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A step toward independence.

Isabelle Gordon isn't about to let arthritis cramp her style. Despite arthritis in her knees, she remains active and energetic. Serving on the board of directors for a local daycare center and on the citizen's advisory committee in her community, she's constantly on the go, but not without her "third leg."

She carries herself with the self-assurance that she looks pleasing, regardless of the cane she uses. "I dress well, wear makeup and a red hat every day. My cane is just me it's my third leg," says the Moline, Ill., resident who has used a cane for the past five years.

Once a sign of distinction and an important accessory in men's fashion, canes are often inaccurately viewed in today's society as a symbol of disability and defeat. But for those with arthritis, canes and other walking aids can often provide independence as well as joint protection and pain relief.

Lucille Sonnenberg has found independence with her cane, despite some discouragement from friends and family members. "People think you're giving in too much when you use a cane. Often my friends and even my family will say, 'Can't you walk without that thing?' or 'You just rely on that cane too much,"' says the Davenport, Iowa, resident. "My doctor told me to throw away my pride and use it. Now I don't pay attention to someone who says I don't need it. It's certainly better than having to just sit around."

The bias often associated with canes is born out of misconception. "People tend to see them as a way to prevent pain when everything else has failed - as a last resort," says Marian Minor, P.T., Ph.D., at the University of Missouri Multipurpose Arthritis Center in Columbia, Mo. "They see using a cane as the beginning of a horrible progression from cane to walker to wheelchair."

To the contrary, Minor points out that people with arthritis often improve while using an assistive device. "People may start out using two crutches and then progress to using two canes, then one cane and sometimes they end up needing nothing at all," she says.

Using a mobility aid when your arthritis flares or your joints are particularly painful can help you continue with your normal activities. Many times, the use of a cane is only temporary, such as immediately after surgery or during a flare. Often when the crisis is over, the cane may not be needed again for a while, says Minor.

People have to ask themselves what it is they want to do, says Lori Pearlmutter, a physical therapist at the University of Arizona Medical Center. "Are they willing to avoid using something because of the way it makes them look and then end up so dysfunctional they can't do what they want to do? That's often why assistive devices are recommended - not always because someone is becoming debilitated, but to allow them to be more functional."

Why Canes Help

By moving a person's center of balance to decrease the forces put on a particular joint, canes serve as a means of prevention and protection. Often canes and other assistive devices can prevent further joint damage, enabling a person to stay mobile longer than if the joint were continually stressed, says Pearlmutter. "Many times people who have bad hips or knees and who may need total joint replacements could actually extend the life of the joint by using a cane."

Walking aids can also help protect joints other than those that are painful and inflamed. "If something hurts, people will compensate and end up putting more pressure on the other side," says Pear[mutter. "if a patient is walking poorly because they are in pain, I stress that I don't want them to end up with a problem on the other leg, and a cane may help them in the long run not to need something even more complex."

While canes can prevent a lot of problems down the road, in order to give the maximum benefit they must be properly fitted and tailored to meet your own individual needs. "For someone with arthritis, choosing the right device is not a simple process on your own," says Pearlmutter. "The right choice depends on a combination of things - including what type of arthritis you have and what you are using the device for." Often patients get frustrated and say the device is too complicated or too much trouble, and it's usually because they haven't been instructed on how to use it properly, says Minor.

If you've never considered a cane or other walking aid, talk to your doctor or physical therapist. It may be just what you need to take that first step toward independence.

Guidelines for Buying and Using a Cane

The experts stress that professional evaluation and training are beneficial for any walking aid. But if you need a cane simply to take the pressure off a joint and if your hands and/or wrists are not affected by arthritis, you can choose whatever style cane you want. Consider the following general guidelines for purchasing and using a cane correctly:

* Always use the cane on the side opposite of the hurt or injured joint.

* Be sure the cane is the right height. When your arm is down by your side, the top of the cane should be even with your wrist. When your hand is resting on top of the cane, your elbow should be at a 30-degree angle.

* When walking, move the cane or walker first, then move your weaker or more painful leg and, finally, your stronger leg.

* When going up stairs, step up with the leg on which you feel more secure and down on the weaker one. When descending stairs, put the cane on the step you want to reach and move your less secure leg down first, followed by your stronger leg.
COPYRIGHT 1992 Arthritis Foundation, Inc.
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Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:includes related article; using a cane
Author:Ballew, Tracy
Publication:Arthritis Today
Date:Jul 1, 1992
Previous Article:Walking away OA pain.
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