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How to Use a Cane

What is a cane? 

A cane, sometimes called an assistive cane or walking cane, is a mobility aid to give support and balance during walking. People might need a cane for different reasons. These include to:   

  • Decrease pain 
  • Give stability when you have weakness or loss of feeling in a leg  
  • Improve balance by spreading weight over a wider area 
  • Increase weight bearing 
  • Help the body heal 

How to fit a cane 

It is important that your cane is adjusted to the proper height. Your physical therapist can recommend the best type of cane for you and make sure it fits properly. Generally, a cane fits if: 

  • Your wrist is at the level of the handgrip when your arm is hanging down at your side. 
  • Your arm bends slightly at the elbow when you hold the handgrip. 

How to walk with a cane 

You will probably be the most independent and comfortable if you hold the cane in the opposite hand from the weak or affected leg. If you are trying to increase weight bearing to one leg, then hold the cane in the hand on the same side as the affected leg. 

To use a cane: 

  • Hold the cane in the hand of your strong (unaffected) leg, opposite of your weak side. 
  • Put all of your weight on your strong leg. Get your balance.  
  • Move the cane and the strong leg forward. 
  • With your weight supported on both your cane and your strong leg, step through with your weak leg. 

How to walk up and down stairs and curbs with a cane 

  • Going up: Step up with the stronger leg first; then step up using the cane and the weaker leg. 
  • Going down: Step down with the weaker leg and cane first; then step down with your stronger leg. 

Safety tips 

  • Wear nonskid, supportive shoes. 
  • Go slow and stay in control. 
  • Watch out for wet or uneven surfaces and objects in your way. These can cause falls. 
  • Use nonskid rubber tips to keep from slipping.  
  • Replace the rubber tip if it is worn or damaged.  
  • Use a large tip to increase stability and safety. 
  • Keep the cane away from your feet to avoid tripping. 

Key Points

  • Canes are generally used when a little support is needed for balance or for weakness.  
  • Make sure the cane fits properly. Your elbow should be slightly bent when you hold your cane. 
  • Talk to your doctor or therapist if you are unsure about any instructions or feel unsteady using a cane. 

Reviewed: September 2022