Canes and walkers are implicated in a significant number of falls and resulting fractures, a new CDC study estimates.

From 2001 to 2006, more than 47,000 people older than age 65 were treated each year at hospital emergency departments for injuries related to falls that involved walkers or canes, the study says. That averages to 129 patients per day (J Am Geriatr Soc. 2009;57: 1464-1469).

Fractures were the most common type of injury associated with walkers (38%) and canes (40%). About one-third of all injuries were to the hip or pelvis, and many were severe enough to require a hospital stay. These included a third of patients whose fall involved a walker and more than one in four (28%) of those who fell because of a cane.

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More than half of fall injuries with walkers (60%) and canes (56%) occurred at home. Approximately 8.3% of injuries involving walkers and 12.8% of those involving canes took place in public places. About 1.6% of walker injuries involved stairs or steps.

The results of this study indicate a need for improved walker and cane design, but in the meantime clinicians should spend more time ensuring that patients are properly fitted and training them to use the devices safely.