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Tips for choosing and using canes

Updated: 2023-05-26

A cane can improve balance or help with mobility after an injury or disability. There are quite a few options to choose from. Learn more about your choices and how to pick a cane that's right for you. Talk to your doctor, physical therapist or another member of your health care team for suggestions too. And before you start using a cane, make sure you know how to move with it safely.

Using a cane

Most people do well with a cane that has a single tip. A quad cane, which has four tips, provides a broader base of support. But that type of cane can be heavier and more cumbersome to use. Quad canes may help lower the risk of falls in people who are recovering from a stroke.

Choosing a grip

Pick a grip that feels comfortable for you. Foam grips or grips shaped to fit the user's hand are popular choices. If you have trouble grasping with your fingers, a larger grip might be a better option.

Choosing a good cane grip eases stress on joints and may help prevent other joint problems. Numbness or pain in your hand or fingers might be a sign that a cane's grip isn't a good fit for your hand. Ask your physical therapist or another member of your health care team to help you choose the best grip for you.

Checking the fit

Many canes can be adjusted, but some cannot. To make sure your cane fits you properly:

  • Check your elbow bend. With the cane in your hand, your elbow should bend at a comfortable angle, about 15 to 20 degrees. You might bend your elbow slightly more if you're using the cane mainly for balance.
  • Check your wrist height. With your arm hanging straight down at your side, the top of your cane should line up with the crease in your wrist.

If your cane is too long, you'll need to work harder to pick it up and move it. If your cane is too short, you might lean to one side. That can throw off your balance.

Walking with a cane

Hold your cane in the hand that's opposite of your weak or injured leg. Move the cane along with that leg, so each time you step, you move the cane too. That gives you support as you walk. When you step forward with the other leg, don't move the cane.

Using a cane on steps

As you go up steps, use your free hand to hold onto the railing if there is one. Step up first with your stronger leg. Then step up with your other leg as you move the cane at the same time. To go down steps, hold onto the railing. Move the cane at the same time you move your weaker leg down to the step. Then step down with your other leg.

Checking the tip

The rubber tip on the end of a cane grips the floor much like the tread on car tires grips the road. The tip of a cane can help provide traction on most surfaces. Check the tip from time to time. If the tread looks worn or if the tip has become stiff, replace it. Replacement cane tips usually are available at pharmacies and medical supply stores.