Moving around can be a challenge when managing short- or long-term conditions. From ankle sprains to diabetes-related complications in the feet, whether you have temporary restrictions or you’re dealing with more permanent changes, mobility aids can enhance your independence and safety. If you plan to travel, keep that in mind when choosing mobility aids since you must balance the need for stability with other factors like ease of folding and weight.
What they are: Walkers are lightweight, easy-to-use mobility devices featuring two, three, or four wheels to provide moderate stability. Many walkers include places to easily attach baskets and caddies for carrying personal items. Gait trainers are similar to walkers, but are designed to promote correct posture and to assist with relearning proper walking gait and technique.
Why use them: When you are a little unsteady on your feet, a walker can be a big help. Some walkers include a built-in seat for when you need to rest. A physical or occupational therapist may recommend a gait trainer to help a child or adult improve their walking ability.
Things to consider: When selecting a walker or a gait trainer, the main features are height, adjustability, and stability. You should also consider how easily it folds up for storing and travel, the size and number of the wheels, and how easy it is to push. Keep in mind that most two-wheeled walkers work better on carpet if you add special gliding covers to the back feet. If you’re getting a walker for use after weight-loss surgery or are heavier than average, be sure to check the weight capacity.
What they are: Wheelchairs vary widely in terms of features and price, from lightweight transport chairs to electric scooters with all the bells and whistles. Transport or companion wheelchairs are compact and meant to be pushed by a caregiver so they feature four small wheels and easily fit in a car trunk. For more independence, look at electric wheelchairs and scooters.
Why use them: Wheelchairs provide a convenient way to move around if walking is difficult or impossible. The amount of time you’ll use the wheelchair greatly influences the type you need. When recovering from an illness, injury, or surgery, a basic wheelchair will usually do. For more permanent mobility changes, you’ll want to choose a comfortable chair with more features and options.
Things to consider: Factor in the size of the person using the chair (there are extra-wide/plus-size options), how much space it takes up for storage or travel, ease of brake operation, and comfort features such as padding and arm rests. Look at customizing options like gel cushions and adjustable footrests. Also look at temporary wheelchair ramps if you need to take the chair up and down stairs regularly. Keep in mind that electric wheelchairs and scooters are heavy and more difficult to transport, so you may want a standard or companion wheelchair for travel.
What they are: Canes are designed for use by one hand for mild stability support. Most canes are made of metal, wood, or plastic, and come in many different colors. Consider your height and whether the cane needs to be adjustable or foldable. You can also choose handle style—there are both round- and flat-top canes with varying degrees of padding.
Why use them: When you need minor stability support while walking, a cane is an affordable and easy-to-use option. Decide between a standard one-leg cane and the more stable quad cane with four feet, which can conveniently stand up on its own.
Things to consider: Look for a cane with a wrist strap, that way if you need to let go it won't fall to the ground. Some canes include a small flashlight stashed in the handle for easy access in a power outage.
What they are: An alternative to a walker, crutches provide moderate stability and support and are available in wood and lighter-weight aluminum. Standard crutches are positioned under the shoulders and have hand grips; another option is forearm crutches which have cuffs that wrap around the forearm and are helpful for people who do not have a strong grip.
Why use them: Crutches are lightweight and provide reliable support and weight balance when walking with an injury or disability. Many people find crutches easier to use than a walker when going up and down stairs.
Things to consider: The main features to keep in mind are comfort and size. Check for adequate padding on the shoulder, forearm, and hand rests. You can purchase accessories for crutches, such as enhanced shoulder, arm, or hand padding and floor tips for better traction. Choose crutches that work for your height and weight and are easily adjustable. Most crutches allow you to adjust the hand grips separately from the height of the crutches.
Your body uses pain to tell you something is wrong, but in many cases, the problem is minor and may be managed at home with the help of an over-the-counter pain reliever. However, not every pain reliever is right for every situation, and, like all medicines, they should be used with care. Use this quick guide to pick the one that can maximize the benefits and minimize the risks of using these products. As you choose an over-the-counter pain reliever, keep the following in mind:
- Talk to your doctor if you experience prolonged or severe pain; unchecked pain can signal something serious that requires medical care.
- Always compare ingredients to avoid accidentally taking two medications together that contain the same active ingredients.
- If you are treating several aches and pains at once, check with your doctor or pharmacist about which medications are okay to use together.
- Ask your doctor or pharmacist how best to avoid mixing drugs that should not be combined, including combinations of over-the-counter and prescription medications.
What they are: Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) include aspirin and the non-aspirin medications ibuprofen and naproxen. NSAIDs block the production of prostaglandins, substances made by the body that cause pain, inflammation, and fever.
Why to buy: NSAIDs relieve muscular and joint pain and may help manage menstrual cramps. Some people find them helpful for treating headaches, especially aspirin (see specialty pain relievers below for more information). NSAIDs may also lessen pain associated with colds, flu, and toothaches.
Things to consider: Non-aspirin NSAIDs (ibuprofen, naproxen) slightly increase the risk of heart attack, while aspirin decreases heart attack risk. If you have existing heart disease, or if you already take daily aspirin to lower heart attack risk, consult your doctor before using ibuprofen, naproxen, or additional aspirin. All NSAIDs may increase the risk of bleeding and may cause ulcers in some people. If you have a sensitive stomach, acetaminophen may be a better option.
Children and teens should not use aspirin or ibuprofen as it can lead to a rare, life-threatening reaction called Reye’s (pronounced “rise”) syndrome in these age groups.
What it is: Acetaminophen is a non-NSAID pain reliever and fever reducer that is believed to work by decreasing the body’s sensitivity to pain (in other words, by raising the pain threshold).
Why to buy: Acetaminophen is a fever reducer that may help manage many of the same pains as NSAIDs, including headaches, toothaches, muscular and joint pain, menstrual cramps, and painful cold and flu symptoms. Acetaminophen often is used instead of NSAIDs, because it is easier on the stomach, and is safe for use in children and teens.
Things to consider: Use as directed. Exceeding the recommended dosage can cause liver disease and even death. Use caution with acetaminophen and alcohol as this combination can harm the liver. Acetaminophen may not be right for people with liver disease or abnormal liver function.If in doubt, always consult your doctor.
What they are: Specialty pain relievers include those that contain NSAIDs or acetaminophen, plus other ingredients to treat a particular issue.
Why to buy: People use specialty pain relievers when they have a cold or flu, to help them sleep when they have pain, or to treat severe headaches such as migraines. The additional ingredients are targeted to the problem. For example, cold and flu products may contain pseudoephedrine, dextromethorphan, or guaifenesin, to manage sinus pain, cough, and congestion, respectively. Migraine formulas often contain aspirin, caffeine, and acetaminophen, a combination especially effective for headaches.
Things to consider: These products contain the same ingredients as regular pain relievers—either NSAIDs or acetaminophen—so apply the same cautions. Additionally, you may need to avoid other ingredients in these products. Consult your doctor if you are unsure.
Some specialty pain relievers are not safe for use in young children and those that contain aspirin always should be avoided. Ask your pediatrician or pharmacist if you need help selecting an appropriate product for your child.
What they are: “Topical” refers to pain relievers that are applied to the skin. They may contain NSAIDs like aspirin or diclofenac, or anaesthetic aromatic compounds like menthol and camphor. These aromatic compounds can be derived from plants but most commercial products contain synthetic versions. Menthol is derived from plants in the mint family and creates a cool sensation; camphor is derived primarily from the camphor laurel tree and may produce either warm or cool sensations. Some topical pain relievers combine menthol with methyl salicylate, an aromatic compound from wintergreen that is chemically similar to aspirin.
Why to buy: If you have pain over a small area, such as a muscle or joint, a topical pain reliever can deliver medicine straight to the area, without having to go through the digestive tract. This may bring faster relief, typically with fewer side effects.
Things to consider: If a topical pain reliever contains the same active ingredient as another medication you are using, such as aspirin, do not take the two products together. Pain relievers applied to the skin are still drugs and should be treated as such.The same cautions apply, such as avoiding topical aspirin if you already take daily aspirin or if you are at risk of bleeding or ulcers. Do not use aspirin-based topical pain relievers on children or teens without first checking with your doctor. If you choose a topical preparation with aromatic compounds, check to see if methyl salicylate or wintergreen oil is on the list of ingredients. Methyl salicylate overdose can occur if it is used over a large area of the body or very often. The risk of overdose is higher for babies and toddlers.
Many things motivate people to quit tobacco: being a good role model, wanting to reduce others’ exposure to second hand smoke, saving money, and wanting to feel better and improve health. Whatever your reason, keep in mind that quitting cold turkey is the least successful method for kicking cigarettes for good. Fortunately, many over-the-counter and prescription quit aids have been developed that may significantly improve your odds of success. As you figure out which quit-smoking aids best meet your needs, keep the following in mind:
- Some treatments to stop smoking are covered by health insurance. Check with your carrier to see.
- Some products are available both over the counter (behind the pharmacy counter) and with a prescription. Ask your health insurance about whether you need a prescription for coverage or reimbursement.
- Try, try, and try again. People who successfully quit smoking rarely do so on the first attempt. If you’ve tried before without success, don’t be discouraged. Consider a different quit aid—the nicotine patch instead of gum, or adding in a prescription medication—and evaluate what worked and didn’t work to keep you on track during past attempts to quit.
- Start with your doctor, nurse, or pharmacist. They can offer invaluable advice and connect you with programs for people trying to quit, including support groups and other resources. Consider taking advantage of these supports, because most people do best when they combine quit-smoking products with behavior change programs.
- When selecting a product, consider your current medications and health conditions. Consult your doctor or pharmacist if unsure about whether any particular smoking cessation product is safe for you.
- Use nicotine replacement carefully and follow all package directions. Some people load up on patches, gum, and sprays yet continue to smoke at the same time. This can overload your system with nicotine, resulting in jitters, rapid heart rate, high blood pressure, and trouble sleeping. Some products can be used together, so ask your doctor or pharmacist what’s best for you.
What they are: Nicotine patches are similar to an adhesive bandage; you place one on your skin and it releases a constant amount of nicotine into the body while you wear it. They come in different sizes, with larger sizes delivering more nicotine.
Why to buy: Nicotine replacement patches are available over the counter or with a prescription, and typically cost less per day than a pack of cigarettes. Patches are convenient and easy to use and can be removed during sleep to lessen the likelihood of insomnia. Due to the constant, slow release of nicotine, you are not likely to develop a craving for a patch; it doesn’t provide the intense delivery of a cigarette.
Things to consider: Unlike smoking, which delivers a large dose of nicotine to your body within seconds, nicotine from a patch can take up to three hours to get into the body. For this reason, putting on a patch when a cigarette craving strikes is not effective. The nicotine patch reduces smoking withdrawal symptoms, such as lack of concentration and irritability.
What they are: Nicotine replacement gums are available over the counter or with a prescription and typically cost much less per day than a pack of cigarettes. Gum comes in different strengths to provide the amount of nicotine you need, based on your previous smoking habits.
Why to buy: Gums are relatively convenient and easy to use, although you must remember to keep yours with you, because it must be chewed frequently to deliver enough nicotine to manage cravings. Though it cannot get nicotine into your body quite as quickly as a cigarette, gum delivers nicotine within minutes, which is far faster than a patch.
Things to consider: Nicotine gum should not be used with cigarettes and you should not eat or drink for 15 minutes before or while using the gum. To chew enough gum to quell cravings, most people need between 15 and 30 pieces per day, chewed off and on for about 30 minutes. Nicotine gum should not be chewed continuously like regular gum and should never be swallowed. It is chewed a few times to break it down and then placed in between your gum and cheek for 10 or 15 minutes, chewed again for a bit, then put back into the cheek. Continuous chewing may cause stomachaches.
What they are: Nicotine replacement lozenges and lollipops are available over the counter or with a prescription. They may cost a bit more than patches or gum, but typically less than a pack of cigarettes. Lozenges and lollipops come in different strengths to provide the amount of nicotine you need, based on your previous smoking habits.
Why to buy: Some people don’t like to chew gum and prefer sucking on a candy to replace nicotine when quitting smoking. These products are relatively convenient, but you must remember to keep them on hand to use throughout the day. Lozenges and lollipops deliver nicotine within a few minutes, similar to gum.
Things to consider: Nicotine lozenges and lollipops should not be used with cigarettes and you should not eat or drink for 15 minutes before or while they are in your mouth. Nicotine lozenges and lollipops should not be chewed or swallowed as this can lead to heartburn and stomachaches. Some people find these products irritate the mouth and throat.
What they are: These products deliver nicotine through a spray into the nose or are inhaled through the mouth. They are available by prescription only.
Why to buy: Nicotine nasal sprays and inhalers deliver nicotine as quickly as a cigarette, making them particularly helpful for people who are highly dependent on tobacco. For the person who smokes more than a pack of cigarettes per day, these products may be very effective.
Things to consider: You need a prescription to obtain a nicotine spray or inhaler. Sprays cost about the same as gums and patches, but inhalers can be more expensive. They may be covered by insurance, which can help reduce the cost.
What they are: Two different non-nicotine prescription medications may help people quit smoking by reducing the desire to smoke.. These are bupropion (brand name Zyban) and varenicline (brand name Chantix).
Why to buy: These medications may significantly increase the quit smoking success rate beyond using nicotine replacement alone. They can be used in conjunction with nicotine replacement, further increasing success rates of quitting.
Things to consider: Like all prescription medications, these drugs can have side effects. Many people tolerate them well, but some people experience very serious side effects, particularly from varenicline, which in some people causes hostility, agitation, anger, aggression, depressed mood, anxiety, paranoia, confusion, mania, or suicidal thoughts or actions. These can develop when a person begins taking the medication, after several weeks of treatment, or after stopping the varenicline. Insurance may not cover the cost of these medications.