The human body is designed to transport us from point A to point B. Sometimes we encounter problems with this theory. Due to injury, disease, or just plain aging we may find it difficult to be mobile in our daily lives. From birth defects to fibromyalgia or even arthritis, in order to avoid being home bound we need something to keep us mobile. As the world around us expands the need for mobility aids increases in order to allow us to maintain our quality of life. It turns out that in order to become independent and self-sufficient we need to leave our homes in order to go food shopping, visit friends, or even the home improvement store to lead a fulfilling life.
Probably we have all known someone who has needed a pair of crutches after an injury to one of their legs such as a sprained ankle, knee injury, or even a broken bone. They allow the user to be mobile without putting any weight on the injured leg. Often used in pairs, they allow for a sturdy base while we go about our daily lives. The basic design involves a cushioned top that rests on our side just underneath the armpit with handgrips so they require a certain amount of hand strength properly utilize. Normally these are utilized in pairs, but if your doctor has you in a walking boot for a foot or ankle injury it may be possible that you could only use one crutch to make sure you are stable while walking so you don’t reinjure that foot or ankle. Another style that may be appropriate for your malady or injury is a forearm cuff set of crutches. Unlike the standard type that rests under your armpits, these have a circular cuff that encompasses your forearms and your hands grasp a horizontal grip to help manipulate them.
This type of mobility aid creates another point of contact with the ground, therefore making the user more stable. These can be useful when one leg is weaker (or injured) than the other or the user requires a little assistance with maintaining balance. The users of this aid may need to have moderate hand strength in order to properly utilize its benefits. For those with weakened hand strength, a horizontal grip is usually recommended since it provides a more secure grip and therefore can support more actual weight. The introduction of a slippery surface such as ice and snow can create a problem to the usual rubber tip of a cane. This can be overcome by utilizing spiky attachments to minimize slipping, but all care should be taken to avoid ice and snow. While many canes only have one point of contact with the ground, a quad cane may have four but this comes with an increase in weight.
If a cane does not provide sufficient stability, the next piece of equipment available may be a walker/rollator. This type of mobility aid does require a certain amount of hand/arm strength to be safely operated. This piece of equipment allows for approximately 50% of the users body weight to be supported and can resolve some significant issues with stability. Most walkers are an open frame that have four legs contacting the ground and need to be lifted and advanced (therefore requiring some strength). But for those that may lack arm and hand strength, a rollator may be the answer. These require less effort to advance since they may have 2-4 wheels depending on the model. The user may not fatigue is easily and even if they do many are available with optional seats incorporated into them so they can rest.
A child becomes more in tune with his environment as they learn how to walk as an infant. As one might infer from this, if an infant has trouble walking, their interaction with the world around them can become hampered. Besides interacting with our environment, developing a proper gait is important for weight bearing purposes. As humans we are designed to be upright. All of our systems (muscles, bones, and organs) perform better when we are upright. Even our digestive system benefits from being in a standing or walking position. Gait trainers allow therapists to intervene early in a child’s development and help strengthen the head and neck area as well as improve trunk and lower extremity strength. This can allow the user to improve their mobility and, especially at a young age, interact with the environment around them. Besides the obvious advantage of strengthening areas of the body important to walking, it also allows for weight-bearing benefits for proper bone development. Since behaviors are learned by repetition, utilizing a gait trainer over time can help the user become more mobile and integrate themselves to the world around them.
As stated above, the human body as evolved to the point that our bones require a certain amount of weight-bearing to be healthy. Bone density can be lost if we don’t utilize our skeletal system properly. A standing frame can help us maintain healthy bone density safely without the fear of falling and potential bone fracture. By using a stander we can help our body align itself and help with circulation (blood pressure) as well as assist our digestive system to properly operate and expel waste from our body. Trunk control improvement can be an advantage of a standing therapy program by forcing the user’s trunk control muscles to help stabilize and balance them. This can help with overall posture and balance reducing the risk of falling.
It’s the multitude of options available that can allow us to regain independence and mobility to enhance our quality of life. By utilizing mobility aids not only can we get around our environments easier, but it can improve our overall mental state. Let’s face it, we are happier when we are independent and don’t have to depend on someone else to allow us to enjoy the world around us. Not only does the use of a mobility aid improve our sense of being, it may include the benefits of working and earning money as opposed to sitting at home worrying about our bills. Our options are almost limitless as long as we are diligent in adhering to any therapy program or just an exercise regimen that can keep us from becoming sedentary. Feel free to get up and explore this crazy world we live in!!