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Canes: How to Choose and Use

What are the types of canes?

A cane helps you walk when you have a problem with your leg or foot.

Canes are usually made out of wood or metal. They come in different styles. Choose a cane that best suits your condition and the amount of support you need.

  • Crook cane: This is the most common type of cane. It might also be called a single-point cane because it has only a single tip in contact with the ground. It is the least expensive and is often used for temporary problems, like fractures or sprains. Many people prefer this type of cane because you can use its crook to hang it over your arm when you don’t need the cane for support.
  • Center balance cane: This cane is best if you need firm support and assistance getting up and down from a chair. It has a bigger, flatter handle that provides a comfortable and secure grip. Straps allow you to carry it or hang it when you are not using it. This cane also has only 1 tip in contact with the ground. It is the most popular cane for people who have had a stroke or who have arthritis, hip problems, back problems, multiple sclerosis, or Parkinson's disease.
  • Brass-handle or parrot-head cane: If you need a cane only for light balance or mild weight bearing, you might choose this cane. This cane is usually chosen mainly for looks rather than as a walking support.
  • Quad Cane: The quad cane has 4 tips in touch with the ground. If you need a lot of support, you may need or prefer this cane. It may be the best choice for you if you are "graduating" from a walker.

Most health insurance plans cover the cost of a cane if you have a written prescription from your healthcare provider.

If you need to use a cane, ask your healthcare provider about getting a disabled parking permit so you can park in handicap zones.

How should a cane fit?

When you are standing up straight, with your elbow bent a little (about 30 degrees), the top of the cane should meet your wrist joint.

How do I use a cane?

  • Walking: Hold the cane in the hand opposite the side that is injured or weak. For example, hold the cane in your right hand if your left leg is injured. Keep your elbow close to your body and your hand near your hip. Your hand should not move forward or out to the side--you should just pivot the wrist joint. Move the cane forward as you step forward with the injured leg. When you put weight on the injured leg, the cane will support the opposite side. Step past the cane with the uninjured foot.
  • Going up and down stairs:
    • When you go up stairs, step up first with the uninjured leg ("up with the good"). Then bring the injured leg and cane up to the same step.
    • When you go down stairs, step down first with the cane and the injured leg ("down with the bad").
  • Getting up from a chair:
    1. Hold your cane in the hand opposite your injured leg.
    2. Slide the foot of your injured leg forward a little and use the hand on the weak or injured side to push out of the chair.
    3. Stand with your weight on the uninjured leg. Use the cane to support your weight over the injured leg.

What will help me use the cane safely?

  • Wear sturdy, low-heeled shoes with nonskid soles to help prevent falls.
  • Avoid wet floors and sidewalks that are slippery.
  • Remove throw rugs from your path and watch for electrical and telephone cords that may cause falls.
  • Keep your free hand on the railing when you go up or down stairs.
  • Avoid revolving doors and escalators.
  • Slow down and take extra time to stay safe.
  • Check the rubber tip at the end of your cane from time to time to make sure it has not worn out. Replace the tip if it is worn.
Written by Pierre Rouzier, MD, and developed by RelayHealth.
Published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2011-08-10
Last reviewed: 2011-06-07
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
© 2011 RelayHealth and/or its affiliates. All rights reserved.
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