By Nicola Kenton, University of Birmingham, 3rd year, MSci Geography
In the past five years I have become more dependent on using a walking stick. In sixth form there were days when I used my stick to get around but it was mainly used at the weekend, when shopping or going on a day out, such as a trip to London. I have never thought it strange to use a walking stick and found that whatever type of aid was comfortable for me was what I used.
So from childhood to teenage years this meant that walking longer distances involved leaning on an umbrella or something similar. This eventually progressed to a 'rambling' or 'hiking' stick. For me this is comfortable. I choose the sticks with a shock support system in them and comfy grip - they are reasonably cheap and readily available from most sportswear stores. They also have a rubber grip that can be taken off if the terrain changes.
For me, that is my normal. Walking around campus with one 'hiking' stick, and on an especially bad day I use two.
Most members of the public don't bat an eyelid, or don't seem to anyway, but there have been occasions when my choice of walking aid has been called into question. Some comments from around campus have included: "Why is she using that?" to which their friend replied "You don't know what's going on, she might need it".
Other people I know use different walking aids. there are the traditional walking sticks such as canes which can be ergonomic, adjustable and fold-up. There are hiking or rambling style sticks, which provide a different kind of support but it is still support nonetheless. Others I know use crutches (e.g. those found in the hospital) including those with ergonomic handles and a type of arm brace incorporated. All of these aids are valid.
The perception of walking aids is not always positive. Generally this is because when 'young' people are seen with these aids it is questioned, as surely they aren't old enough to need them. Walking aids are commonplace and should be accepted by everyone. If you see somebody using an aid, it is probably not for the fun of it but because they need it.
This picture above was taken before I did the 5km Race For Life in 2014. The picture obviously doesn't show the pain I was in getting to the venue, let alone completing the course and raising money for charity. In the week following I experienced high levels of pain and was not able to walk unaided for the first few days.
My top tips for life at university with a walking aid are:
- It is your choice to use the aid, no one else's - if you feel you don't need to don't; just don't be scared if you do need to use it.
- Use what you are comfortable with, whether that be crutches, a cane, a hiking stick or something else entirely.
- Try not to worry about what other people think; do what is best for you!