Learning to walk with Pacerpoles

I know I have been lucky to remain free of Rheumatoid Arthritis until I was sixty – my mother was stricken with it at 48 and was wheelchair bound within five years. I was shocked and distressed by her rapid deterioration.

Maureen ButlerAlthough I have remained in reasonable health for the past eight years, I do have a problem in that for the past two years I have hardly been able to walk - frustrating for someone with seven grandchildren and a three year-old Springer spaniel! Why, I wonder, was I so reluctant to start on DMARDS at the early onset of my disease (no doubt due to the severity of the side-effects of my mother’s medication - but this was more than 30 years ago)? I refused Methotrexate and other medication until last year, by which time I was experiencing frequent neck, wrist and hand flares and the pain in my ankles was such that I could barely walk. Having weak muscles from a recent hip replacement didn’t help much either!

For the previous seven years I had experimented with a combination of herbal medicine, homeopathy and an `anti-inflammatory’ diet, backed up with ibuprofen and paracetamol when needed. I am still convinced all this was useful but my ESR remained high and was increasing. When it reached 86 and I was in a lot of pain, I knew I had no choice but to see the rheumatologist again, who encouraged me to take methotrexate. He prescribed  a low dose of 7mg weekly and  it has certainly made a difference and calmed everything down – except my ankles, which are considerably damaged.

When our Springer spaniel arrived last year, literally on the doorstep needing a new home, I initially turned her away telling my daughter there was no way I would be able to take a young dog for the walks she needed. But my husband promised to do the walking, I relented and now we have Jess, another much loved pet. However, in the past year, I have discovered help that has really enabled me to walk my dog – Pacerpoles! A friend introduced them to me and explained how they would improve my posture, balance and gait, which was still very poor due to muscle weakness. I tried the Pacerpoles, designed by health professional Heather Rhodes, and to my delight, after three years of walking like a penguin – and a lame one at that – I was walking upright again and actually taking strides instead of hesitant little shuffles. Now, on a good day I can do twice round the nice, level recreation ground nearby! And take my dog and youngest grandson too.

I hadn’t realised that, for me, using one stick at wrist level is not a particularly good idea. A single stick creates an imperceptible wobble and can exacerbate wrist or shoulder pain. I have learned that the body looks for equality of movement both left and right. Realising I was so much more stable using the two Pacerpoles was very encouraging and I re-started my physiotherapy with renewed enthusiasm (until now I had thought swimming twice a week would be enough). I am still experimenting with an even stricter `anti-arthritis’ diet because I truly believe this can be a crucial factor. I am currently seeing a qualified nutritionist/naturopath, who carries out deep tissue massage (to encourage the flow of lymph) and has recommended I cut out wheat, potatoes and other members of the nightshade family (for further information check out www.noarthritis.com) and dairy products (see the Milk Letter by Dr Robert Kradjian). I take fish oil and MSM as well as my weekly Methotrexate, and painkillers when I need them. For the first time in several years my ESR is down to 21, so I am hoping something is working!

But for my walks with Jess, the Pacerpoles have really made the difference between walking my dog or not.

Background on Pacerpoles

Pacerpole designer, Heather Rhodes, is a physiotherapist who wanted to create a walking aid that would retrain postural muscles so users could feel the benefits of better posture and therefore better breathing, stride after stride.
The contours of the unique handles, which are shaped differently for each hand, control the arms’ action to maximise stability, support and propulsion, without wasting effort or causing wrist or hand discomfort.
Pacerpoles are now being used and recommended by health and outdoor professionals worldwide.
As a result of patients telling her how helpful Pacerpoles have been in assisting their mobility, a senior rheumatologist at the Royal Orthopaedic Hospital in Edgeware invited Heather to speak to her physiotherapists and occupational therapists about the benefit of including the ‘arm stride' as part of the walking action. Similarly the Osteoporosis Society has published letters from members who have also had beneficial results from using Pacerpoles to assist their own walking difficulties.

Pam Browne, an enthusiastic and fully trained Pacerpole user who runs walking groups from her home town of Nailsworth, in Gloucestershire, works closely with Pacerpole designer, Heather Rhodes. She firmly believes that these uniquely designed poles can bring great benefit to those with and without walking difficulties.
Pam runs Walking for Health groups, set up by Natural England, which means she often finds herself walking more than 30 miles a week.
Having had two hips resurfaced in the past seven years and walking so regularly, using the correct muscle groups has enabled her bone density to improve considerably since her first scan three years ago.

For further information and to see Pacerpoles in action visit www.pacerpole.com

Autumn 2012: by Maureen Butler