5 Mistakes You Are Making While Walking with Your Cane

Picture of a woman walking with a cane.
Your physical therapist can help you avoid common mistakes when walking with your cane.. Marcy Maloy/Getty Images

If you are having difficulty with walking and balance or with functional mobility, you may benefit from the skilled services of a physical therapist to help you move around safely. Your PT may prescribe strengthening or balance exercises to help you walk safely and maximize your function.

Your physical therapist may recommend you walk with a cane to help you remain stable when walking. You may also use a cane as you progress with gait training after injury or surgery.

Your physical therapist can teach you how to walk with a cane and how to remain safe while walking with your cane. You should check in with your PT or doctor before making any adjustment to your cane or other assistive device.

Common Mistakes When Using a Cane

Making a few small errors while walking with your cane can lead to big problems like a fall or injury. Take a look at this list of common mistakes people make when walking with a cane, and then check to see if you are using your cane properly and safely.

  1. The cane is not sized properly. If you are walking with a cane and it is adjusted too high, the cane will not provide you enough support to keep you stable.  Instability with a cane that is too high can lead to falls. If your cane is adjusted too low, your posture may be affected and you may notice that you are bent too far forward when walking with your cane. This forward-bent posture may cause your center of mass to move forward, leading to loss of balance.
  1. You are holding the cane in the wrong hand. If you had an injury or surgery in one hip, knee, or ankle, or if you have weakness on one side of your body, you may start walking with your cane on the injured side. But the cane is best used on the opposite side of your injury or weakness. This helps to give you better support and normalize your gait pattern when walking with your cane. If your right knee is injured, walk with the cane in your left hand.
  1. You are keeping the cane too far from your body. When walking with a cane, the tip should be placed on the ground only a few inches from the side of your body. If you are reaching out too far in front of you with the cane, it could lead to loss of balance and falls.
  2. You are not using the correct cane. If you are having difficulty walking with your cane, have your physical therapist assess your gait and mobility with the cane. You may require a different assistive device, like a quad cane or a walker, to walk. Using the right device for your specific problem may mean the difference between safe ambulation and a devastating fall that leads to injury. Your PT can show you the right cane or assistive device for you to use while walking.
  3. You drag the cane behind you when walking. If you take a step forward while walking with your cane and the tip of the cane remains behind you when walking, you may be setting yourself up for injury. The cane should remain close to your side when walking, and your posture should be upright. If you are dragging the cane (or not using the cane at all when walking), you may not even need the cane, or any other assistive device, for walking. Speak with your PT to find out if you should ditch the cane altogether.

    Walking with a cane is a good option if you are having pain in one knee or hip, if you are recovering from surgery, or if you are having difficulty with normal ambulation due to weakness or poor endurance. Ensuring that you avoid common mistakes while walking with your cane is an important step in walking safely and achieving your maximum level of functional mobility.

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