Pole walking for neurological conditions

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At Nordic Walking UK we are delighted that Nordic walking has been recognised as the amazing rehabilitation tool that it is. However, we do also get concerned that in some instances, actual ‘Nordic’ walking technique and poles are not necessarily the perfect and simplest solution. We therefore feel it’s important to clarify the term and ensure that it does simply become a ‘catch all’ for pole or stick walking in general which could lead to inappropriate or contraindicated exercise being adopted in some cases.

Our team of experts cover all aspects of ‘POLE walking’ and acknowledge that the strict Nordic walking technique (which is based on a cross country ski coaching) and the associated poles with integral glove like straps (as shown), may NOT be the best solution for those with certain conditions.

In cases of neurological conditions like Parkinson’s disease and Multiple sclerosis, poles without the traditional Nordic walking strap may be preferable. No, we don’t mean old fashioned trekking poles with a simple looped strap (as shown) either! Fitness walking poles that are specially designed to provide an upright posture and additional support can be ideal and as the walker is not literally strapped in safer too. In some cases, it is not advised that  the user is actually strapped to the pole at all as it can increase the possibility of trips and falls and in some instances cause additional injury should they ever actually fall. Typical Nordic Walking poles are also used at an angle in order to gain forward propulsion via the straps and this is not always appropriate.


At NWUK we have embraced the Exerstrider technique and strapless walking poles developed by pole walking Pioneer Tom Rutlin for many years and we now work closely with Urban Poling who have further evolved this concept in Canada. Mandy Shintani BSc (OT), MA from Urban poling has developed this unique ergonomic handle which can provide many of the key benefits of Nordic Walking but without the need for straps or the need to master Nordic Walking technique.

Like Nordic Walking poles the Urban Poling Activator poles provide upper body engagement, reduce the pressure on lower body joints and add an exercise element plus stability for the walker. In fact, the ledge on the side of the handle actually provides additional stability for those who lose balance and a more upright posture which helps the user to look forwards rather than down. It is almost like having  a small shelf on the side of the handle which can also prove beneficial should the user feel in need of a pause or rest in order to regain their stride. 

Another key benefit is that the Activator poles have a simple push button height adjustment and extremely stable, flexible  rubber ferrules on the bottom of the poles (as shown). The poles are extremely comfortable and simple to use and in many cases transform the walking experience for the user. They are ideal in a clinical setting and as a daily walking aid that is lightweight and portable. It is possible to master their use without tuition although we advise seeking this where possible in order to get maximum benefits from their use.

So, are we saying that only Activator poles should be used for those with Neurological conditions? Absolutely not! We have seen some amazing examples where traditional Nordic walking technique and poles have worked wonders too. These conditions can be complex and each sufferer is an individual so we really want both professionals and potential pole converts to be armed with the facts and the choice to make an informed decision based on their needs and goals.

One thing we definitely do advise though is that if you do choose the more sporty, Nordic style poles and technique PLEASE ensure you learn how to do it properly. The NWUK Freedom programme is a 4 session course that will help you maximise the straps in order to gain forward propulsion and a real exercise affect. This will ensure that you do not simply end up walking with poles that you are strapped to!


  1. Check the height adjustment on the pole shaft and adjust accordingly
  2. Check the handles to make sure that you have each ergonomic handle in the correct hand – they are clearly marked with L and R and this will immediately ensure you have the ‘shelf’ on the outer edge in order to provide stability and an upright stance.
  3. Begin to walk with the poles in front of you at all times and keep your elbows softly bent as you move forward using the natural movement of opposite arm and leg forward at any time. Try to ensure that you use the shoulder joint to move the arm forward rather than simply bending the elbow as this will encourage a wider range of movement

Mandy and the NWUK Physio team have developed specific training modules for NWUK Instructors who deliver our Wellbeing programmes and they will often be able to offer both tuition and walks.(subject to their qualifications and the nature of your condition) Find your local group here

To view the URBAN POLING ACTIVATOR and other strapless walking poles click here 

NWUK can also offer talks and demos for specific support groups and clinical workshops for professionals. Our one day training courses for Physiotherapists, OT’s and other rehabilitation specialists covers all aspects of pole walking and can help with signposting people to suitable sessions too. View our training courses here

Come and see us at PHYSIOTHERAPY UK 10 – 11 November Birmingham click here for more details


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