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Which One Do You Need to Use

Are you active and just left the softball field with a twisted ankle? Or are you a weekend warrior and left the emergency room after a sprained knee? Maybe you are a little older and suffered a fall down the stairs injuring your hip and wrist. Do you use a walker, cane, wheelchair or crutches?

Mobility aids are usually selected based on the type and extent of injury; the support the mobility aid provides; the difficulty of using the aid; and the person's overall fitness. One person with a leg fracture may be able to use crutches, while another with an identical injury will be safer and more mobile with a walker.

While most people think of mobility aids as walking support, most importantly, they allow you to get out of bed. Standing is of benefit to the body - it helps breathing efficiency, increases the production of antibodies that fight infection, reduces loss of calcium in bones, and allows food to pass through the digestive system more properly and easily than if confined to the bed.

Upsetting, frustrating, embarrassing. All of these and more represent feelings attached to the use of mobility aids. Aids represent the loss of functions or may be a sight for sore eyes. But these aids can only help you gain your previous abilities. They help in reducing pain of movement. Canes, walkers, and wheel chairs are tools that let you live more fully.

Seek professional help in selecting a mobility aid

It is important to seek professional help from a physical therapist or physician to help you select a mobility aid. The following overview lists the benefits of common mobility aids:


This is the easiest to handle and less cumbersome of all mobility aids. The cane adequately allows the patient to achieve balance, but should not be used for weight bearing. For patients suffering from a more serious balance deficit, a quad cane (one with four small legs may be used. Most people do not understand the function of a cane and therefore do not actually receive benefit of its use. Types of canes include the j-line, swan-neck, quad and collapsible.


Designed to decrease the weight on an extremity, these mobility aids are relatively easy to manage and can help the patient negotiate obstacles. However, a significant amount of upper body strength and overall balance is required in the use of crutches. Your injury, physical condition, and age may dictate which type crutch is prescribed. Most non-weight-bearing persons find the underarm type more stable and less tiring than other designs. Aluminum underarm crutches are lighter than wooden ones, making them preferable because of the energy they save.


This stable mobility device can help patients who have significant balance deficits (too severe for a cane). It also successfully diminishes the weight born on the affected extremity. With four legs the walker offers a relatively light weight, stable device. When patients can increase their weight-bearing status, they may "graduate" to a rolling walker, which will continue to offer balance and moderate weight-bearing assistance. Walkers demand the least coordination.


Often used for patients who have lost all weight-bearing capability, the wheel chair is a useful mobility device. Wheelchairs may offer a wider range of activity than canes, walkers, or crutches. If you have extended bed rest, multiple extremity injuries, or are generally out of condition, temporarily renting a wheelchair may be worth considering. They promote independence (getting to the bathroom), enhance safety, and get you back into participation in business and family functions. Wheelchairs save energy for other functions.

Progression from one mobility aid to another is expected as strength and abilities increase. From mild support to major support, using any or all of the following aids is possible: walker to underarm crutches, elbow (Canadian) crutches, broad-based canes, and finally, regular single-based canes. A major warning sign of the use of wrong aids is frequent falls. This suggests that the proper equipment is not being used or that you need additional training with that particular device. So which one do you choose? When in doubt about any advice or technique, consult with your health professional.