Living with Chronic Pain
Mobility and the Use of Mobility Devices
Various chronic pain conditions can limit mobility, which, in turn, can affect quality of life. Restricted mobility can be challenging for both the person affected and their caregiver.
Oftentimes, individuals with mobility issues are hesitant to use mobility devices, especially if they were previously mobile.
It is imperative to consult a physician if mobility issues are an issue. Secondary issues, such as broken bones, fractures, hospital stays, and increased dependency on caretakers, can occur without proper medical care. A health care provider will often make a referral to a both a physical and occupational therapist. These professionals can recommend the best mobility devices for specific chronic pain conditions and also teach the proper way to use the devices.
Types of mobility devices
Assistive mobility devices not only help individuals with mobility issues accomplish daily tasks and improve their physical functioning, but they also provide a sense of independence. Assistive mobility devices include, but are not limited to, braces, walkers, canes, wheelchairs (manual and electric), and scooters.
Ankle and leg braces
Individuals with leg or ankle weakness often benefit from leg or ankle braces. An ankle-foot orthosis (AFO) is a brace that supports the ankle and prevents “foot drop,” which is caused by weakness of the muscles used to lift the foot during walking. AFOs are usually made of plastic and are worn on the lower leg and foot. They keep the ankle in a neutral position and are often custom made to fit specific sizes and needs. Various types of leg braces are available depending on the amount of support required. Some leg braces are designed to immobilize the knee if issues with the knee are also present. Other types of leg braces lock and unlock while walking. These types of braces mimic the natural gait of walking.
If one side of the body is weaker than the other, using a cane can provide stability and promote balance. A physical or occupational therapist can teach the proper way to use a cane. A cane should be used on the strongest side of the body, shifting weight from the weaker side. A cane with three or four legs provides more stability than a typical stick cane. Most canes are adjustable so the proper height required can be set.
For those who need more assistance than a cane provides, walkers are a wise choice. Walkers are light-weight, aluminum, and are available in three different types: traditional walkers, walkers with wheels, and walkers with seats (rollators). Walkers are a simple, effective tool for those who have weakness on both sides of the body. While using a walker, the body's weight rests more on the arms than the legs, which improves balance.
It is important to keep the spine as straight as possible and the elbows bent at a comfortable angle when using a walker. Also, a walker should not be placed too far in front of the body, and excessive leaning on the walker should be avoided. A physical or occupational therapist can teach how to properly use a walker.
Wheelchairs and scooters
When a walker is no longer a viable option, wheelchairs and scooters are dependable mobility devices. Wheelchairs and scooters come in various types, styles and sizes. Manual wheelchairs are affordable and are often designed to fold up for easy transport. Many individuals use a manual wheelchair independently (pushing the wheels with their arms) while others need a caregiver to push and guide it. Manual wheelchairs have large wheels that are accessible by the hands. If an individual is too unstable to walk but has upper-body strength, a manual wheelchair is an excellent choice. If weakness in the upper body is also an issue, a motorized wheelchair is a solid option; however, the individual must be able to get in and out of it safely and operate the controls (usually joysticks) with the hands. If more independence outdoors is desired, electric scooters are a good choice. Scooters are better on uneven terrain than motorized wheelchairs; however, they are more difficult to maneuver around corners. Therefore, they are often not the best option for indoor use.
Most insurance plans cover mobility devices when recommended and prescribed by a physician. It is important to consult a health care professional about any mobility needs in order to determine the best mobility device for each specific situation.