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Support, help, advice & information for Multiple Sclerosis. Ask questions & share experiences with people affected by MS.


Stick to the point

Posted by Heste , 29 August 2011 · 2,273 views

You would think there was not much you could say about a walking stick. It's just a stick that helps you walk. But I have found my stick to be so much more than that.

Let me start at the beginning. I had two problems with walking. First there is the 'foot drop' thing that makes me trip up a lot. Then there is my balance (or lack of it).

It was while tripping and falling in the streets of London that I decided a stick might help. My thoughts were that I would not need it all the time but I would try it to speed up my journey and to ensure I made it safely between the station and my office.

I bought a folding walking stick that I could keep in my briefcase during the day.

Attached Image: folding.jpg

It is quite a big deal (internally) to start using a stick. I did feel very conspicuous with it. But it soon showed its advantages. Not only did it keep me the right way up, it also showed people that here was someone with a disability. A 'young' person having difficulty walking, tripping and falling is generally perceived by my average fellow London commuters as a drunk. A 'young' person with a walking stick is obviously disabled. I found that people would automatically step aside for me. Embarrassing though it was, I also found that people would offer me their seat on a crowded train…including young women. Another thing I learned was to accept a seat when it was offered.

Another thing I find since walking with a stick is that people open and hold doors for you. This makes life easier for me and makes them feel good about themselves too.

The folding stick was very good. It was there when I needed it and easy to put away when I didn't. However, after a while I found myself using it more and more.

[stick tip: putting elastic bands on the grip allows you to lean your stick against a wall or shop counter, when you need both hands free, and it stops it sliding sideways to the floor]

After a while I found I was using my stick all the time. I decided I might as well get a solid walking stick. Besides the folding stick, after a bit of wear and tear, had developed an annoying click as I walked.

So I bought a solid walking stick. In fact I brought several. I have my general-purpose house stick, my posh, Sunday best stick, my black (matches my suit) work stick and a rough, much bashed, garden stick.

Attached Image: sticks.jpg

The solid stick has other uses too. It can be used a hook for reaching things, pulling up the folding back seats in the car and all manner of pushing and prodding things that would otherwise be out of reach.
[Stick tip: With the new sticks I also brought a loop that attaches the stick to your wrist thus allowing you to safely let go of the stick when you need two hands free].

Attached Image: loop.jpg

The elastic bands and loops stop my sticks from wandering when I am out and about but in the office I like my stick to stay put too. So it needed somewhere to park. Thus I made a little device to hold my stick while I am working at my desk.

Attached Image: stuckstick.jpg

It is important to get a stick that's the right size. If it's too short you tend to lean on it more and leaning on a stick does not help your posture. In my case my stick is for balance and stability rather than supporting my weight. I am much more secure when I am standing 'tripod like'. When I walk I still trip but my stick prevents me from stumbling or falling flat on my face.

Then there is the unconscious use for my stick (that my wife tells me off about). This is when I point with it. The stick can so easily become an extension of your arm or a sixth finger. However, for all its usefulness, holding the stick does take one of my hands out of service. In my case I walk best holding my stick with my right hand. My left arm and hand lack strength. So I then have a problem carrying things.

[Stick tip: Keep carrier bags in your pockets so when you do need to carry things you can do so and you keep your other hand free for opening doors, etc.]

Now if I might wander into the future (or into the realms of fantasy). Sticks have really not advanced very far since the first cavemen started stumbling. I have often thought about how useful it would be to have a 'utility stick', a multifunctional ' swiss army stick' or even just a duel purpose stick. Suppose a stick had a torch built in? How about an exchangeable quick release handle so perhaps you could swap the handle for a hook? Maybe it could double as a grabber for picking up small objects. They could build in a magnet in the tip? or unscrew the handle to reveal a camera compatible thread so your stick becomes a monopod for holding your camera steady.

If you are going to carry this thing about all day it might as well have more uses.

There was a time when people did start to think like this. We had the 'Sword Stick' (now illegal as it's a concealed weapon) and the glass vials of alcohol hidden inside the stick (not likely to aid your balance).

There are a few ideas out there that you will find if you Google "multipurpose walking stick" but nothing you might consider mainstream.

Sometimes, on uneven surfaces, it is easier to walk with two sticks, but if you then need to climb stairs then you need one hand to hold a handrail. Two sticks are then difficult to manage. Also two sticks leaves you with no free hands. My idea is to have a single stick that separates into two.

Attached Image: Splitting-walking-stick.jpg

Now I come on to style. I find that so many sticks are 'fancy' or patterned and, dare I say it, designed for women. Those that are not are plain and, perhaps, designed for elderly men. You can see from the photo that I like a certain style of stick (I never use the horses head stick). I sometimes find it hard to find one locally that I like. The only place I know that sometimes has them are not familiar with "VAT Exemption" so I find it's not worth the trouble of claiming it.

So that's all I can think of to say about my experience of Walking Sticks.

Thank you for listening.

Great blog!

I could see myself doing all those things you talk about with the stick.
I recall when filling in my DWP form that I was fine using a stick...unless I dropped it on the floor, then I was a bit screwed!
Great stick advice! :) I know someone who has a very funky stick which has a white a red light for when dark (so helps crossing roads, & as a torch), a magnet on the bottom for if you drop your keys, & a noise that beeps like a lorry reversing (that feature perhaps more of a gimmick). Your idea of one that becomes two sounds very good, you should patent that idea quick!
Good stuff!

A good point regarding the 'difficulty' of starting to use a stick.

I also think it is interesting about the design styles not being aimed at blokes! How true!
How do you know if a stick is the right size. Ive never been measured up for one and bought one of the internet.

Anyway enjoying your blog.
Andy, a physio should be able to tell you. At least, they did with me and told me I had mine too high, so I have to get the bottom chopped off some I buy in shops, and then it's guesswork as I didn't know the specific height in inches. I'm not sure if the size may also depend  on what you use the stick for, eg: for balance or pain.
Hi Andy,
I too had physiotherapist who corrected the length of my walking stick. In my case my stick was too short. This made it easier to lean on it. Fortunately this was my folding walking stick which can be adjusted to make it longer. She did tell me that as I only needed the stick for balance that this would be better for my posture. she also told my wife to tell me off if she caught me leaning on the stick.
However, I do lean on the stick when my legs are particularly painful as it takes the weight off them.
This is what I had in mind when I wrote my blog.
Hello Heste, a very entertaining article thanks for that. I have two walking sticks, alas both redundant now for the purpose though still invaluable nonetheless! One I keep in the bathroom to helping close the door should it open to far and I can't reach to close it. Ideal to help me prise off my socks too and to retrieve the dropped soap. The other I keep in the lounge primarily to switch on a plug that had been switched off 'to save electricity..'<br><br>One of the sticks was made by a neighbour who sold them at country fayres and looks very dapper!<br>
It's Funny you should say that, I too have a stick in the bathroom for closing the door. I have 9 cats in the house who often push the door open at the most inconvenient of times.
Dear Heste,

I don't think that I'm bad enough yet but it has occured to me that a stick would be very useful with the balance and tripping, especially on the ttube. I think I might feel a bit safer going down stairs too. Your article was interesting and informative and made me feel less daunted about the prospect of using a stick when and if, things get worse! Thank you.
Great blog and thanks so much for the elastic band tip!

Pat x
I know Ive needed one for a while , but have felt a  bit  weird about getting one , how i will look with one and finally admitting I need one ,
going to try the monopod version , so it will come in useful for my camera , i was going to buy a monopod anyhow so Ill be shooting two birds using one stick ! ;)
Very entertaining and informative article. The part regarding being unstable pre stick is interesting. My pals always grab stools/seats at pubs as they know how I atruggle standing for a long time but it feels odd if you're watching a sports event and everyone is stood up. I suppose it's just a case of getting on with it (like most things MS based).

My daughter has informed me that she is buying me a "Hello Kitty" walking stick for my 40th! (2 months to go). I think a move to a stick might be a good plan and your article is very helpful.

Thank you.
Hello Heste, thanks for raising this subject and all the helpful tips. I've got a hiking stick (at the time it felt like it was less associated with disabiliy). The advantage is that its length can be adjusted easily. I too found that people' reaction to my stick was very kind and helpful - being patient, carrying my case up steps without being asked etc etc. I'll definitely put elatic bands on the handle as its so difficult to park normally when both hands are needed . Thanks!  :-) Jill
Hi, this was the first blog I read on this site, and struck a cord!  I have a slight drop foot and my balance is not very good.  I haven't actually tripped or fallen but I have had a good few 'near-misses'.  I try to put control measures in place to minimize the  risk of a fall (eg using two handrails on stairs, not carrying a hot drink too far).  I too have got a walkers cane, but haven't used it very much.  I have told pretty much everyone I know of my condition which explains the odd wobble, but I find people get very fussy over me which makes me feel uncomfortable, if I am honest.

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