Chronic Pain

Walking aids, wheelchairs and adaptations

Most of the people that we talked to experienced problems of reduced strength, fitness, body flexibility and mobility and were limited in how long they could sit or stand. These problems sometimes affected personal tasks and social and work related activities.

Some of the people that we talked to found it helpful to use walking aids, wheelchairs and equipment or had adaptations to their homes or work places.

No-one we talked to used a wheelchair as their main means of getting around. However, some people were under the impression that they eventually would need a wheelchair even though this is not necessarily the case. One woman had decided not to use a wheelchair because she didn't want to become reliant on it.

Several people described using a wheelchair from time to time. This could be difficult to explain to other people and some described feeling like a 'fraud' because they were not 'paralysed' and could get around independently most of the time.

People were most likely to use their wheelchairs so that they could do things that would otherwise be very difficult. Far from being dependent on them they said that they used the wheelchairs to stay active or to make things easier for their companions. It was felt that a balance needed to be achieved between maintaining mobility and making life easier.

Some only used them when they would otherwise have to do a lot of walking or standing; perhaps going on holiday, at an airport or on a trip to a garden or city. One man used his wheelchair when he went to the rugby to avoid getting knocked by the crowds and recommended that people check that a wheelchair could be accommodated in advance.

Others used a wheelchair on a more regular basis to help them perform their everyday activities. One woman described how her powered wheelchair meant she could do activities such as shopping during the day which allowed her to save her “walking energy” for going out socially in the evening.

Most public transport and public spaces are now wheelchair accessible, although some people that used wheelchairs commented that they felt 'marginalised' when they were in them.

Healthcare professionals are sometimes concerned that people will become reliant on mobility aids and recommend that people stay as active as possible. However, one woman said that her GP saw her as a 'whole person' and had encouraged her to use a wheelchair if it meant she could carry on doing the things she wanted.

People used walking aids (sticks and crutches) mainly to help them get around but also to help them stand up. Some found it made them feel more secure when they were out and about, although one woman said she sometimes felt vulnerable when approached by crowds of young people.

Often people had noticed that they had developed an additional pain problem from using a single walking stick and had changed to two or stopped using them altogether. It is important to get properly fitted and trained in the use of a walking aid. One woman felt that her GP had not understood her problems with gripping her stick but had eventually been referred to a nurse who had provided a special walking stick.

One man thought that walking aids are sometimes used to demonstrate to others that the person is in pain, since pain is otherwise invisible (see also 'Impact on friends and reaction of others').

Several people told us that they had equipment or adaptations to their homes, which make them more comfortable and easier to get around. Adaptations and equipment included stair and bath rails, widened doors, a wet room or walk-in shower, raised toilet seat, grab sticks, raised armchairs and high chairs for working in the kitchen or at an ironing board.

Some people had paid for these themselves whereas others had been entitled to help from the social services. A few people had been assessed by an occupational therapist and provided with equipment which had been helpful. Others had found this distressing because they felt that the recommended equipment would not be suitable for their needs and seemed to assume an inevitable progression to greater disability.

Several people had been provided with special seating, foot rests and desks at their workplace (see also 'Coping with work and study'). One man worked from home as a writer and had been provided with a specially adapted reclining seat and computer workstation, which was his “life saver”.

Last reviewed May 2015.

Last updated November 2012.

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