What's on the end of your stick?

Image caption Types of ferrules

Walking sticks are a great help for many disabled people, but would be largely useless without a ferrule. A what? Don't underestimate the role of the little rubber cap that sits on the end of a stick.

What is it?

It's the bung-like tip which fits on the end of a walking stick. Most are made of rubber. They grip the surface of the ground and allow you to lean your weight on your stick with confidence.

Why do you need something on the end?

If there wasn't something there, you'd know about it. You might use an attractively carved stick but, if you are a bit wobbly or have pain when you move about and need it for support rather than as a fashion accessory, it's your ferrule which lies between standing up or falling flat on your face.

Is there a wide variety of ferrules?

Yes. Kate Ansell, a stick-user with cerebral palsy, chooses to buy the kind which have bumps on the underside, even though she says they wear down very quickly.

"They give me the best cushioning and jar my body less when I'm walking down a street," she says.

The Stick and Cane Shop's biggest seller is one with a concentric circle grip, but others exist, some with no pattern and others which are much bigger to fit a heftier walking stick. They sell about 30 a week.

Ferrules are rarely to be found for sale in UK High Streets and supermarkets, but can sometimes be found in pharmacies. Previously they were mostly made available via the NHS but in recent years several online shops have sprung up to fill the gap in the market. They can retail from about £1 and up.

Ferrules are also used on crutches and hiking poles, and the "feet" on furniture like tables and sofas - sometimes made of non-gripping metals - are also known as ferrules.

Do you need to replace them often?

Ferrules for walking sticks are mostly made of rubber so degrade with use. The consensus amongst those we spoke to is that they typically last about six months, by which time they've worn fairly thin.

Ansell always carries a spare with her and urges fellow stick-users to check them often - especially as the colder months approach, with fallen leaves then ice underfoot. "A worn-out ferrule can make for the worst kind of fall. Imagine putting all your 12st of weight on it and suddenly it doesn't work any more. You tend to land very heavily."

Are there other types of tips for white canes?

Yes - these are different to ferrules as you don't lean your body weight on them. No grip is needed, in fact the opposite is true. Blind people swoosh their canes left and right in front of them to give advanced tactile warning of obstacles. So the cane must glide easily across pavements, floor and road surfaces.

There are many available, ranging from the pear and mushroom tip through to the roller tip and marshmallow tip.

All are designed to give the user a choice in the kind of information that comes back to them up the cane. Some are better on routes where you might snag the cane on uneven pavements, others work better on smooth indoor floors such as those in airports and shopping centres.

Blind people are known for tapping left and right as they walk, but in the past decade or so it's more common not to lift the cane-tip at all. It's tiring to keep on lifting and tapping because many canes are quite long and relatively heavy. Hence the invention of the roller tip, which has enabled users to roll their cane left and right without lifting.

More Ouchlets soon, and if you have any suggestions for small things that cast light on what daily life is like with a disability, please get in touch to tell us more.

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