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Arch Phys Med Rehabil. 2005 Jan;86(1):134-45.

Assistive devices for balance and mobility: benefits, demands, and adverse consequences.

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Centre for Studies in Aging, Sunnybrook and Women's College Health Sciences Centre, Toronto, ON, Canada.



To provide information on the advantages and possible disadvantages of using canes and walkers.


English-language articles were identified by searching MEDLINE and PubMed (1966-May 2003) for key words cane or walker , excluding articles unrelated to mobility aids. Bibliographies were reviewed and ISI Web of Science citation searches were run to identify additional references. Over 1000 articles were selected for further evaluation.


We extracted all studies of single-tip canes or pickup walkers addressing: (1) functional, biomechanic, or neuromotor benefits; (2) biomechanic, attentional, neuromotor, metabolic, or physiologic demands; and (3) falls, injuries, or other problems. We included approximately 10% of the articles originally identified.


The methodology of each selected article, and findings relevant to the benefits, demands, or adverse effects of cane or walker use were summarized.


Findings were synthesized by considering their relation to basic biomechanic principles. Some biomechanic findings appear to support the clinical view that canes and walkers can improve balance and mobility for older adults and people with other clinical conditions. However, a large proportion of users experience difficulties, and the use of such devices is associated with increased risk of falling. A small number of studies have characterized some of the specific demands and problems associated with using mobility aids.


Clinical and biomechanic evaluations of canes and walkers confirm that these devices can improve balance and mobility. However, they can also interfere with ones ability to maintain balance in certain situations, and the strength and metabolic demands can be excessive. More research is needed to identify and solve specific problems. Such research may lead to improved designs and guidelines for safer use of canes and walkers.

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