For the first-time walking stick user, or the friend or relative who wants to buy one for them, it often comes as a surprise to discover how many models of walking sticks are on the market. Until people need to buy a cane, either for themselves or as a present, they often do not really notice canes or cane users. However, once you start to learn about walking sticks and canes, you will suddenly see them everywhere. In the UK alone, there are estimated to be over four million cane users, not including those who use a cane purely as a dress accessory
, use a trekking pole
for hiking or take a rustic stick
with them when they walk their dog.
The requirement to use a walking stick can present itself suddenly, for example after a hip or knee replacement or an accident. Alternatively, the need can come on gradually, with a slowly worsening bad back, declining sense of balance or other incremental mobility issues. Some people need to use a walking stick at some times but not others, depending on how they are feeling and how active their day is. Some people are given practical advice by a physiotherapist or other medical professional, others learn from sales staff in a shop selling walking sticks, and others make their own decisions as to which stick to use.
The most frequent query we hear at Classic Canes is along the lines of, "My mother is 5í4Ē. How tall does her stick need to be
?Ē However, it is not the personís height that affects the length their walking stick should be, but how far their hands are from the ground. Arm, body and leg length vary greatly in their proportions from one individual to another. A walking stick at the right length will ensure that the user maintains a good posture with their shoulders level and a slight bend in the arm holding the stick. The user should neither be stooped over a cane that is too short, or find their wrist and shoulder unnaturally lifted by the cane. It is very important to have the walking stick the right height as repeated use at the wrong height can cause other skeleton and muscle issues.
Having determined what height the walking stick should be, the question of handle shape and type
is important. The traditional crook handle
, which many people like as it can be hooked over the arm when not in use, does not generally provide such good support as the Derby handle
. The Derby handle, named after a former Lord Derby who invented it in conjunction with his stick maker, is an asymmetrical T handle. The userís weight is thus supported directly over the shaft of the stick, and the curves to the handle ensure their hand can slip neither forward nor back. Fitted with a walking stick wrist loop
to prevent the user dropping their walking stick, it is a very practical choice for most walking stick users and is Classic Canesí best-selling walking stick handle.
Derby handle walking sticks are available in several variations. Like tennis racquet grips, walking stick handles need to be of an appropriate diameter to fit the personís hand. People with small hands and short fingers need a smaller handle than people with big hands or long fingers in order to maintain a secure grasp on their cane. Derby handles are therefore produced in a range of sizes including petite, ladiesí, gentlemenís, extra-wide and extra-large.
Walking stick users with hand conditions such as arthritis and rheumatism may find that a specially-designed orthopaedic walking stick handle
may be easier and more comfortable to hold than a derby or crook handle. The most famous orthopaedic handle is the Fischer handle, named after an Austrian, Dr Fischer, who invented it. Its gently-shaped contours support the hand from below and the excellent design fits hands of many sizes. It is produced in left- and right-handed walking stick designs, often sold in pairs. There are other variations on the orthopaedic handle, often referred to as anatomic handles. These are shaped in slightly different ways and some users may find these more comfortable, depending on how their condition has affected their hands. Again, fitting a wrist loop to these canes helps prevent the user dropping, losing or damaging their cane.
We are also often asked whether a walking stick is suitable for a person of a specific weight. However, it is not the weight of the person that matters, but the amount of force they need to exert on their cane. An eight stone (50kg) person whose mobility is severely restricted may need to exert more pressure on their walking stick than a person of sixteen stone (100kg) who needs theirs for light balance and support only. It is very important not to expect a walking stick to do the work of a pair of crutches or a walking frame. If you need to lean heavily on your walking stick to rise from a chair or exit a car, then you should seek medical advice as to your requirements. Exerting too much force on a walking stick and snapping it can cause accidents and injury, so it is important to be realistic about how much support you need.
Most walking sticks used for mobility purposes will be fitted with a non-slip rubber ferrule
. The best ones have a high proportion of rubber in their make-up, which gives the best grip. Some cheaper ferrules are made from plastic and sometimes these do not provide the necessary level of grip. Fortunately, even the best ferrules are relatively inexpensive, so it is a simple matter to fit an appropriate one to the userís cane of choice. A good walking stick stockist will carry a range of ferrules of different types and sizes and will be able to advise on a suitable choice. Whatever type of ferrule is fitted, it is important for safely reasons to check it regularly. They become worn with use and need to be replaced when the tread starts to show signs of wear.
Once these practical considerations have been addressed, the stick user, or stick present buyer, can turn their mind to the question of walking stick aesthetics. When we first started Classic Canes in 1982, there was much less choice of walking stick styles than there is today. Women had to make do with a manís walking stick cut down in height, which was neither comfortable nor elegant. We have spent many years designing and improving walking sticks and Classic Canes now stocks over 700 models of walking sticks and canes.
Traditional, wooden models are very popular and can become lifelong friends and even heirlooms. Height-adjustable aluminium walking sticks are also popular and come in a wide variety of colours and patterns
. Folding canes
are very convenient and many stick users prefer them. Florals, leopard prints, abstract designs and patterns featuring animals, insects and hobbies are all ways to have fun matching your walking stick to your outfits. Women in particular enjoy amassing large collections of walking sticks to use on different occasions. A pretty walking stick
can be a perfect conversation starter and, if it is admired by the userís friends and acquaintances, can do a great deal to remove any perceived stigma of using a walking stick. Walking canes can be fashion accessories every bit as much as they are mobility aids and a good stockist will recognize this, keeping a wide range of styles from which users can choose.
For glamorous occasions, walking sticks with silver-plated handles, set with Swarovski Elements crystals, or other upmarket decorative features are all available. For collectors of walking sticks, known as ambulists, there are many fascinating designs
featuring handles in the shape of animals, historical characters or even tippling sticks
fitted with secret phials for whisky or similar. These are often based on charming Victorian and Edwardian styles and are hard to resist. One you start acquiring walking sticks, they can be very addictive. Whatever your personal tastes, requirements and sense of style, you can soon find yourself with a wonderful collection to suit your needs.
By Charlotte Gillan
Managing Director, Classic Canes Limited