Walking poles for WEIGHT BEARING – a Physio’s View.

Pam Jolliffe, an extremely active Physiotherapist who was a keen Nordic Walker – outlines how she trialled the Urban Poling Activator poles following a dramatic change in her health and mobility

June 2017 just 5 days before my 70th my life was disrupted by a stroke and despite a moderately rapid recovery the immobility caused a final rapid deterioration of my hips allowing only about 10 strange steps without support. Following replacement of both my hips in the new- year a new life should begin. In the meantime I am thrilled to have found the Activator poles -originally introduced to me as Physio or rehab poles.

In 2013 I attended Nordic walking sessions to see if I could recommend the training and the poles to my Physiotherapy and Pilates clients. Climbing and mountaineering have been my love and I had previously used trekking poles, so I learned the benefit of using the Nordic strap to take some weight and lighten the grip.

The physics of using walking sticks has been etched in my mind since a brilliant physiotherapy lecturer brought the ergonomic principles of the remarkable weight relief given by using a stick in the opposite hand to the affected leg. Simply the distance from stick rubber on ground to foot is about four times further than if held on the same side.

The physics works incredibly – very little weight goes through the stick. We can picture the person with a stick next to the same foot leaning heavily. Now visualise a runner the right arm and left leg reaching forward. This trunk and pelvic counter rotation improves power and efficiency.

Nordic walking uses these principles but add a new element by creating a driving or propulsive force forward while giving some weight relief. This force is by virtue of the Nordic glove, the steep backward angle of the poles and the remarkably shapes pads – the “paws”- for hard ground.  Excellent technique requires training and encourages the posture which has been my mantra as a therapist encourages a powerful and efficient walking pattern. The Nordic method uses the link between upper and lower body diagonally across the core muscles reducing joint stress from rib cage through lower spine, hips, knees, ankles and feet.

However if like me joints are so severely worn that poles are required in the house your major need is weight relief and the propulsive force is not quite so important. The solution is Activator poles. These have a weight bearing ‘shelf’ built into the handle (see image). This clever shelf  takes a great deal more body weight than the Nordic glove and is also  more practical when poles are constantly being put down to do a task when in constant daily use in the home.

The “ulna” or little finger side of the hand rests on the shelf while fingers lightly hold the pole. The poles have less spring than my old travellers, feeling solid and supportive while remaining light. The technique remains similar with the pole angled backwards but to a lesser degree than Nordic and the extra large pads (paws) give really secure contact on the ground. I have found that they hold me more upright and generally improve my posture. I can see that they will be used right through my rehabilitation until I have recovered muscle strength and bulk which will once more support my joints and I can get back to thinking of more speed and power with my faithful travellers.

If you have been advised to be partial weight bearing you should be supplied with crutches designed for this job and taught by a professional.

I can see that as a professional these poles fit a much needed gap in the market and I can think of so many clients who could have benefitted.  Personally I think they are wonderful and I hope you can see how excited I am about them.

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