Mobility includes things like walking, getting in and out of bed and automobiles, climbing stairs, and participating in other activities. If your symptoms progress, and you find it difficult to get around on your own, it may be time to consider a mobility assistive device or aid.
According to the National MS Society, symptoms such as muscular weakness, loss of balance, fatigue, numbness, and pain can all impact your mobility. To help reduce your risk of injury from falls and improve your safety and confidence, your doctor or physical therapist may recommend that you begin using a mobility aid.
“Mobility aids include canes, walkers, manual wheelchairs, and motorized wheelchairs such as scooters,” says Dr. Leslie S. Salad, a neurologist at Care Mount Medical. There are also outhouses or braces you can wear, such as an ankle-foot arthrosis, that can help lift your foot to prevent tripping.
If walking or standing is not possible, but you can still use your upper body, you may want to consider a manual wheelchair. In these cases, working with your doctor, a physical therapist, or an assistive technology professional is essential for finding the right model for your needs.
Additionally, Salad says electronic devices are available to stimulate the peripheral nerves in your legs and help lift your feet when walking. Finally, Salad says doctors should always include physical therapy and regular exercise as important aids to help improve and maintain mobility in people with MS.
Because of this, getting a personalized evaluation is key to finding a mobility aid that fits your needs. “ Patients with advanced MS will need assistance with maintaining the most upright alignment, ability to sit, stand, walk, and ability to move for pressure relief and comfort,” says Reiko Kurihara-Bliss, a physical therapist at St. Jude Medical Center, Centers for Rehabilitation.
When using the mobility aid, does it cause any skin breakdown, joint restriction, or discomfort? “Some walkers are simply too heavy to be lifted out of the car by someone who is already having balance or gait difficulty,” she explains.
When it comes to choosing the right mobility aid, working with a specialist is key to finding the best device for you. “Physical and occupational therapists with experience in neurological rehabilitation are the practitioners most suited to perform evaluations and make recommendations on mobility aids for individuals with MS, ” says Kurihara-Bliss.
They can also communicate with the orthotic (brace maker) and equipment vendors about the most appropriate mobility aid to help you maintain your independence. Assistive devices are tools that can make life with multiple sclerosis a little easier.
An occupational or physical therapist can recommend devices that will help you the most and teach you how to use them. Talk with your doctor or therapist before you use any assistive device.
Your insurance might cover part or all of the cost if your doctor prescribes the tool. These lightweight inserts you wear inside your shoes can help keep you more stable and ease fatigue.
Weakness in your leg muscles can make it harder to go up and down stairs, rise from a chair, or walk. An ankle-foot brace can keep your ankle stable when you have trouble with the muscles that raise the foot.
One of these may be the most useful tool when one leg is weaker than the other or when you have mild problems with balance. It's a good idea to have a session with a physical therapist to learn how to properly use your cane or any other assistive device.
If you have multiple sclerosis (MS), there’s a good chance that at some point you’ll experience fatigue or problems with your balance when walking. The right device for you will depend on the exact nature of your MS symptoms, your lifestyle, and your personal preferences.
While many of Read’s patients with MS are eager to try new walking aids, others “feel like they’re going to lose their independence if they have to use a mobility device,” she says. This is ironic, she notes, since mobility devices can enhance your independence by taking some difficulty and worry out of walking.
Both types have a curved top with a grip and a straight shaft, but a four-point cane has four rubber-tipped legs at its base rather than just a single point of contact with the ground. Straight canes may be a good choice for people who need some assistance moving around their home but can still walk fairly quickly, according to Read.
“I think a walker is a better choice when you’re noticing more stumbles in the house or out in the community,” Read says, since it gives you greater support and stability than even two canes can offer. For people with mildly impaired balance, Bennett recommends a trekking pole instead of a straight cane.
Sometimes people bring in items that they’ve found on their own, Read says, such as a traditional wooden cane or a walking stick. When patients bring any such device in to her practice, she checks to see if it has a rubber tip, and usually recommends adding one if it doesn’t.
Barbara Link, the owner and inventor, got me in touch with a lovely local woman who let me borrow hers, and after that, my wheels were definitely turning (pun 100% intended). And At that moment, I started a mission to learn more about walking assistance devices and to see how they could help my community.
Turns out, there’s only one other option I could find that’s comparable: The Van RAAF Walking Support Bike. The Clinker has three wheels, two in the front and one in the back, which makes it an excellent choice for anyone who may have balance difficulties.
The bike is uniquely designed, and its bright yellow frame draws lots of attention, which could be a pro or a con depending on your preference. While I didn’t run into any issues with access to public places like stores, it’s possible that you could be stopped and need to explain the purpose of this mobility device.
One drawback: The three-wheel design may make it tricky to take into small stores or restaurants. The Clinker is great on paved paths, gravel, and even mud thanks to its big, thickheaded tires, which by the way, pop off for transport with the push of a button.
I was able to keep pace very easily with those around me, and though my legs were doing the work, I didn’t feel tired like I do after a long walk. If you find yourself picking up some speed, you can rest your feet on the front axle and coast, or just pull the hand brake to slow down.
Because you can rest your feet on the front axle, a friend could easily push or pull you if you ever needed a little help getting up a hill or if you were stuck. The Clinker folds down, and the seat and tires can be removed for transport, making it fit in almost any trunk or back-seat area.
That said, there are no designated handles for holding it while folded, and I found that carrying its 26-pound frame through my front door to be a little awkward. Van RAAF’s Walking Support Bike looks like a traditional bicycle with two wheels minus the pedals.
But because you do need a certain amount of speed to maintain your balance (just like you do on a standard bike), walks with my husband were harder. Like the Clinker, this bike was also great on paved paths, gravel and mud, and I found it very easy to maneuver going up and down hills.
The Van RAAF Walking Support Bike folded for portability / Courtesy of Jackie Zimmerman At 19 pounds, the bike is easy to maneuver, especially when the back wheel is folded in, cutting the length almost in half and making it incredibly portable.
I had no problem picking it up and taking it in and out of my house or car, but in its folded state it doesn’t stand up very well on its own, making it a bit cumbersome to store. The Walking Support Bike retails at $735 and is not covered under health insurance plans at this time.
People are curious about them and ask questions, which helps open up the conversation about mobility aids in general and blast through those stereotypes. If you find yourself a little tired after a long walk, or sitting out of activities in the sun, either of these bikes would be a great way to keep you out and about interacting with the world.
Jackie has worked hard to become a strong voice in the patient advocacy community. She spends time with her two rescue pups, her husband Adam and plays roller derby.