Elderly Couple Walking Properly with Canes

How To Walk With a Cane Correctly (for Safety and Stability)

If you are having difficulties with your mobility resulting from knee surgery, injury, or other condition, you might have considered using a cane. When used safely and correctly, a cane is a perfect companion in providing stability and balance to people who require additional control and flexibility while walking. They can go a long way towards reducing pain and providing support and balance to those who need them. However, while they undoubtedly have many benefits, new users are often left wondering: How do I use a cane properly?

In short, to use a cane properly, you should first hold the cane on the side of your “good” leg (the opposite leg to the one that needs support). Then, when walking on level ground, you should move the cane forward in unison with your “bad” leg, placing weight on it as necessary.

When correctly used, the right cane can greatly improve your steadiness and reduce your likelihood of falling. It does this by widening your base of support and easing the pressure placed on your lower-body.

Of course, the above-outlined answer is only the short one, so here’s a detailed guide on how to use a cane properly to maintain balance while walking:

Select the Correct Cane for Your Needs

Any cane you use should match your needs and fit you correctly. Therefore, before you begin to search for a cane, it’s essential to determine how much assistance you’ll need from it, and even whether you need a cane at all. If you do need a cane specifically for stability, you might want to choose a quad cane, whereas for general support a single point cane might be a better option.

Generally, selecting the cane that best suits your needs is dependent on two factors:

Type of Cane

There are many different types and styles of walking canes available on the market to help remedy your functional mobility problems. These include quad canes, forearm canes, and adjustable canes. The features to consider when choosing the right kind of cane include:

Grip

While selecting a grip depends on personal preferences, consider choosing a grip that’s shaped to fit your hand. A good grip will help you relieve unnecessary stress and avoid joint pain.

Shaft

The shaft is the long and central body of the cane. You want a shaft that is sturdy and reliable. While some shafts are foldable, they are often less robust, so this is something to look out for.

Ferrule.

The ferrule is the cap, often made from rubber, that covers the tip of a cane to ensure stability and support while walking and prevent slipping. You want to ensure the ferrule of your cane is suitable for the surfaces you intend to use it on. It’s also worth noting that some canes come with a single ferrule while others can have up to four (i.e., a quad cane/4-prong-cane).

Length of the Cane

To ensure safety and mobility, you want a cane that will let you walk freely without having to lean or bend your body. In effect – your cane’s length needs to be suitable for your height. While the perfect height will differ from person to person, the typical suggested length of a cane is about half the height of the user.

Here is how to properly fit your cane:

  1. Wear regular walking shoes and stand upright.
  2. Relax your arms and bend your elbow at a comfortable angle of around 15-25 degrees. If you intend to use your cane primarily for balance, consider bending your elbow slightly more for extra stability.
  3. Measure the distance from your wrist joint to the ground. This distance should be around the length of your cane.

Thankfully, most modern canes are adjustable and let you set the preferred length of the cane to meet your specific needs – but always check the product descriptions before assuming this!

Using Your Walking Cane Properly

After choosing the cane that matches your needs, it’s important to learn how to use the cane correctly while walking. Before using their cane for the first time, most users expect it to be simple – but in reality, it isn’t as simple as you’d expect:

You should generally hold your cane on the opposite side of your injury, beside your “good” leg, so as to provide enough support to the injured leg. This will ensure you have adequate support and balance your “bad” leg when stepping forward.

Whilst we explain below the best way to use a cane properly, this is a topic that might be better explained by video. We attach the following video by physical therapists Bob Schrupp and Brad Heineck for your reference:

When Walking On Level Surfaces

  • When walking on level surfaces, move the cane while taking a step forward with your weak or injured leg simultaneously. Every time you take a step with your “good” leg, keep your cane in place.
  • While doing this, always place most of your weight on the “good” side of your body. This will ensure your injured limb has as much support as possible.
  • Please note that you should always use your “good” leg for your first full-weight step and then move the cane about a steps-distance while taking a step with your “bad” leg.

When Walking Up Stairs

  • When using your cane to ascend stairs, place one hand on the handrail (if available) and keep your cane in your other hand.
  • Holding onto the rail, advance one step forward with the “good” leg and then move your injured leg up to the same step.
  • If there is no handrail on the stairs, advance one step forward with your “good” leg, then place the cane on the same step while moving your bad leg forwards.

Which Side Do You Use a Cane On?

You should generally use a cane on the opposite side to your injured leg or knee. The reason you should use a cane on the opposite side of the injury is because it is more efficient and reduces discomfort. Using a cane in this way allows you to maintain stability when walking and relieves stress from your injured side.

Mistakes to Avoid When Using A Cane

When using a cane to assist with walking, there are some common mistakes that people make. It’s important to avoid these because instead of improving your condition, they might complicate it:

  • Don’t use a cane that is not ideal for your height.
  • Don’t hold a cane with the wrong hand while walking; you should always hold a cane on the opposite side to the injury. 
  • Don’t place your cane too far ahead while walking; this may cause you to stretch unnecessarily.
  • Don’t use a cane excessively, this may lead to hand or should pain.
  • Don’t use a cane if you don’t need one, a walking stick might be a better alternative.

With all these considerations in mind, we are sure your experience using a cane should be smooth and without issue. Whether a short-term injury or a long-term condition, we know that using a cane correctly is a great way to alleviate functional mobility issues.

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Margaret Sellars
Margaret Sellars
Occupational Therapist Margaret Sellars contributes to Mobility Deck as an expert on mobility products like wheelchairs, scooters, and walkers. Newly retired, Margaret spends her spare time doing freelance writing from the comfort of her home in Maine. Given her extensive knowledge and professional background, Margaret does the vast majority of the writing for Mobility Deck - so if you have non-tech related questions, she's the one to ask!
Margaret Sellars
Margaret Sellars
Occupational Therapist Margaret Sellars contributes to Mobility Deck as an expert on mobility products like wheelchairs, scooters, and walkers. Newly retired, Margaret spends her spare time doing freelance writing from the comfort of her home in Maine. Given her extensive knowledge and professional background, Margaret does the vast majority of the writing for Mobility Deck - so if you have non-tech related questions, she's the one to ask!

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