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When Should I Get a Cane if I Have Multiple Sclerosis (MS)?

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Updated October 31, 2013

Question: When Should I Get a Cane if I Have Multiple Sclerosis (MS)?

Answer: Like almost everything else around multiple sclerosis (MS), the right answer to this question is different for different people. In fact, the answer might even change with the time of day for the same person.

Let's consider some different answers to this question:

Answer #1: Never.

Some people with MS may never need a cane. There are many different symptoms of MS, and some people may experience very mild symptoms or have symptoms that are sensory in nature and do not affect their balance, gait or strength in their legs.

Answer #2: Immediately.

Are you having a hard time getting around? Do you feel nervous setting out across an open space with nothing to hold on to? Have you fallen recently? Are your feet so numb or tingly that you can’t feel them when you walk, perhaps leading to stumbling or clumsiness? Are you recovering from a relapse, but still have a pretty noticeable limp, which may or may not go away, that is leading to hip pain and adding to your fatigue.

If you answered ”yes” to any of the questions in the preceding paragraph, a cane is probably a really good idea. Canes can help compensate for weakness by giving support. They can also be a big help in balancing just by giving that extra bit of help with proprioception (orientation in space), when our leg muscles and nerves in the feet have become a little less reliable.

Answer #3: Soon, for use when needed.

Have you ever gotten to a destination, only to find that all of the disabled parking places are occupied (or you do not have a disabled parking placard, aka handicapped tag)? You may look across a shimmering hot parking lot at the door that seems to be getting further and further away as you sit there, wondering how the heck you are going to make it.

Or, have you ever been excited to go out and do something, only to find out that one leg has decided to be a little spastic, making a smooth, efficient gait impossible. You may have thought at that time that a cane would be just the help that you needed to be able to participate in your activity, without worrying about falling down or getting stranded somewhere until you could ask for assistance.

You may be fine now, but your last relapse might have affected your legs, making it very difficult to walk. You remember that feeling and do not want to be that helpless again.

In these cases, it never hurts to have a cane on hand for those times that you just need a little reassurance and support. Knowing that you have one can reduce stress and worry.

Some Additional Tips About Canes

Make Sure It Fits: One rule of thumb is that the top of the cane should line up with the crease in your wrist when your arm is hanging straight down. If it is too long, it can be hard to maneuver and not give much support, if it is too short, you may end up leaning over and be off-balance.

Balance or Bearing Weight? If you just need your cane to give you a little reminder about where the ground is in relation to your body, you probably only need a single tip. However, if you will need to rely heavily on your cane at times to hold most of your weight, then the kind with four feet (or prongs) might be what you need. You may need one of each for different situations.

Work with a PT: Make sure you have at least one session with a physical therapist (PT) to ensure that you are using your can correctly (and that it actually is the right cane for you). She can show you how to use your cane for maximum efficiency, without expending extra effort or putting strain on the wrong muscles or joints. Using a cane is not always intuitive – depending on what kind of symptom you are using your cane to help with, you may move the cane in unison with the affected leg or the opposite leg.

Grace and Style: You don’t need to just go into a medical supply store and grab the first cane you see. There are lots of different canes out there, made of different types of materials, in different colors, adorned with different symbols or plain. Check out FashionableCanes.com or walking-canes.net to get an idea of just how “fancy” (or plain) canes can be.

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