Living with chronic pain is incredibly hard and can impact your mobility significantly. Thankfully, there are ways you can increase your activity levels and mobility aids are a great option.
If you’re thinking about getting a mobility aid for the first time, I know it can be nerve-wracking and a bit overwhelming. We’ll break it down together to help you make the right choice for you.
Who Can Use Mobility Aids?
The answer to this one is really simple – anyone who can benefit from a mobility aid can use one!
When you’re first considering a mobility aid, you might feel as though you need permission from someone, or that there are certain criteria you need to fit to use an aid. The truth is, the only person you need permission from is yourself!
If you live with a chronic condition that reduces your mobility and you feel that an aid could improve your quality of life, then you can buy one.
Of course, you can talk to your doctor or specialists about your thoughts and see if they have advice. They may be able to refer you to disability services to get a mobility aid depending on where you live.
My first ever aid was a walking stick many years ago – it was life-changing! Since then I have used a variety of aids to suit my changing symptoms and they enable me to live the life I want to live.
Signs You Might Need a Mobility Aid
If you’re thinking about using a mobility aid, you probably need one – people who don’t need them don’t tend to dwell on whether an aid would help.
However, to help you figure things out, there are some signs below that may indicate you need an aid:
- You are struggling to get around, either inside your home, outside, or both
- You struggle to stand or remain standing
- You struggle to complete daily tasks
- You can’t walk the distances you want to
- You struggle with balance while walking
- You often fall, trip, or bump into things
- You struggle with chronic fatigue and often find you ‘run out’ of energy
- You have severe chronic pain that reduces your level of functioning
- You miss out on days out, socialising, or other activities due to your chronic condition
Mobility Aids and Stigma
Society teaches us that mobility aids are ‘just for the elderly’ or that using one is a weakness or giving in. That couldn’t be further from the truth! Disability doesn’t discriminate – anyone of any age can live with a chronic condition and need a bit of help.
One study found that many people who could benefit from using a mobility aid aren’t using one. The study concluded: “Social pressures and perceived stigma deter mobility aid use, particularly in minority populations.”
Using an aid isn’t ‘giving up’ – it’s the opposite. It’s using every tool you can to be as mobile as possible and fight your chronic pain.
Mobility Aids and Deconditioning
You might have heard people say that using a mobility aid can cause deconditioning, or more commonly you may hear the phrase – “use it or lose it”. While being inactive can cause your muscles to weaken, mobility aids increase mobility not reduce it.
If a walking aid helps you get out of the house and move your body more, you’re being more active than you were before! If a wheelchair enables you to reduce pain and save energy so you can move your body in other ways, that’s a positive thing not a negative.
Research shows that when patients use aids that require little energy (meaning mobility scooters or power wheelchairs) when they do have some physical function they: “run the risk of de-conditioning the users physical functionality and their mobile capabilities at a faster rate than if they had used a more physically active assistive technology.” This basically means that if you can walk, you should be using an aid that helps you with walking where possible, to prevent deconditioning.
However, another study found that devices like mobility scooters help users do more, not less and concluded: “in terms of walking ability, mobility scooter use creates no adverse effects.”
It’s important to find the right aid for you and ensure that you are continuing to exercise to the best of your ability to maintain your fitness.
How Can Mobility Aids Help With Chronic Pain?
There are multiple ways mobility aids can help someone with a chronic pain condition depending on your symptoms. Let’s take a closer look!
Using a walking aid like a stick, crutch, or rollator may help to reduce your pain levels while you’re walking. It’s important to note that you need to use your mobility aid properly, or it can sometimes increase pain or cause pain in new areas.
If you struggle to walk due to severe pain, a mobility scooter or wheelchair may allow you to do more and reduce your pain levels while you’re doing other tasks.
Improving Quality of Life
Using mobility aids can massively improve the quality of life for people with chronic conditions. Using an aid can help you to get out more, go further, increase your confidence, help you be more independent and social, and let you have more fun!
One review on the use of mobility scooters explains that they enable people to: “participate in activities they previously could not access, to participate in activities without discomfort or to extend the duration of participation.”
Over the last few years, I’ve unfortunately had multiple additional diagnoses. Using mobility aids has improved my quality of life and allowed me to continue living the life I want to live despite my worsening symptoms.
Many studies have found that people using mobility devices: “felt their device enabled them to participate in more activities, gave them greater independence and increased their sense of security.”
Help With Managing Fatigue
Many chronic pain conditions also cause fatigue, which can be just as debilitating as the pain itself. Mobility aids can help to reduce fatigue when doing daily tasks.
Aids can also help you manage your fatigue. For example, on days when my fatigue is bad, I have to decide how I’m going to use the limited energy I have. Using my wheelchair allows me to walk my dogs and go to the shops, so I can save energy for doing work or some gentle stretching later in the day.
Help With Pacing
Pacing refers to dividing tasks up into smaller, more manageable parts with rests in between. It can help to prevent a flare in symptoms. Using mobility aids can help make tasks more manageable and let you use less energy when pacing.
Reducing Additional Symptoms
Many pain patients have other symptoms that come along with their condition, such as dizziness or issues with balance and coordination. Mobility aids may help people to reduce or manage these symptoms.
For example, I suffer from vertigo, dizziness, and loss of coordination which puts me at high risk for falls on bad days. Using aids reduces these risks and helps to keep me safe while allowing me to function even if my symptoms are flaring.
We all know that exercise is important for our general health, but it’s also a great way to build strength, reduce pain and stiffness, and improve mobility.
There’s a lot of misinformation about mobility aids reducing activity levels. But actually, when they’re used correctly mobility aids can enable you to move your body more!
I’ve always loved exercise – it reduces my pain and is something that brings me a lot of joy. As my symptoms have worsened, I’ve had to find other ways to exercise. I have an off-road rollator that still allows me to go hiking on good days. I’ve also started doing seated exercises to maintain my mobility, which I’ve found really helpful!
A systematic review on whether walking aids help with activity concluded: “When incorporated in daily life, walking aids were found to enable several domains of activity and participation.”
It’s also important to bear in mind that for many people, their symptoms are so severe that the options are to stay at home or use a mobility aid to go out. So, they aren’t missing out on exercise they would have done – they’re just missing out altogether. One review stated that people using mobility scooters gained “freedom to move independently outside the house, in some cases being housebound without them”.
Types of Mobility Aids
There are lots of different types of mobility aids which have different uses and benefits.
Help With Getting Around
The aids below can be used when you’re out and about, or around the house depending on your needs.
For some people, one aid to help them get around will be ideal for their symptoms. For those with more complex or changeable conditions like me, you may benefit from multiple aids.
Good for people who:
- Need some support while walking
- Struggle with mild balance or coordination issues
- Struggle with some pain while walking
- Want to walk further or more often
Walking sticks offer support and help to take some weight off the lower body by putting the weight onto your hands and arms. They can also help with balance. You might also hear walking sticks called canes depending on where you live.
There are many different types of walking sticks including sticks with different bases; folding sticks; sticks with seats attached; and even hiking sticks.
Although hiking sticks aren’t necessarily marketed at disabled people, I find them helpful because you use two – one in each hand. This can help with balance and prevent you from putting too much pressure on one wrist or arm.
Good for people who:
- Need more support than a walking stick while walking
- Struggle with pain while walking
- Have instability in their legs or other areas of the lower body
- Need to keep weight off one side of their lower body
- Have some mild balance or coordination issues
- Want to walk further or more often
Crutches help you to support your weight and take more weight off your lower body. They offer more support than walking sticks. Some people may use just one crutch, while others use one for each arm.
There are underarm crutches and forearm crutches, which simply refer to where the ‘cuff’ of the crutch sits. There are also platform crutches which have sturdier grips for people who struggle with weakened grip.
Good for people who:
- Need significant support while walking
- Need to sit down and rest regularly
- Struggle with moderate to severe pain
- Sometimes struggle with balance, instability, and coordination issues
- Struggle to carry items while walking
- Want to walk further or more often
Rollators can help with balance and support while walking. They’re also excellent for people who need to sit and rest frequently.
Rollators have a strong frame and either three or four wheels. You can use the frame for balance and hold onto the handles as you walk. Most rollators also have a seat and brakes to stop the wheels moving, so you can rest as often as you need to. Many also have baskets or areas where you can put shopping or your belongings.
There are standard rollators with smaller wheels, or you can also get off-road rollators like mine with big tyres.
Good for people who:
- Have severe balance or coordination issues
- Need help to stand
- Need lots of support when walking
- Struggle with pain and stiffness while moving
- Are at high risk for falls
Walking frames or Zimmer frames have a frame with three sides and four legs. You stand in the middle of the frame, holding onto the top. As you take a step, you lift or slide the frame forward to support your next step. Some walking frames will have wheels on one side to make sliding the frame easier if you struggle to lift it.
Walking frames offer much more stability and support than rollators for people who struggle to balance or walk. They can also help with getting up from a sitting position.
Good for people who:
- Struggle to stand and walk
- Are very high risk for falls (severe balance/coordination issues)
- Have very limited mobility
- Have a lot of weakness in their lower body
- Have severe pain while doing daily tasks that is eased by sitting
- Want to do more and go further
- Need to sit often due to chronic illness symptoms
Wheelchairs are ideal for people who struggle to stand or walk to allow you to get around. They’re also a great tool for people who struggle with severe fatigue, to help you do more while using less energy.
So many people think that only people who are paralysed or physically can’t walk at all use wheelchairs! Ambulatory wheelchair users are people who use wheelchairs sometimes but can also walk or stand at times. I’m one of them! I have a power wheelchair I use on bad symptoms days because I have several conditions which vary in severity.
You can get manual wheelchairs which you propel yourself; a wheelchair someone else pushes you in; or an electric wheelchair that you control with a joystick. You can also get manual sports wheelchairs for those who love to stay active.
Good for people who:
- Have limited mobility
- Have weakness in their lower body
- Can walk sometimes but want to go further/do more
- Struggle with fatigue made worse by exercise
- Struggle to get around
- Have chronic pain or other chronic symptoms that are worse when standing or walking
Mobility scooters are an excellent option for people with chronic pain who want to do more while reducing pain or saving energy. They have a sturdy seat, a footrest, and handlebars with controls on them.
There are a wide range of mobility scooters including off-road scooters; folding scooters; small lightweight scooters; and scooters that can be disassembled to fit in a car boot. They are battery-powered and can have three or four wheels.
Many mobility scooters have baskets and pockets to carry your belongings. They often have a place to put your walking stick, so you can park your scooter somewhere and get off to stretch your legs when you feel up to it (this can help with staying active).
It’s worth noting that with some bigger mobility scooters, you may find accessing places like shops and other buildings trickier than with smaller scooters or a wheelchair.
Help Around the House
There is also a wide range of aids you can use around the house to make daily tasks easier and reduce pain including:
- Shower aids such as shower seats, bath lifts, and shower handles
- Grabbers to help you pick things up from the floor
- Reclining chairs
- Adjustable beds
- Help with opening things such as electric can openers and additional grips to help with opening bottles
- Wearable aids like support braces and compression clothing
Factors to Consider When Choosing a Mobility Aid
There are lots of things to consider to help you pick the right mobility aid for you. I highly recommend taking your time to do research, making notes, and having someone to help you talk it through if possible.
You’ll need to consider:
- Your budget: Sadly aids can be very expensive, especially if you need a wheelchair or mobility scooter. Think about your budget and do some research into whether there may be funding or grants available in your area. If you’re self-funding, I recommend getting a refurbished or second-hand aid.
- Your ability and symptoms: Think about what symptoms you struggle with and your walking ability.
- What you want your aid to help you with: Something I found helpful was thinking about what I wanted my life to look like and what I wanted my aid to help me improve. That answered many questions for me about what type of aid I needed.
- Weight and size limits: Most aids will have a maximum weight they will support. You should also consider the size of the seat on aids like rollators and wheelchairs to ensure they can accommodate your measurements.
- Transportation: If you drive or have someone who drives you places regularly, think about how you will transport your aid. Will it fit in the car boot? Does it break down or fold up? Is it light enough for you or a carer to lift?
- Terrain: If you want to use your aid on pavements or around shops, a simple, standard aid will be fine. However, if like me you want to go off-road and explore, you’ll need an aid that’s designed for this.
Weigh up all your options and don’t be afraid to seek advice from a disability charity or local disability organisation.
Another great way to figure out what’s right for you is to try out some aids! You may be able to visit a mobility shop to try some. Alternatively, you might be able to hire aids out for a short time or borrow one from a friend or loved one to see how they work for you.
Using Your Mobility Aid Correctly
Using your aid correctly is essential to getting the most out of it and ensuring you don’t cause additional health issues. You don’t want to put excess pressure on any of your joints! Getting your aid at the right height, maintaining the right posture during use, and using it correctly is key.
One study on the use of rolling walkers found that of 158 patients: “Forward-leaning posture (which can cause falls and increase pain when using a walker) was apparent in participants during static standing (40%) and during ambulation (50%).”
If you can, get some guidance from your doctor or physical therapist. If not, I recommend watching plenty of videos online to guide you on the right height and use for your aid.
Is a Mobility Aid Right For You?
If a mobility aid could help improve your life, then it’s right for you. It’s all about finding the right aid and using it correctly to increase your mobility.
Often, taking that first step to try an aid is the hardest. Once you see how it improves your quality of life, in my experience you care much less about what others think because the improvement in your quality of life is so marked.
- Resnik L, Allen S, Isenstadt D, Wasserman M, Iezzoni L., (2009), “Perspectives on use of mobility aids in a diverse population of seniors: implications for intervention.” Disabil Health J. 2009 Apr;2(2):77-85.
- Roselle Thoreau, (2015), “The impact of mobility scooters on their users. Does their usage help or hinder?: A state of the art review”. Journal of Transport & Health, Volume 2, Issue 2, June 2015, Pages 269-275.
- Bertrand, Kim MSc; Raymond, Marie-Hélène PhD; Miller, William C. PhD; Martin Ginis, Kathleen A. PhD; Demers, Louise PhD, (2017), “Walking Aids for Enabling Activity and Participation A Systematic Review.” American Journal of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, October 2023 – Volume 102 – Issue 10.
- Liu HH., (2009), “Assessment of rolling walkers used by older adults in senior-living communities.” Geriatr Gerontol Int. 2009 Jun;9(2):124-30.