How to Use a Cane for Balance?

Walking canes are used for a variety of reasons by people of all ages. They aid with balance and stability, as well as they may help to relieve pain while walking. Different types of canes serve different purposes. However, to get the most benefit out of a cane, it is important to know how to use a cane for balance.

When used correctly, walking canes reduce the stress on your body during everyday activities, giving you back the ability to live a more active lifestyle. Some studies show that just the act of holding a cane, whether or not much weight is put behind it, helps improve balance in some patients. 

Would You Benefit from a Walking Cane?

Before we discuss how to use a cane for balance, we need to know when is a good time to start using a cane.

According to Dr. Mariusz Fajfer, DC from Neurochangers Durham:

“There could be lots of different factors when it comes to deciding whether the time is right to get a walking cane. I think the first would be peace of mind. If you are starting to get worried or are feeling unsteady on your feet it may be time to look at getting a cane. If you find that your mobility and strength has decreased or if you start leaning on walls for support then a cane could help. Are you having difficulty walking up or down stairs, or are you dealing with a painful joint that is limiting your walking? These could also be hints that you could benefit from a cane.

There is no specific age or specific symptom that is a rule for starting to use a walking cane. If you think your mobility, strength, and quality of life could improve with a walking cane then you should give it a try.

To decide whether it may be time to get a walking cane, ask yourself these questions. Does walking cause you leg, hip, back, or joint pain? Do you need the support of objects around you (walls, chairs etc.) to aid in balance while walking? Is walking very physically tiring? If you answered yes to any of these, it may be time to get a cane.

Another good test to try is to sit on the ground and remove all furniture around you, creating an open space. Can you stand up without using your hands to help you? If this is a difficult task, a walking cane might help. Above all, consult with your healthcare practitioner to decide when is a good time to start using a cane.

How to Use a Cane for Balance - Crooked Neck Walking Cane

The purpose of a cane is to aid in stability and balance while walking. A walking cane can also help to alleviate leg, hip, back, or joint pain. A cane may also be useful for those recovering from surgery or an injury by decreasing the risk of falling or redistributing some of the weight from the injury or point of weakness. Canes are also beneficial in helping any injuries to heal faster, and better. This way the use of a walking cane for an injury will only be temporary and you will hopefully not have that same issue again!

According to the National Institute of Health (NIH), a study was conducted by researchers at the Federal University of Sao Paolo in Brazil to observe the impact of daily cane use. For this study 64 participants were split into two groups, one that used a cane every day for 2 months, and the other did not have any assistance. Those who used a cane every day found their pain was significantly improved, as well as the function of the injury or weak point in their body. They also found that they could walk further distances and that less energy was used overall for simple movements. All of these factors can improve your quality of life, so why not give a cane a try?

How to Walk with a Standard Cane?

Proper form is crucial to get the most out of using a cane, as well as preventing further injury. First, ensure that the height of the cane is correct. The top of the cane should reach the crease of your wrist when standing upright. If the cane is too long, it will be more difficult to pick it up and move. The cane should be held with a bent elbow, at about 15 degrees. Walking canes with different kinds of handles and grips are also available, depending on personal preference and/or other conditions so that you can firmly grasp the handle.

For the best results, you should hold the cane in the hand opposite to the injured or weak leg. You can improve general balance and stability, by holding the cane in your less used, or non-dominant hand, to keep your dominant hand free. For best use of a cane, ensure that the rubber tips at the end of the cane are in good condition and not worn out. These will help to provide traction on the cane while walking. If the tips become worn out, it is possible to replace them.

How to use a cane for balance? Learning proper walking technique is important.

How to use a cane for balance? Getting the right gait is important.

To walk properly with the cane, it should be held close to your body, and push straight down as you take your first step. As you take your first step, the cane should swing forward at the same time as your opposite leg moves, as if you’re swinging your arms. For pain or weakness, the cane should move at the same time as the weak or painful leg, which should be opposite to the cane. Place the cane one small step in front of you and step off with your injured leg. Follow that with a step from your good leg and repeat.

When walking up stairs, hold the cane in your hand opposite to your weak side, and hold the raining in the other. Take the first step up with your good leg, followed by the injured leg. Put pressure on the cane to remove some of the weight off of your injured leg. When walking down stairs, the cane should first move forward, followed by the injured leg, and then finally the good leg. The majority of your body weight should be carried on your good leg.

When used with proper form, a cane will help by taking some of your body weight off of your injury or weak point. It will redistribute the weight across other parts of your body, like your arms, head and torso. It will help to shift your center of gravity so that you will find yourself walking with much more ease.

Using a Cane for Lower Back Problems

Canes also may be used for lower back problems. In this case a standard cane, or a quad cane may be used. With back pain, sometimes patients will lean to one side to help relieve some pain, causing them to be off balance. A standard cane will help to re-balance you in this case and relieve some of the back pain. If more stability is required, this is when a quad cane may be preferred.

However, for the most relief of lower back pain with the use of a cane, the cane must be used in proper form, as described above. The best way to relieve lower back pain is to get out and go for a walk. Staying active will help the most, and a cane can aid you in doing this. Most individuals suffering from lower back pain find discomfort when walking up or down hills, curbs, stairs, or on bumpy or uneven ground.  A cane will ease these movements, and therefore relieve some of the pain.

Choosing the Right Cane for You

You can choose from among many different varieties of walking canes. In some cases, a quad cane may be preferred over a standard cane. A standard cane has only one foot, whereas a quad cane has four. This allows the quad cane to provide more support and stability.

There are narrow and wide quad canes, where the narrow canes will provide more support than a standard cane, but less support than the wide cane. For the most support, a wide quad cane should be used. If more support is still required, you may want to consider using crutches. The narrow quad cane is also lighter than the wide quad cane, so the narrow one may be preferred in certain situations. Quad canes are better for use outdoors, on carpet, cement, or rough surfaces. They also may be used by individuals who have been using a wheeled walker but who feel they could use less support.

Like most things, there are advantages and disadvantages to using a quad cane over a standard cane. Disadvantages to using a quad cane may be that the patient has to walk slower due to it being a bit more awkward to move than a standard cane. The wider base may also pose a tripping hazard to some individuals. However, the wide base will also help the most in reducing falls, which is common in those recovering from strokes. In general, a standard cane is good for light support, whereas a quad cane may be preferred for those recovering from surgery, or who are looking for more support.

Walking with a Quad Cane

Using a quad cane is very similar to a standard cane. It should be held in the hand opposite to the weak leg/side and moved about one arm length forward as the opposite leg steps forward, like a standard cane. However, the user must ensure that all four ends are placed solidly on the floor. Then you should follow with a step forward from the weak leg and gently press down on the cane as you move past your front foot. The technique for walking up or down stairs is the same, following the steps outlined earlier for a standard cane, however the user must make sure to have all four ends placed on the floor to prevent tipping.

Check out some top rated quad canes from Amazon

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Hugo Adjustable Quad Cane for...
  • This Listing is For Bariatric Quad Canes
  • Qty : 1 Each. Flared rubber tips for stability and traction
  • Color : Black
  • Weight Capacity (in LB) : 300 lb
  • Adjustment height, 29 38" (74 96.5 cm).11 push button height adjustments fit most people 5′ 6’5″ (152 – 198 cm)*
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NOVA Medical Products NOVA...
  • YOUR CANE STANDS ON ITS OWN with the extra-wide quad tip - keeping your cane by your side and at hand’s reach. Overall Tip Diameter: 4.75” x 4.75”
  • BEAUTIFUL, LIGHTWEIGHT & ADJUSTABLE free standing walking cane adjusts from 28” - 39” for approximate user height: 4’11” - 6”4”. Weighs only 1.15 lbs. with a 300 lb. weight capacity
  • WE LOVE THE SUGARCANE because is the perfect combination of style, quality and cane mobility. It comes with the ALL TERRIAN QUAD TIP base that stands the SugarCane upright on flat surfaces, provides great stability, traction and pivot on uneven and sloped terrain. The Soft Grip offset handle design is so comfortable reduces strain on the hand and wrist. Comes with a convenient carrying strap
  • COMES IN 10 STYLES FOR WOMEN AND MEN that are durable and chip resistant. Made of high quality aluminum, beautiful chip and fade resistant finish
  • ANTI-RATTLE LOCK sets the adjustment and prevents cane rattle. Easily adjusts with push button
HurryCane HCANE-BK-C2 Freedom...
  • Cutting-edge, patented technology allows the HurryCane, the #1 selling cane in America, to feel like a seamless extension of the body
  • Innovative SteadiGrip stabilizing technology increases traction and improves balance during both indoor and outdoor use
  • Customize the fit of the HurryCane by adjusting the handle height setting between 30.5" and 37.5". Base size: 3.5 inch, folded size: 13.7 inch
  • The HurryCane stands on its own by your side when you need it, and folds up compactly in seconds when you’re sitting. Do not use cane if cord is cut, frayed or damaged
  • Weight capacity: 350 pounds; The importance of HurryCane is keeping people mobile. The HurryCane's pivoting base gives users a point of contact with the cane at all times
Vive Quad Cane - Walking Stick...
  • SUPERIOR STABILITY AND TRACTION ON ANY SURFACE: Safely navigate over any surface, indoors and out. The quad cane base provides greater traction on smooth surfaces such as hardwood, laminate or tile floors as well as greater stability on uneven surfaces such as grass, sand, gravel or plush carpets. The versatile cane is made with a durable anodized aluminum frame that is adjustable from 28” to a maximum of 37” and supports up to 250 pounds.
  • NONSLIP, FOUR-PRONGED BASE: Easily switching from the left to right side, the four prong base locks into place providing additional support without interfering with a normal stride. Each prong is capped with a rubber, non skid, non-marking tip for added stability and convenience. The square base allows the cane to stand upright while remaining compact enough to easily fit on stairs or in narrow passageways.
  • COMFORTABLE ERGONOMIC GRIP: Fitted with an ergonomically contoured hand grip, the cane handle creates a secure, yet comfortable grip perfect for daily use. The handle also includes a wrist strap for added convenience.
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Last update 2020-09-23 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Take Back Control of Your Life!

One of the most common reasons patients will often refuse to use a cane for assistance is that they do not want to look “old” or “frail” or feel that it damages their pride. However, nothing about using a cane should be shameful! What’s so shameful about reducing or even maybe eliminating your pain while putting less strain on your body, leaving you with more energy to do the things you love. Canes can even be fashionable. Coordinate them to your outfits or maybe bling out your handle, make it into something you can love.

Jillian Crosmas is a 3rd year B Sc student at the University of Ottawa majoring in biochemistry with a focus on microbiology and immunology. She has worked in the pharmaceutical industry as well. She is on track to graduate with honors. As a post-graduate she wants to continue her studies in emergency medicine or genetic research.

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