5 Types of Effective Walking Aids

What types of walking aids are available?

Walking aids are helpful for patients who have chronic problems, including hip and knee arthritis, as well as those who have acute injuries, such as ankle sprains and leg fractures.

Finding the right type of walking aid will help you along the way. Which type is needed is based on several factors. A physical therapist can make a recommendation that suits your needs. They will assess your gait, balance, cognition, cardiovascular fitness, musculoskeletal challenges, and any neurological conditions. If you have had an injury, you may need a walking aid that matches your weight bearing status.

You may also benefit from an occupational therapy assessment of your living area and work environment. Different walking aids may be needed if there are stairs you must negotiate, as well as your mode of transport (car, public transportation, etc.) A combination of different types may be recommended for different purposes.

Many people may resist using walking aids because they are not convenient or they feel a stigma attached to needing one. However, they have been shown to reduce fall injuries.

Single-Point Cane

Senior man walking in a forest.
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A single-point cane is helpful for many conditions where a little extra support can alleviate pain and discomfort. A cane is the simplest way to lend some support to the leg, though it is not an appropriate option when weight must be completely removed from the extremity. A single-point cane is a good choice if your problem is arthritis.

Be sure to know which hand to hold the cane with. The general rule is you hold the cane with the hand on your strong side and move the cane at the same time as your weaker leg.

Canes and walking sticks come in a wide variety of designs. However, it does need to be sized correctly and have a grip that you are comfortable in using.

Quad Cane

Man holding a quad cane.

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A quad cane is a good option for people who need more stability than a standard single-point cane can offer, but who do not need the full support of a walker. They are a good choice if you have a neurological impairment, significant weakness, or balance problems.

Crutches

Man with crutches.

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Crutches allow you to completely remove weight from the extremity. Crutches require good stability and upper body strength, so they are often less useful to elderly patients. However, crutches can provide both excellent support and freedom for those with ample strength.

Using crutches takes getting used to, but a few simple steps can help you get around. If you have been treated for an injury or had surgery, be sure to get instructions or training before you leave the facility. Your crutches need to be fitted for the correct height, and there are several tricks to using them safely.

Walker

Older woman using a walker.

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A walker is the most supportive walking aid, though it's also the most cumbersome. It is an excellent option for those with poor balance or less upper body strength. ​Newer types of walkers have many options and features that can make the device more convenient to use. Factors to consider when looking for a walker include foldability, weight capacity, handle height, heaviness of the walker itself, and width.

The standard walker must be lifted and moved with each step. For those with limited upper body strength, walkers may have wheels or glides on the two or all four legs so it can slide between steps rather than needing to be picked up. These will often have a brake of some type for safety.

Knee Walker

Knee walker

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The knee walker is simple to use, and one of the easiest ways to get around safely and quickly without placing weight on the leg. Many people who have a hard time using crutches, and don't want to be slowed down by a walker, will find the knee walker a worthwhile investment.

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  1. Luz C, Bush T, Shen X. Do canes or walkers make any difference? Nonuse and fall injuries. Gerontologist. 2017;57(2):211-218. doi:10.1093/geront/gnv096

  2. Arthritis Foundation. How to choose the right cane.