Much excitement in the media as HRH The Queen is photographed using a walking stick in public for her engagements this week. She is 95 years old, so no one should be surprised if she needs a little extra support and help with balance, but what kind of stick is it and how suitable is it for her requirements?
The walking stick the Queen has used for her 12th October 2021 visit to Westminster Abbey for the Royal British Legion service and on 14th October 2021 for the opening of the Welsh Parliament is a three-section, aluminium telescopic trekking pole with a composite handle. It has a rubber ferrule
fitted over a spike ferrule and has been adjusted to walking stick height rather than the longer height at which it would be used for hiking.
She has been photographed holding it at times with the handle facing forwards and at other times facing backwards, suggesting that she is not completely at home with the way it feels in her hand. For greatest support, it is best to hold handles of this shape so that the user's weight is supported directly above the shaft of the stick. Many people use trekking poles
at walking stick height. They are light in weight and have a younger, sportier look than some other styles of walking stick, and appeal to men in particular for this reason. However, they have quite a small point of contact with the ground and the handle shape does not offer as much support to the hand as a shaped derby cane
Aesthetically, a trekking pole is somewhat at odds with a formal dress and hat such as the smart royal blue outfit the Queen wore to Westminster and the pink ensemble she wore for the Welsh parliament opening. As the Queen does not routinely use a walking stick, it may be that the requirement was sudden and the trekking pole was to hand and easily adjusted. It does however appear to be a little too long for her: her shoulder and forearm appear raised whilst using it instead of level, which physiotherapists advise against. If she continues to use a cane, it will be important to ensure her walking stick is the correct height as ongoing use of a walking stick at the wrong height can cause musculoskeletal issues.
The Queen has been seen using a cane in public before. In 2003 she had knee surgery for torn cartilage and was seen leaving hospital on that occasion with a hospital-issue aluminium stick with a grey plastic handle and grey rubber ferrule. These sticks are rather clumpy and often difficult for smaller women to manage comfortably, but are stocked by hospitals for reasons of cost. Shortly afterwards, she attended a service at Sandringham Church with a wooden stick of vintage appearance, which we think may have come from the collection of the Queen Mother. The latter had a more elegant wardrobe of canes than her daughter is currently deploying, with many silver-topped and fine wood examples being photographed with her over the years.
So what would we recommend the Queen use for her walking stick? The first requirement is always comfort and safety. Comfort can be a very personal matter, with one person finding a particular stick perfect and the next finding it uncomfortable. A Fischer-style
handle is always worth trying but may people prefer a standard derby handle
and find that perfectly supportive instead. Sartorially, there is room for improvement. The Queen is well known for her colour-coordinated accessories, from shoes to handbags to umbrellas. She, or her wardrobe advisor, could enjoy themselves greatly selecting elegant and cheerful coloured
models to complement and enhance her Majesty's outfits. There are a great many disabled and elderly stick users who are encouraged and cheered when they see fellow stick users looking smart and stylish with a cane. Ugly canes are dispiriting and can reinforce negative impressions of disabled and elderly people, so we for one would like to see the Queen's stick choices evolve into a more upbeat portrayal of stick use.
A safety note: it is also important to regularly check that the rubber ferrule
is in good condition and not wearing through. A wrist loop
is also a practical addition to a cane as it allows the user to keep their hands free when required without the risk of dropping the cane.
We wish Her Majesty every good health and look forward to seeing her walking stick choices in the future.