Solution for the Pain Pinch: A Walking Stick

by Christina Lasich, MD Health Professional

Try not to call it a cane. Instead, calling this assistive device a "walking stick" or even a "trekking stick" evokes more positive images of youth, vigor, and an active lifestyle. This handy object can assist you in easing many types of pain. All the way down the chain, from the low back to the feet, a walking stick can reduce the stress and strain that comes with everyday activities or a walk in the woods.

Researchers in Australia recently showed that the use of a cane reduced the load on the knee by 10%. By reducing knee joint stress,
the pain, swelling, and stiffness is less likely to become debilitating. Knee arthritis plagues many people who line up for knee replacement surgery. That surgery can be postponed and activities can continue with a little help from a walking stick or two. That's right, two. Some of the most avid hikers in the world use two trekking sticks to help support their bodies over the uneven terrain. Not only does this technique reduce the load on all the parts of the body, but it also helps to conserve energy that is ordinarily used to help maintain balance. Think about it. Have you ever seen a two-legged stool?
That is a silly thought because three legs are more stable than two and four legs are even better.

Improved balance is the reason walking sticks help to relieve back pain too. When walking, the back muscles are primarily involved in maintaining your balance. If the work load on these stabilizing muscles reduces, then the pain usually reduces as well. Most back pain sufferers experience more discomfort when climbing hills, stepping off curbs, or walking over bumpy ground. Just a simple stick in one hand really does make these tasks easier and safer. Keeping active is a matter of controlling the pain. Sometimes a simple assistive device like a walking stick is all that is needed to keep moving.

People with hip arthritis would like to keep moving. However, the hip pain usually felt in the groin area can become quite severe. Once again, the cane is invaluable at reducing joint stress. A cane used in the opposite hand from the worn out hip (right hip pain, use the cane in the left hand; left hip pain, use the cane in the right hand) helps to stabilize the pelvis and lessen the work load on the hip joint. With a walking stick, you may not be able to play basketball, but you might just be able to walk the dog comfortably.

Many types of assistive devices exist and really do assist in making life easier. Unfortunately, people cringe at the thought of using a cane, a walker, or a scooter. However, those negative thoughts ease when faced with a choice of living independently or depending on others. Most would rather use an assistive device to do things like grocery shopping, than have someone else do the shopping for them. Because these aides help to control many types of pain, they also help a person maintain control over his or her life. By regaining control, pain is then less likely to cause suffering. Just carry a big stick and keep moving.

Christina Lasich, MD
Meet Our Writer
Christina Lasich, MD

Christina Lasich, M.D., wrote about chronic pain and osteoarthritis for HealthCentral. She is physiatrist in Grass Valley, California. She specializes in pain management and spine rehabilitation.