Mobility Aids and MS: Foot Braces and Crutches

Vicki Health Guide
  • According to the National MS Society about 2/3 of people with MS have walking difficulties. Problems walking interfere with working outside the home, traveling, attending significant life events, and even performing daily activities. Problems are aggravated by fatigue that is experienced by 80% of MSers. All of these can be alleviated by using walking aids.

    Imagine, your quality of life which is threatened by balance, swaying, and falling can be recaptured by the use of a simple walking aid. So why do people still resist using a walking aid? There is a variety of choices, each with its own benefits for particular problems. Between the initial resistance and too many choices, the solution is more difficult than ever.

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    In my last article, I talked about canes. Today the subject includes simple foot braces, crutches, and introduces a standard walker.
    All of these are relatively lightweight, portable, and easily transported. They can be sized for height and weight, for both children and adults, but all of these depend on the user being able to stand. Now let's look at some foot braces and crutches.

    Foot Braces
    Sometimes when someone with MS cannot walk, it is simply because a foot does not perform. Maybe it just won't lift up, and instead drags or shuffles across the floor or ground. Other times, when the leg muscles are too weak to turn the ankle or lift the toes, foot drop interferes with the simple act of walking. In these cases, the mobility problem has little or nothing to do with balance or support

    When one foot, or even both feet do not work, your mobility aid choice can be as simple as a foot brace. There are several types of foot braces, foot lift assists, a simple x-strap to more complex orthotic devices.
    Foot orthotics are orthopedic devices used to correct foot function, designed to adjust and support foot disorders and reduce the chances of tripping by allowing the user to lift and move the foot easier.

    All of these items are custom made and professionally adjusted to ensure the best benefit.
    This being said, these devices reduce or eliminate the chances of tripping.

    Problems and complaints with these braces include the fact that they are hot, bulky and awkward. They rub and sometimes cause the foot to become numb. In addition, some include a belt that accommodates balance.

    Here is one that is a little different.
    A British scientist developed a unique walking aid for his MSer wife who has foot drop. Using his invention called the MusMate, her walking speed doubled. Volunteers from the local MS Society reported their walking distance increased six-fold. This customizable shoulder harness with elastic straps is similar to the foot braces because it addresses drop foot, but it is not limited to the foot area. It is now available commercially.

    Although the foot devices can be used independently, they are especially effective when used in conjunction with other walking aids such as canes or crutches.

    Crutches

    You might choose crutches as your walking aid if you have stiffness, spasms, balance problems, and weakness in the legs. They provide balance and take pressure off the leg muscles. Crutches do not require much upper body strength


  • It is important for the crutches to be the correct size, weight and height for each user. Anatomic soft rubber grips that provide a wider grip and better distribute the weight further customize the crutches. There are also accessories such as cuff covers, crutch skins and carry bags, crutch holders, and ice tips.

    There are two basic types of crutches: standard crutches and forearm crutches. Each have their own advantages, .

    Standard Crutches
    Crutches can be used for up to a year or two. Depending on the individual problem, either one or two crutches can be useful, and the need may change from day to day. Modern crutches can be comfortable and relaxing because they provide a great deal of support. However, there have been complaints about numbing hands and soreness under arms where the weight is often supported.
    You are cautioned to be careful about and pressure on underarms.

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    Walking with crutches seems so simple, but there are six ways to ambulate using them. Therefore, just as with canes
    , it is recommended that you have professional training to ensure you develop the stride most beneficial for your particular problem. Some users of crutches have reported dizziness when swinging between steps.

    Forearm Crutches
    Like standard crutches, forearm crutches also provide balance and take some of the pressure off weak leg muscles. In addition, they also eliminate the possibility of pressure sores under the arms. They are good for long term needs and are often used for two or more years before stopping because they are no longer needed or you are moving on to another type of aid.

    This crutch features a flexible cuff that surrounds the forearm just below the elbow, helping to reduce arm strain. Unlike normal underarm crutches these crutches do not put constant pressure on the underarm. Forearm crutches are similar to canes, but they are actually extensions of the arms. Because of that, it is important that these crutches are adjusted to fit comfortably, and again, training to walk with your new crutches is vital.

    Here is an example of specialty canes/forearm crutches with special wrap-around handles.
    Besides ensuring the correct size for weight and height, the cuffs and handles should also fit neatly and comfortably on arms.

    Walkers
    If you have spasms or stiffness, weak legs, need help with your balance in that you need support on both sides, and experience fatigue, a walker is a good choice for your walking aid. The walker is good for long-term use.

    A walker encourages better body alignment than any of the aids we have already considered. Like most aids, a walker can be sized for height as well as weight. Most can be easily folded for transporting and storage.

    Available accessories include cup holders, meal platforms, wheels, an IV pole, a reacher, pouch, or seat.

    There are two types of walkers: the standard with rubber tips on all legs, and a walker with wheels or a rollator. Let's look at walkers -

    Standard Walkers 
    The original walker was a metal frame with four legs that provided security when you lean with both hands. You move forward by picking it up and putting it back down a few inches closer to your desired destination.


  • Though it sounds awkward, this walker is very light and easy to handle. There have been many changes and improvements on the original walker design. Most people who choose a walker, select one of the newer designs.

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    As with canes, whenever you use a walking aid, it is a good idea to remove any likely tripping hazards from your living area. Be sure to check any room as you enter, so you can avoid or adjust for questionable areas.

    Next we'll talk about more walking aids, specifically walkers with wheels and then we will look at the future of mobility aids.

    Notes and Links
    NMSS - Loss of Mobility
    Custom foot orthotics
    Foot drop lift assist  

    Training to walk with crutches   

    Forearm crutches

    Strongarm crutches 

Published On: September 17, 2009