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Expert Advice on How to Use a Cane Properly When Walking

elderly woman walking with a cane in a park

Written by:

Jeffrey Grossman

Published:

June 07, 2021


Learning how to walk with a cane presents an excellent opportunity for any elderly adult to overcome movement limitations and get back to a normal lifestyle.

Do you feel uncomfortable walking on your own?

Have you recently had knee or hip surgery?

Are your hips, knees, or ankles more unstable or weak than you remember?

Many elderly adults eventually reach a point where they need assistance walking and moving around. Learning how to use a cane or another assistive device can help you get back on your feet.

Using a cane can seem unfamiliar or difficult at first, so you must learn the correct way to use a cane. Once you know how to use a cane for balance, you’ll gain greater confidence moving around.

In this article, we’re providing information on how to know when you need a cane. We’ll also be sharing expert advice on how to use a cane properly when walking

Keep reading to learn more about the benefits of using a cane.

 

How Do You Know When You Need a Cane?

Nearly 40% of senior adults use a cane or assistive device. However, age isn’t the only factor that necessitates the use of a cane. In addition to age, other reasons for cane use often include: 

  • Severe knee or hip arthritis
  • Recovering from a knee, hip, or joint surgery
  • Assistance during physical therapy
  • Relearning to walk after a stroke or serious accident
  • Frailty or weak muscles/bones

There are also more personal and emotional reasons to use a cane:

  • Are you afraid of falling when you walk around?
  • Do you feel like your legs are getting weaker as you age?
  • Is it difficult for you to climb or descend stairs independently?
  • Have you stopped leaving home because of mobility issues?

If you’re an elderly adult who’s experiencing any of these medical or emotional challenges, a cane may be right for you. 

You can also talk with a medical professional or physical therapist about your situation. They can provide expert insight into when and how using a cane can help you overcome all these obstacles.

Recognizing you need a cane and purchasing one is the first step. However, you’ll also need to learn how to use a cane properly and how to walk with a cane.

 

How to Use a Cane

Proper use of a cane involves some initial preparation. Without this preparation, you may improperly use your cane and not receive all the benefits of using a cane

The correct use of a cane involves:

  • Purchasing the right cane
  • Setting the cane to the correct height
  • Knowing which side of the body to use it on

Let’s look at these three areas in more detail to help you best prepare for using your cane.

 

1. Purchasing the Correct Cane

A single-footed cane and a four-footed cane are the two main types of canes. 

Single-footed Canes

Single-footed canes are the most common cane type and only have one point of contact with the ground. These types of canes are great for seniors who are still comfortable walking but desire some extra support.

Four-footed Canes

Four-footed canes offer greater stability and support than single-footed canes. Instead of one point of contact with the ground, they have four. These are an excellent option for anyone in need of greater stability than a single-footed cane provides.

 

2. Setting your Cane Height

Before you start using your cane, you want to make sure it’s the correct height. The top of your cane should align with your wrist when your arm is hanging straight down at your side. 

To test your cane height, you can:

  • Place the cane on the side of your body with your unaffected (stronger) leg
  • Hang your arm straight down at your side
  • Line up your wrist with the top of the cane
  • Adjust if needed

When you hold your cane, your arm should bend about 20 to 30 degrees, and you shouldn’t feel any pain or discomfort in your arm or shoulder.

Cane height is significant. If your cane’s height is too high or too low, it can cause further discomfort, pain, or damage to your body.

 

3. Positioning your Cane Correctly

Many people who start using a cane wonder, “Do you use a cane on the affected side or unaffected side of your body?” The answer is the unaffected side of your body. 

When you start using your cane to walk, you should position it on the side of your body with your stronger leg. You should also place your cane a few inches forward from your body.

If you’re unsure which cane to purchase, what height to set it at, or how to position it, you can schedule an appointment with a physical therapist. They can help you choose, adjust, and place your cane correctly.

Now that you know the preliminary preparations for using a cane, let’s talk about how to walk with a cane.

 

How to Walk with a Cane

Once you’ve chosen the correct cane, adjusted its height, and know which side to hold it on, you’re ready to use your cane for balance.

Using a cane will require practice and some getting used to. However, once you master walking with your cane, you’ll experience greater control over your mobility. 

Here are the basic steps for using a cane when walking on a flat surface:

  • Hold the cane on your unaffected (stronger) side
  • Place the cane at your side and slightly ahead of your body
  • Simultaneously move the cane and your affected (weak leg) forward
  • Plant the cane firmly on the ground
  • Step forward with your unaffected leg

Now, here’s how to use a cane with stairs:

  • Start with your cane and legs on the same surface
  • Lift (or lower) your strong leg onto the next step and firmly plant it
  • Lift (or lower) your weaker leg onto that same step
  • Lift (or lower) your cane back to your side
  • Repeat until you’ve completely ascended or descended

Learning the correct way to use a cane isn’t difficult, but it will take time, practice, and patience. 

An excellent idea is to set up an appointment with a physical therapist. They can teach you the correct way to use a cane and provide you with supervised practice before you’re on your own. There are even physical therapists that will come to your home so you can learn in the comfort of your residence. 

 

Need Help Learning How to Use a Cane Properly?

Canes offer elderly adults improved stability and comfort moving around. They’re an excellent resource to get you back on your feet and perform daily tasks independently.

However, using a cane does require some initial preparation and practice. You’ll want to:

  • Choose the right cane
  • Set your cane at the correct height
  • Know where to position your cane

Once you complete these steps, you’re ready to learn how to walk with a cane. Proper use of a cane will take some time to learn and master. But after you practice it, you’ll reap all the new lifestyle benefits of using a cane.

If you need help learning how to use a cane, you can always make an appointment with a trained physical therapist.

At Commonwise Home Care, we desire to help aging seniors experience independence and healthy living for as long as possible. Our Physical Therapists are the perfect option for any elderly adult who needs physical rehabilitation or assistance using a cane. They’ll create a unique plan suited for your needs and will come directly to your home for your comfort and convenience.

Contact our Richmond, Charlottesville, or Williamsburg locations today to schedule an appointment with one of our trained Physical Therapists.

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