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Using a Cane

Topic Overview

A walking aid—a walker, crutches, or a cane—helps substitute for a decrease in strength, range of motion, joint stability, coordination, or endurance. It can also reduce the stress on a painful joint or limb. Using a walking aid can help you be more safe and independent in your daily activities.

Almost everyone has used a walking aid at some time, even if it was just playing around with crutches that belonged to someone else. As a result, most people think they know how to use this equipment. But there are some simple principles that will make using your walking aid easier and safer.

General safety when using walking aids

  • Look straight ahead, not down at your feet.
  • Clear away small rugs, cords, or anything else that could cause you to trip, slip, or fall.
  • Be very careful around pets and small children. They can be unpredictable and get in your path when you least expect it.
  • Be sure the rubber tips on your walking aid are clean and in good condition to help prevent slipping. You can buy replacement tips from medical supply stores and drugstores. Ice tips are also available to use outdoors in winter weather.
  • Avoid slick conditions, such as wet floors and snowy or icy driveways. In bad weather, be especially careful on curbs and steps.
  • Never use your walking aid to help you stand up or sit down. Even if you still have one hand on your walking aid, put the other hand on the surface you are sitting on or the arm of your chair. Use that hand to guide you as you sit down, and to push with as you stand up. If you are less steady on your feet, rest your walking aid securely nearby, so it doesn't fall and you can reach it easily. And use both hands on the sitting surface to help you sit down or stand up.
  • Always use your strong or uninjured leg to take the first step when you go up stairs or a curb (see instructions for curbs and stairs below). When you go back down, step with your weak or injured leg first. Remember "up with the good, and down with the bad" to help you lead with the correct leg. Ask for help if you feel unsure about going up and, especially, down stairs.

Using a cane

If you are using a cane because one leg is weak or painful, hold the cane on the opposite side from the weak or painful leg. For example, if your right hip is sore, hold the cane in your left hand.

If you are using the cane for a little help with balance and stability, hold it in the hand you use less. If you are right-handed, you'll probably want to hold the cane in your left hand to leave your right hand free for other things.

Hold the cane close to your body so you can push straight down on it. If you feel as though you need to put a lot of weight on the cane because your balance is not good or you have significant pain or weakness, talk to your doctor about trying crutches or a walker.

Be sure your cane fits you. When you stand up in your normal posture with the cane tip on the ground, the handle of the cane should be next to the top of your leg. Your elbow should be slightly bent.

A cane can help if you have minor problems with balance or steadiness on your feet. It can also help take a little weight off one leg by shifting some weight to the cane. Your doctor may recommend a cane if you just need a little help walking comfortably and safely.

To walk using a cane

The best way to think about walking with a cane is that you are taking normal steps and just moving the cane when you would normally swing your arm forward.

Move the cane at the same time as the opposite leg, just as though you were swinging your arm. For example, if you are holding the cane in your left hand, move the cane forward when you step with your right foot. If you are using the cane because of a painful or weak leg, you will be moving that leg at the same time as the cane.

  1. Set the cane comfortably ahead of you, so it is even with the foot you are stepping with. Don't lean forward to reach farther.
  2. Step past the cane with the other foot.
  3. Repeat.

To go up or down a curb using a cane

Try this first with another person nearby to steady you if needed.

  1. Stand near the edge of the curb, and get your balance.
  2. If you are going up, step up with your stronger leg, then bring your other leg and the cane up to meet it. If you are going down, move the cane down first. Step down with your weaker leg first, then bring your stronger leg down to meet it. Remember "up with the good, and down with the bad" to help you lead with the correct leg.
  3. Get your balance again before you start walking.

To use your cane on stairs

Try this first with another person nearby to steady you if needed.

If a banister is available, hold on to the banister, and use your cane in the opposite hand. You will still step with the stronger leg first to go up stairs, and with the weaker leg first to go down stairs.

  1. Stand near the edge of the stairs.
  2. If you are going up, step up with your stronger leg first, then bring your other leg and the cane up to meet it. If you are going down, move the cane down first. Step down with your weaker leg, then bring your stronger leg down to meet it.
  3. Repeat.
  4. When you reach the level surface, get your balance again before you start walking.

Credits

By Healthwise Staff
Anne C. Poinier, MD - Internal Medicine
Joan Rigg, PT, OCS - Physical Therapy
Last Revised April 8, 2013

This information does not replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information. Your use of this information means that you agree to the Terms of Use. How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.

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