Walking With A Cane

Learn How To Safely Walk With A Cane

Mexico, Guanajuato, San Miguel de Allende, Old woman's hand holding cane on sidewalk
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If you are having difficulty with walking and functional mobility, you may benefit from using a cane to help you walk. Your physical therapist can help you use your cane properly.

Canes are often used to assist in balance, to widen your base of support, or to decrease weight bearing on a lower extremity. In order to achieve these functions, however, one must know how to properly use a cane.

Conditions that may require the use of a cane may include:

Any condition that prevents safe functional mobility may mean that you need to consider using a cane for walking. Sometimes, the use of a cane is permanent; other times, using a cane may only be a temporary thing until sufficient healing of an injury has occurred or until your strength and balance improve and you can walk safely.

Here is a review of the appropriate way to walk safely with a cane on level surfaces.

Before starting, be sure your cane is adjusted to the proper height.  You may wish to consult your physical therapist to do so. An easy way to adjust your cane is to stand with your cane next to you leg. Hang your arm down with your elbow straight. You wrist should fall at the level of the top of the cane. If it doesn't, adjust your cane up or down until it does. When holding your cane, your elbow should be bent about 20 degrees or so, and you should not be feeling shoulder pain.

Here is how you walk properly with a cane:

  1. Hold the cane in the hand on your unaffected side so that it provides support to the opposite lower limb
  2. Advance the cane simultaneously with the leg opposite affected lower limb
  3. Lean your weight through the arm holding the cane as needed
  4. Always have the unaffected lower limb assume the first full weight-bearing step on level surfaces

    When walking up stairs with a cane, you should keep the cane stationary as you step up with you strong leg. Then, use your leg to lift up onto the step and bring the cane and your affected leg with it. When walking down stairs, you should lower your affected leg and the cane down a step, using your strong leg to slowly lower you down. Once your cane and foot are firmly down on the step, place some weight throug the cane and lower your other leg down.

    If you are having difficulty maintaining your balance walking with a cane, you should consider using a different assistive device when walking. Using a quad cane with a wider base of support may be necessary. If continued walking is difficult, using a standard or wheeled walker may be necessary.

    Be sure to check in with your physical therapist to ensure that you are using the correct device for you. If you are unsafe, your physical therapist can help determine the best cane or walker, and he or she can prescribe exercises that you can do to improve strength and improve your balance and safety.

    Learning to use a cane the right way can be an important part of maintaining your maximum mobility and safety when walking. By walking properly with a cane, you can be sure to remain safe from falling and from injuring yourself while moving about.

    Edited by Brett Sears, PT.

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