Fibromyalgia & Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Mobility Aids

Why you shouldn't be uncomfortable using a cane or wheelchair

Some people with fibromyalgia and myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS) use mobility aids such as canes, wheelchairs, scooters, and motorized grocery carts. Many others with these conditions don't, though, saying it would make them uncomfortable.

You shouldn't be hesitant to use mobility aids if they'd help you save energy, avoid pain spikes, or prevent symptom flares from being too active. Contrary to what some people think, you're exactly who they're meant for.

This article explores the options you have for mobility aids, how they may help you manage your symptoms, and how to go about using them.

An older woman looking at an apple
Juanmonino / Getty Images

Are You "Really" Disabled?

It's understandable that you might feel strange about using mobility aids. You might worry that people will doubt you're "really" disabled or think you're "just being lazy."

Many people think mobility aids are just for people with certain disabilities such as paralysis, severe injuries like a broken leg, or someone recovering from hip-replacement surgery.

They're wrong. First of all, you fit the legal definition of disabled if any of the following apply to you:

  • A person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more life activities
  • A person who has a history or record of such an impairment
  • A person who is perceived by others as having such an impairment

Fibromyalgia and ME/CFS often substantially limit activities.

But aren't those motorized carts at the store or disabled parking spaces meant for people who can't walk at all?

No, they're not. Here, in part, is what several state applications for handicapped parking permits say:

  • California: "You may qualify for a [disabled person] parking placard or license plates if you ... have a diagnosed disease that substantially impairs or interferes with mobility."
  • Alabama: "A licensed physician has to verify ... you can't walk 200 feet without rest," or your ability to walk is limited "due to an arthritic, neurological or orthopedic condition."
  • Missouri: "The person cannot walk 50 feet without stopping to rest due to a severe and disabling arthritis, neurological, orthopedic condition, or other severe and disabling condition."

So, regardless of what some people think, you likely are "really" disabled and deserve things that help you function in a society built for those without disabilities.

What Disability Looks Like in Fibromyalgia and ME/CFS

Fibromyalgia and ME/CFS are invisible disabilities. In fact, 96% of chronic medical conditions are invisible.

People can't see your pain, fatigue, post-exertional malaise, balance problems, and sensory overload that can hit in many public situations. They especially don't see you when you collapse at home later and can't get out of bed for a few days.

Looking at grocery shopping as an example, a mobility aid may be the difference between:

  • Cutting your trip short because you're too tired or achy to keep walking and pushing a cart
  • Going home and putting away only the perishables before you collapse onto the couch
  • Being unable to get up and cook dinner that night
  • Waking up frequently overnight due to severe pain
  • Canceling plans with friends for the next day because your symptoms are too severe


  • Stocking up on groceries so your family is set for a week
  • Being able to put groceries away
  • Cooking dinner
  • Feeling relatively normal that night and in the following days
  • Living your life as well as possible

Now that you know mobility aids are for you and may provide befits, it's time to look at what's available and how to use them.

If you're new to mobility aids, you may need to learn how to use them correctly. Talk to your healthcare provider about the aids you want to use to make sure what you're using is right for you and not causing harm.

Canes and Walkers

Canes and walkers may be a good choice if your fibromyalgia or ME/CFS:

  • Causes dizziness or balance problems
  • You have extreme pain in a leg, foot, or hip
  • Weakness in the legs
  • Being able to lean helps you conserve energy

Walkers with wheels, hand breaks, and a set are called rollators. This may be a good option if you need to sit and rest frequently.

How to Use a Cane

You have a couple of types of canes to choose from:

  • Traditional canes, which are just a slender rod with a handle, wrist strap, and rubber cap on the bottom
  • Quad canes, which have four feet at the bottom and can stand on their own

A traditional cane is less conspicuous than a quad cane. You can also buy traditional canes that fold up, so they fit in a backpack or large purse.

However, a quad cane is more stable. It can stand up on its own, meaning you won't have to bend down to pick it up constantly or have it dangling from your wrist.

When using a cane for pain or balance:

  • The top of the cane should be the same height as the crease in your wrist when your hand is hanging at your side.
  • Your elbow should be slightly bent.

When you use a cane because of a painful leg/foot/hip:

  • Put it in the hand opposite the leg that needs support so the cane can take some of the weight off of the painful part(s). (i.e., Pain in the left knee means cane in the right hand.)
  • Put the cane ahead of yourself and step with your painful leg first.
  • To climb stairs, step up first with your good leg and cane, then lean on the cane while you bring your painful leg up. Also, use a handrail for extra support whenever possible.
  • To go down the stairs, lead with the cane followed by the painful leg.

If you develop pain from using a cane, ask your healthcare provider or how you can use it differently.

How to Use a Walker or Rollator

When choosing a walker or rollator, be sure to consider what features are important for you. If you need to sit frequently, a rollator may be best. If space is a concern, a walker may be best because it folds up easily.

When using a walker or rollator for pain or balance:

  • The handles should be the same height as the crease in your wrist.
  • Keep your elbows slightly bent.
  • Keep your back straight. Be careful not to hunch.

When using a walker or rollator for a painful leg:

  • Put it a step ahead of you with all four legs on the ground.
  • Grip it for support and move your painful leg forward to the middle (not the front) of the walker.
  • Push down with your hands and bring your good leg up next to the painful one.
  • To sit, back up until your legs are touching the chair, feel for it with your hands, then slowly lower yourself into it.
  • To stand up, push up on the handgrips, be sure not to tilt the walker.
  • Don't use a walker on stairs or escalators. When an elevator isn't available, you or someone else will need to carry the walker up or down.

Rubber Tips

If the rubber tips on your cane or the legs or your walker wear out, get new ones. They're generally available at drug stores, medical supply stores, and online.

Wheelchairs and Scooters

A lot goes into choosing the right wheelchair or scooter for you, especially if you plan to use it a lot. You'll need to find one that is:

  • A good fit for you physically
  • Comfortable for long-term use
  • Appropriately sized and maneuverable for the places you'll use it (scooters can be difficult to use in small spaces.)

Wheelchairs and scooters can be expensive. Check to see if your insurance will cover some or all of the purchase.

You also need to consider how you'll transport it. A small wheelchair may fold up small enough to fit in your trunk. For a scooter, you'll need a platform on the back of your car or a special van with a lift, as they're quite large and heavy.

If you don't need a wheelchair/scooter for daily but want one for a special event, such as going on vacation, you may want to check into rentals.

Purses and Wheelchair Use

When you use a wheelchair/scooter part-time, you may find times when you need or want to get up and walk away from it in public. If you carry a purse, you want it out of the way in the chair but with you when you get up. A slim cross-body bag is ideal for this.

Motorized Carts

When you're using a motorized cart at a grocery store or another place that provides them (e.g., the zoo, museums), you don't have a choice when it comes to sizing and comfort—you have to take what they have to offer.

If you know you'll be using one of these, you may want to:

  • Clean it off with an antimicrobial wipe before use
  • Bring a cushion to make it more comfortable
  • Call from your car to make sure one is available

When you're done using it, be courteous of the next person and plug it in to charge.

Motorized carts are fairly simple to operate. Make sure you give yourself extra room around corners and understand that it will beep loudly any time you back up.

Disabled Parking

Disabled parking spaces aren't conventional mobility aids but they can help you walk less, and therefore do more. To get one:

  • Find and print the online form for your state
  • Take it to your healthcare provider and ask them to fill it out
  • Submit it how and where your state requires

Once you receive the license plates or placard, you can legally park in disabled parking spaces. Depending on your state, you may also get free parking at meters and be able to stay in a spot for longer than the posted time.

Check the laws where you live as well as in places you travel to.


You may benefit from mobility aids when you have fibromyalgia or ME/CFS. The legal definition includes having an impairment that substantially limits life activities.

Canes, walkers, rollators, wheelchairs, scooters, motorized shopping carts, and disabled parking access may all help you manage symptoms of pain, fatigue, low energy, dizziness, and/or difficulty breathing.

Make sure the aids you choose are sized properly for you and that you learn how to use them correctly.

A Word From Verywell

No one wants to stand out because of disability. It's hard to get over the impulse to pretend nothing is wrong, try to blend in, and worry about what people think.

In the end, though, you need to take care of yourself and manage your illness(es) in the best way possible. You shouldn't have to suffer because some people don't get that.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Is fibromyalgia legally a disability?

    There's no official list of what conditions may be considered a disability. Instead, you're considered disabled if you have a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more life activities.

    Many people with fibromyalgia fit this definition, while some may not.

  • Why do people who can walk use a wheelchair?

    People with a lot of medical issues benefit from a wheelchair. This includes people with:

    • Chronic pain
    • Joint problems, such as from arthritis
    • Severe fatigue or lack of energy
    • Chronic or frequent dizziness
    • Breathing problems or oxygen use
    • An injury or recent surgery
  • Why do people use motorized shopping carts when they look just fine?

    Most disabilities are invisible, meaning you can't see them by looking at the person. They may have chronic pain that's made worse by walking or pushing a cart. They may have severe fatigue from cancer or cancer treatments. They may have breathing problems or chronic dizziness.

    The bottom line is: Don't assume someone is fine because they don't have a visible impairment.

7 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division: The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protects people with disabilities from discrimination.

  2. State of California Department of Motor Vehicles. Application for disabled person placard or plates.

  3. Disability Benefits Help. Alabama handicap parking.

  4. Missouri Department of Revenue. Application for Disabled Person Placard.

  5. University of Massachusetts. Invisible disabilities: List & information.

  6. Costa ID, Gamundí A, Miranda JG, França LG, De Santana CN, Montoya P. Altered functional performance in patients with fibromyalgia. Front Hum Neurosci. 2017;11:14. doi:10.3389/fnhum.2017.00014

  7. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons: OrthoInfo. How to use crutches, canes, and walkers.

By Adrienne Dellwo
Adrienne Dellwo is an experienced journalist who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and has written extensively on the topic.