The benefits of walking sticks
Walking sticks are useful if you still have reasonably good mobility, but would like something to give you a little extra confidence and balance.
As well as making walking easier, using a walking stick can help reduce pain when walking. Folding walking sticks offer a good solution if you don’t need walking aids all the time.
Choosing a walking stick that's right for you
Walking sticks are made from various materials. Metal and carbon fibre sticks tend to be stronger than wooden ones, and some are height adjustable, whereas wooden walking sticks will need to be cut to the correct height.
The handles of walking sticks also come in a variety of shapes, ranging from the conventional crook handle and T handle to a ‘swan neck’, designed to make the stick feel balanced, and an ergonomic handle shaped to fit your hand.
Different handles will suit different people – some will be preferable for those with painful joints or a weaker grip, for example – so it’s a good idea to try out different types before settling on one in particular.
Some people prefer the traditional look and feel of a ‘plain’ wooden walking stick. But for those who want something a bit more decorative, coloured and patterned sticks are also available.
How to pick the right height for a walking stick
It’s very important that your walking stick is the right height for you, otherwise it can be potentially unsafe. If the stick is too high, it won’t give you proper support; and if it’s too low, you’ll be forced to stoop.
Follow these steps when measuring a walking stick, to ensure you get the right size. Make sure you have someone else with you to help you take an accurate measurement.
- Wear your normal walking shoes.
- Place the base of the stick on a flat floor, around 15cm from the side of your foot.
- Stand in a natural, upright position.
- Let your arms hang by your side with a normal, slight bend at the elbow.
- The top of the stick should be level with your wrist joint. If you don’t have a stick to hand, simply measure the distance from the bottom crease at the wrist down to the floor. Round up your measurement to the nearest cm and this will tell you the height to look for.
How to use a walking stick
If you’re using a walking stick in each hand, it’s especially important that you’re shown how to use them safely by a physiotherapist. You’ll need to use different techniques depending on your abilities and restrictions.
If you need to use a walking stick to help with going up and down stairs, there’s a specific technique for this, too. It’s important that you learn this, because using a walking stick incorrectly on the stairs could put you at greater risk of a fall. Again, this is something that a physiotherapist can explain and demonstrate.
To find a local physiotherapist, visit Physio First – the organisation that represents physiotherapists in private practice – or the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy. To be referred to an NHS physiotherapist, speak to your GP or other health professional.
If you’re using a walking stick in each hand, it’s especially important that you’re shown how to use them safely by a physiotherapist.
Different types of walking sticks
Folding walking sticks
A folding walking stick can be discreetly carried in a bag or shopping trolley, or left in the car. Look for a model that’s light, easy to fold and unfold, and reasonably compact when folded. The unfolded stick should feel robust and the handle comfortable to grip.
Tripod and tetrapod walking sticks
If you need a little more support, you could try a tripod (three-footed) or tetrapod (four-footed, also known as quadrupod) walking stick. The feet are spaced apart to give the walking stick a wider base. The neck of the stick is either straight or swan-necked; finding the right style of neck can help you distribute your weight most effectively.
One advantage of tripod and tetrapod walking sticks is they can be left standing up by themselves – and will stay standing up – so you’re less likely to have to bend down to collect them from the floor.
Walking sticks with folding seats
Walking longer distances can be tiring, and can also put a strain on sensitive muscles or joints. A walking stick that has a foldaway seat (sometimes known as folding seat canes or stick seats) can be a useful aid, allowing you to sit down for a rest when needed. Look for one that’s height adjustable.
If you need more physical support than a walking stick can give you, read our guide to zimmer frames and rollators.
Walking stick accessories
A walking stick clip can be fitted to a level surface, such as a table, allowing the stick to be clipped in place when not in use and therefore prevent it from falling to the floor.
Attaching a wrist strap to a walking stick is an inexpensive way to avoid dropping or losing the stick. It can also help when you need to keep both hands free, for example when shopping or using a phone.
A walking stick mud/ice grip will fit on to an existing walking stick base to provide extra traction in slippery conditions. The grip can be flipped down to use, and back up again when it’s no longer needed.
Walking stick ferrules
All walking sticks and walking frames without wheels have rubber feet on the legs, known as ferrules. Check the ferrules regularly to ensure they haven’t become worn or damaged. Replacement ferrules are available in different diameters from hardware shops, chemists, mobility shops and online. To stay safe, replace ferrules regularly.
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