Trains, Trams, and Walking Canes: Pedestrian Travel in Europe

Patient Expert

What are some of the things you notice when you travel to a new place?   For me, it might be the way people do things.   For you, it might be noticing the local fashion or perhaps the native wildlife.   During a recent trip to Switzerland, I noticed canes and crutches.

One thing that I truly enjoy about European cities is the ease of public transportation.   Trains and trams connect neighborhoods and districts in a way which is not common in the US.   Other than cobblestone streets in old neighborhoods, it is very easy to get from point A to point B, that is, if you are ambulatory.

In the train station, on the streets, every which way I looked in Zurich, I watched people of various ages using canes and crutches.   Only once did I spot a wheelchair.   The occupant was a youth who appeared to be permanently disabled and the chair was motorized.     It did make me wonder if wheelchairs are not as common in Switzerland.   Not even once did I spot an electric scooter.

While I don't normally see too many people using wheelchairs on an average day in Washington, DC, it did seem that wheelchairs and scooters were even less common in train stations or old town Zurich.   In contrast, canes and crutches were much more common than I am accustomed to seeing at home.

I've often observed persons using canes in the States who walk very slowly or have the appearance of shuffling their feet.   At times, it is seems that the cane is the only thing keeping a person upright.   Do we tend to lean on our canes a bit more here in the US?   I wonder.

In Switzerland, cane users walked no less quickly than others in the crowd.   When I finally brought my folding cane out for use on our last day, I definitely walked more slower than the throngs of tourists and locals.   People passed me by frequently.   I even had to quickly step out of the way of a women spotted at the train station who was practically jogging while using her cane.

Observing so many people using mobility devices made me wonder if Americans are just more stoic and reluctant to use canes and arm crutches than the Swiss.   But then I considered that since people are much more pedestrian in Zurich, perhaps they are more willing to do what it takes to be able to travel distances.

Maybe persons who grow up in a culture of Alpine hiking and skiing (sports which frequently involve the use of poles) are more likely to use a cane then those of us in the US who may mistakenly associate using a cane as a sign of weakness.   Of course, using a mobility device is not a sign of weakness, but you do need to use the appropriate device for maximum benefit.

Size Up Your Cane:

Use a cane of the appropriate size for your body.   You should not be stooped over or bent backward when using your cane.   Enlist the help of a partner to measure you for the correct length cane.   Stand up straight with a relaxed posture, allowing your elbows to bend slightly.   Be sure to wear shoes.   Have your partner measure from the bottom of your wrist to the floor, making sure there is no slack in the tape measure.   Round up to the nearest half inch; this is the length your cane should be.   To measure a cane, find the distance from the bottom of the cane's rubber tip to the highest point of the cane handle.   Round up to the nearest half inch; this is the cane's length.

The adjustable folding cane which I use on occasion has a "Fritz handle."   When trying out canes at the local drug store, I found that this was the one which seems to feel good to me.   At that time, I didn't know that the Fritz handle is considered appropriate for persons who have arthritis in their hands.   I was simply following instinct and seem to have made a good choice.

Do you use a cane, arm crutch, or other mobility device?   How did you decide which device you wanted to use?   When did you start using it and how often?   Share your experience in the comments section below.** Lisa Emrich is author of the blog Brass and Ivory: Life with MS and RA and founder of the Carnival of MS Bloggers.**