Before I was diagnosed with Meniere’s disease, I practically lived outdoors. Whether I was hiking through the Rocky Mountains, doing day long treks across the prairies, or just taking my chocolate Labrador retriever to explore a provincial park during the weekend, most of my free time was spent walking long distances.
All of that changed after my first episode of vertigo. I was left spinning and sick for weeks, and after I recovered, I slowly began to withdraw from my old life. Even when I would go out for a short walk, I was often left with the gnawing fear of what would happen if I had a major attack and got stranded. And as my balance steadily grew worse, I finally gave up on the walks I had loved so much.
Over the course of the next few years, I became almost completely sedentary, and my dog grew very, very fat. I knew there were mobility aids out there, but the thought of walking with a cane felt like surrendering to my disability. Even though there was no rational basis for it, I felt like if I finally started using a cane, I would have to admit I was truly disabled.
Experience With Trekking Poles
And then I found trekking poles. The first time I tried a walking pole, it was an amazing experience. At the time, I was in the depths of an episode, and a family member purchased a pair of trekking poles for me and brought them over.
I resisted at first, but then finally gave in, and agreed to try them out. And the difference was like night and day. It wasn’t long before lost my footing outside, but for once I didn’t fall over. For the first time I could remember, I had close to full mobility outdoors during a flare up of my Meniere’s disease.
And trekking poles come with the option of adding rubber tips, so I could use them indoors and on hard surfaces – as well as outside in all manner of terrain. While they may draw a bit more attention indoors, it’s nice to have the option to use them in stores and one sidewalks and roads.
Probably the best part about trekking poles was that I didn’t feel disabled using them. Of course, you’ll still probably get a few snide comments from people asking if you realize there’s no snow on the ground, or if you’re on your way to climb a mountain, but most of the time people just assumed I was training for something, or I was way too into hiking. Not a single person assumed I was disabled.
I’ve been using them ever since, and have upgraded my original walking poles to a higher quality version – though I still keep the old ones for when I travel. And it’s no exaggeration to say they’ve change my life. I’m out walking again, and while I don’t think I’ll be heading up into the Rocky Mountains anytime soon, I can do more than I’ve done in years.
But trekking poles aren’t only for Meniere’s disease, and they are the perfect solution to many balance disorders. Obviously, you should always consult with your doctor before choosing a balance aid, but in my opinion, these are a far superior option to a cane for anyone who wants to remain active.
One of the biggest benefits that come with using trekking poles, is improved balance. By using two poles – or even one pole – it helps to keep you stable. On days when I was barely able to hold myself upright, I was still able to use my upper body strength to move around and keep mobile through the use of walking poles.
And by providing another point of contact on the ground, I was able to easily recover from stumbles and avoid some nasty falls. It’s hard to overstate how amazing it is to have two poles at the ready to steady myself with. Prior to using these poles, I was averaging around one fall a month. But since I’ve started using them, I’ve gone six months without a serious fall.
If you’re like many people with a balance disorder, you have awful posture. The body will often try to over compensate for the problem, and there were many days where I was standing like Lurch, from the Adam’s family.
The poles changed all of that, and by standing upright again, it has really improved my endurance. Not only did I breathe better in the new position, but my improved posture allowed me to go longer without any joint pain.
Help With Momentum
There’s a reason walking sticks have been popular throughout the ages. Fully able-bodied people can be seen using them in illustrations and carvings going back to the very dawn of civilization, and the reasons behind it are simple – they help you get where you want to go.
Whether it’s propelling yourself uphill, or steadying you on a descent, they help you to get where you’re going faster. And this is even more important if you’re suffering a balance issue. Even if you only have a minor balance disorder, you’ll be surprised at the difference these poles can make.
Types of Poles
There are generally three types of pole locking systems on the market, and while each have their uses, some are more suited to balance disorders.
Even though my first walking poles were a relatively cheap telescoping pair, I would recommend caution when purchasing one of these for balance. Many of the cheaper models don’t lock very tightly, and there is nothing worse than putting your weight on a walking aid, and have it collapse underneath you.
That’s not to say that all telescopic trekking poles are created equal, and I found that the Exerstrider Medisport was an excellent walking stick. In fact, of the two I own right, one is the Exerstrider and I’m incredibly happy with it.
Adjustable Bolts Poles
I really like the reliable adjustable bolt system on trekking poles, and once its locked, it stays locked. But because of it sturdy lock design, it’s not as quick to break down as the others on this list. So it might be best suited if you use it close to home, and aren’t travelling with it.
I know some people who only use their walking sticks when they start to experience symptoms which reduce their balance. So for those people, it’s better to use a walking stick that can break down easily.
Folding trekking poles are a relatively recent new comer to the walking pole market, and they use the same technology as tent poles to quickly break down and assemble. There is nothing more portable than these, and they’re an excellent choice if you are traveling or only need them occasionally.
While you should always consult with your doctor before choosing a mobility aid, trekking poles are excellent way for someone with balance problems to regain lost mobility. Let me know in the comments if you’re tried them out, and how they’ve helped you.