balanced
Balancing while standing
From this assessment, they can recommend therapy exercises and support that might be right for you.
The walking device you decide to use will depend on your strength, endurance, balance assessment, lifestyle and other factors. Seek professional advice from your clinician or therapist on proper use, and to routinely evaluate your walking device to ensure proper height, fit and maintenance.