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How to Safely Use a Walking Stick

Posted by Adam Jolan on

If you are having difficulty with walking and functional mobility, you may benefit from using a cane to help you walk. Your physiotherapist can help you set up and use your cane properly. By walking properly with your can, you can be sure to maintain safety and efficiently when walking and moving around.

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

Conditions that may require the use of a cane may include:
  • After stroke
  • After knee surgery
  • After a lower extremity fracture
  • If limited balance impairs your ability to walk safely
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.

Proper Cane Use

Here is a review of the appropriate way to walk safely with a cane on level surfaces. Be sure to visit your physiotherapist to make sure you are using your cane properly, and a visit with your doctor may also be in order.

Before starting, be sure your cane is adjusted to the proper height. You may wish to consult your physiotherapist to do so. An easy way to adjust your cane is to stand with your cane next to your leg. Hang your arm down with your elbow straight. Your 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 any shoulder or arm pain. Now, let's get walking.

Here is how you walk properly with a cane:

Hold the cane in the hand on your unaffected side so that it provides support to the opposite lower limb
Advance the cane simultaneously with the leg opposite affected, or injured, lower limb
Lean your weight through the arm holding the cane as needed
Always have the unaffected lower limb assume the first full weight-bearing step on level surfaces
When walking up a set of stairs with a cane, you should keep the cane stationary as you step up with your strong leg. Then, use that strong 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 on the cane and lower your other leg down.

Avoid These Mistakes When Walking with a Cane

There are some common mistakes people make when walking with a cane; be sure to avoid these. These mistakes may include:

  • Using a cane that is too high or too low
  • Holding your cane in the wrong hand
  • Placing the cane too far away from your body, causing you to lean forward or sideways while walking
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 physiotherapist to ensure that you are using the correct device for you. If you are unsafe, your physiotherapist can help determine the best cane or walker for you, 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.

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