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How to Choose the Right Cane for You

Author:

Patty is a licensed physical therapist assistant. Physical therapy helps patients recover from joint pain caused by orthopedic injuries.

Straight Cane

Straight Cane

When a physical therapist or a doctor suggests that you use a cane, it is probably because they see something in your balance that needs to be fixed. You might be unsteady and not even realize it. If you walk around through your house reaching for a wall or piece of furniture to steady yourself, its probably because your balance is off a bit and you could fall. If you are most comfortable holding on to someone's arm when you walk through the department store, it may be because your balance is poor.

How Does a Cane Help?

  • Helps you to steady yourself
  • Prevents you from falling
  • Improves your balance
  • Helps you walk more upright
  • Allow you to take longer steps
  • Makes you feel safe
Quad Cane

Quad Cane

Do I Need a Cane?

For each question, choose the best answer. The answer key is below.

  1. Do you feel unsteady when you walk?
    • Yes
    • No
  2. Have you fallen recently?
    • Yes
    • No
  3. Do you feel more steady if you hold onto a shopping cart when you shop?
    • Yes
    • No
  4. Do you furniture walk?
    • Yes
    • No
  5. Do you have trouble lifting the front part of your feet when you walk?
    • Yes
    • No
  6. Do you have good sense of feeling in the bottom of your feet?
    • Yes
    • No
  7. Are you diabetic?
    • Yes
    • No
  8. Do you get light-headed or dizzy when you stand up?
    • Yes
    • No
  9. Are your feet feel numb?
    • Yes
    • No
  10. Do you trip over your own feet sometimes?
    • Yes
    • No

Answer Key

  1. Yes
  2. Yes
  3. Yes
  4. Yes
  5. Yes
  6. Yes
  7. Yes
  8. Yes
  9. Yes
  10. Yes

How Does a Cane Improve Your Balance?

The answer lies in the laws of physics and the theory of gravity. Simply said, using a cane increases your base of support because it gives you stability between the cane and your weaker side or leg when you are walking. If you walk with your feet wide apart, you are said to have a wide base of support and that signals that your balance is poor. By adding a cane, your base of support becomes more narrow because the cane gives you stability and you begin to walk with better balance.

Furniture Walking

If you use furniture or walls to help you balance when you are walking, you are guilty of furniture walking.

What Kind of Cane Do I Need?

When I ask a patient if they have a cane to use, I never know what they are going to drag from the darkest corner of the hall closet. It's rare that it is a good device that will support them safely but as long as it isn't cracked, has a good rubber tip, and is the right length, I give my approval. If not, if the cane looks like it won't support it or it is too short or too tall, I recommend getting a new one.

Once we determine if they need a cane with a single tip or one with four tips, I encourage them to purchase a cane that suits them. Single tip canes come in a variety of colors and patterns including paisley, stripes, and camouflage.

A cane with four feet (quad cane) will give you more stability because it will accept your weight on a wider base than a single point cane does. It requires a slower cadence to correctly place all four feet on the floor before stepping and that is a good thing for some users. For those that have a quicker cadence, a quad cane can become a fall hazard because the user gets their own feet tangled around the four feet of the quad cane and stumble. A quad cane is most often used by a person who needs something to lean on for support for weight shift to advance the opposite leg when they walk.

A cane with a single tip on the end can improve balance because it improves your base of support by giving you an additional point of contact with the walking surface.

Is My Old Cane Safe to Use?

Straight Cane (Single Point)Quad Cane (Four Point)

No cracks

Adjustable to left or right hand use

Straight without bends or breaks

Four flexible rubber tips

Flexible rubber tip

Can be adjustable to the correct height

Can be adjusted to the right height

Flexible rubber tip

Curved or flat handle

Handle that fits your hand

Left Hand or Right Hand?

The cane goes in your left hand if your right leg is injured or weak. If your left leg is weak or injured, the cane goes in your right hand. This is a challenge for those who have to use the cane opposite their dominant side and it will take some practice and getting used to. This is the correct method and will improve your balance if you work at it.

What Size Cane Do I Need?

A cane should be adjustable. If its made of wood, you may be able to shorten it by cutting it off at the bottom and replacing the rubber tip. If its too short, you will need to get another cane. Metal canes though, are adjustable up and down.

Try standing beside the cane with your hand down at your side. The curve of the cane should rest right at your wrist. If it doesn't, it needs to be adjusted to your height.

Think About It!

If you are having some difficulty walking and find yourself depending on pieces of furniture to get you safely through your home, it might be a good idea to consider using a cane. It might just renew and improve your quality of life!

This content is for informational purposes only and does not substitute for formal and individualized diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed medical professional. Do not stop or alter your current course of treatment. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

Comments

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on January 31, 2021:

The questions you posed are good ones for people to consider when deciding if a cane would be of help to them.