Living with Chronic Pain

Mobility and the Use of Mobility Devices

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Many chronic pain conditions limit mobility which, in turn, affects the sufferer's quality of life. Restricted mobility is often challenging for the person affected and his/her 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 suspected. Secondary issues such as broken bones, fractures, hospital stays, and increased dependency on caretakers often occur when the proper help is not sought. A health care professional will often refer the patient to a physical and/or occupational therapist who will recommend the best mobility device for the specific chronic pain condition. These therapists also teach the proper way to use these devices.

Mobility devices are beneficial to many chronic pain patients. Assistive mobility devices not only help patients 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.

Those suffering from leg and/or ankle weakness often benefit from ankle or leg 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 an individual's size and needs. Various types of leg braces are available depending on the amount of support required. Many leg braces are locked in place which immobilizes the knee if the patient also suffers from knee problems. 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 provides stability and promotes balance. A physical and/or occupational therapist works with patients to teach them how to properly use a cane. The cane should be used on the strongest side of the body shifting weight from the weaker side. A three- or four-legged cane provides more stability than a typical stick cane. Most canes adjust to the proper height needed for the individual.

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 suffer from weakness in both sides of the body. While using a walker, the body's weight is distributed more on the arms than the legs which improves balance. It is important to note that while using a walker the spine should remain as straight as possible, and the elbows should be bent at a comfortable angle. Also, the 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 help individuals learn the proper way to use a walker.

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 often fold for easy vehicle transport. Many individuals use a manual wheelchair independently (pushing the wheels with their arms in order to move around) 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 the individual desires more independence outdoors, 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 inside the home.

Insurance frequently covers mobility devices when recommended and prescribed by a physician. It is important to talk to a physician in depth about specific mobility needs in order to determine which mobility device is the best choice for each individual.

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