Improper use of canes and walkers causes 47,000 falls in US
22 July 2009
A study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society
(June 2009) found that 47,000 senior citizens end up in emergency
rooms each year in the US due to falls from improper use and fit of
walkers and canes.
The American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) is now urging
elderly adults who use canes and walkers as walking aids to be properly
assessed and fitted by a physical therapist to avoid fall-related
The study, conducted by government researchers, examined six years of
emergency room records and found that the walker was associated seven
times more with injury-related falls than was the cane. Physical
therapists advise that these results indicate a strong need for proper
fit and assessment.
According to physical therapist and APTA member Cathy Ciolek, PT,
DPT, GCS, many patients often borrow walking aids from friends and
family, which can result in injuries. "We see many patients use borrowed
canes, walkers, and crutches without adjusting the fit and height
appropriately, which can cause discomfort and result in further injury,"
In addition to providing a proper fit, your physical therapist can
assess your individual needs to ensure you are using the proper walking
aid and that it is in proper working condition. "In some instances a
cane may not be the safest option, and it would be best to use a walker.
Your physical therapist can help make that decision," says Ciolek. She
provides some general tips for those using a cane or walker as a walking
- the walker or cane should be about the height of your
wrists when your arms are at your sides;
- when using a walker, your arms should be slightly bent
when holding on, but you shouldn't have to bend forward at the waist
to reach it;
- periodically check the rubber tips at the bottom of the
walker. Be sure to replace them if they are uneven or worn through.
As experts in restoring motion and mobility in people's lives,
physical therapists work collaboratively with physicians to ensure safe
recoveries from illness or injury. Ciolek recommends seeing a physical
therapist for an assessment and proper fit or asking for a referral to a
physical therapist from your physician.
Physical therapists are highly-educated, licensed health care
professionals who can help patients reduce pain and improve or restore
mobility — in many cases without expensive surgery or the side effects
of prescription medications.
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