Walking on an injured leg can be daunting and outright dangerous. Fortunately, using a cane can make the experience safer, easier, and more comfortable. If you’re having trouble learning how to use your cane, read on for quick and easy tips to get started.
Types of Canes
Canes come in different materials and designs. The most common types of canes are:
- Canes with a single tip: Also called single-point canes, these canes are specially designed to improve balance and are better suited for people who don’t need upper-extremity weight bearing.
- Canes with four prongs on the bottom: Also called quad canes, these canes have a rectangular base with four ‘legs’ touching the ground. The multi-contact point approach gives them significantly better balance, making them suitable for anyone who needs more balance or support.
No matter which cane you use, though, the following basics should apply.
It might look pretty straightforward, but learning to use a cane takes a lot of practice. Everything from how you hold your cane to how you use it directly impacts the quality of your experience and the effectiveness of your cane. Here are a few pointers to get you started.
Which Hand Should I Hold the Cane in?
When using a cane, you should always hold it with the hand opposite to the leg that needs support. You may feel tempted to use it on your injured side, but that would be counterproductive. Using a cane on your injured side would put more pressure on your injured leg, making it even harder to walk.
On the other hand, holding the cane with the hand opposite to your injured leg relieves pressure off your injured leg and gives you a steady brace when walking.
When walking, make sure that all four prongs (for quad-cane users) touch the ground for optimum support. You should also look forward and move the cane at the same time as your injured leg.
For instance, if your right leg is injured, use your left hand to hold the cane, and vice versa. As you start walking, swing the cane out as you move your injured leg while applying pressure on your healthy leg.
You should also ensure that your cane is adjusted to your height. Typically, your cane should reach the level of your hip bone when standing up, with the handle level with your wrist. Your elbow should also bend slightly at an angle of about 20 degrees.
You should also make sure that all prongs have a traction cap and that you can comfortably stand up. If you have difficulty standing up, consider using a chair with armrests for extra support.
Now that you know how to properly hold a cane, you’re ready to learn how to walk and turn using one.
Walking and Turning With a Cane
Follow these steps when walking and turning with a cane.
1. Stand up and grip your cane firmly.
2. Swing your cane the same distance in front of you as you step forward with your weaker leg. Essentially, your forward foot should be at the same level as the tip of your cane.
3. Take some pressure from your weaker leg by applying more pressure on the cane.
4. Step forward with your stronger leg, surpassing the cane.
5. Repeat the first to third steps.
6. When turning, always pivot the stronger leg.
Using a cane correctly takes some getting used to. Therefore, remember to slow your movement as you get used to walking with a cane. It may also take some practice to master moving up and down a step or curb.
Stepping up or Down a Step or Curb
Stepping up and down a curb with an injured leg is pretty dangerous. Although having a cane around makes the process a little safer, you still have to be careful and follow the proper steps. Here’s how you step up or down a curb using a cane.
To go up one step or curb
1. Place your stronger leg forward and step up.
2. Place all your weight on your stronger leg and simultaneously bring your weaker leg and cane to meet the stronger leg on the curb or step.
3. Use the cane for balance.
To go down one step or curb.
1. Stretch your hand and set the cane below the step.
2. Using the cane to balance and support yourself, step down with your weaker leg.
3. Lower your stronger leg and set it next to your weaker leg.
If you’re injured on both legs, use the stronger leg when climbing up a step and your weaker leg when stepping down.
Navigating stairs can be tricky with a cane, too, so here are some useful tips.
Going Up or Down a Set of Stairs
To go up or down a set of stairs with a cane, you’ll want to hold the handrail with one hand (if there’s a handrail installed) and a cane with the other. If possible, try positioning your weaker or injured leg on the same side as the railing.
Step forward with your stronger leg when going up a set of stairs, then move your cane and weaker leg simultaneously to meet the healthy leg. You’ll do the exact opposite when going down the stairs, starting with your cane and weaker leg, followed by your stronger leg. A good way to remember this procedure is ‘up with the good, down with the bad.’
While you’re at it, remember to take one step at a time, giving yourself a moment to regain your strength and balance before moving on.
One of the biggest risks of using a cane for support is that even the slightest bump on the floor could trip you. Therefore, you may need to make a few changes around the house to prevent falls.
Sixty-seven percent of falls result from slips. Therefore, you should first make sure there are no loose rugs, unsecured cords, or rug corners sticking up from the floor. You should also remove any clutter and keep your floors clean and dry.
Other safety tips include the following:
- Always look straight ahead when walking with a cane, not down at your feet.
- Be very careful around children and pets. They can be unpredictable and get in your way when you least expect them.
- Do not wear shoes with leather soles and heels. Instead, wear rubber shoes and slippers or other shoes with non-skid soles.
- Never use the cane for support when standing up or sitting down. Even if you have it in hand, using the other free hand to grip the surface you’re sitting on would be better. This way, your free hand acts as a guide to help you sit down.
- Likewise, when standing up, use your free hand to push yourself from the surface you’re seated on. It is advisable to use both hands for support when sitting and standing.
- Use a small fanny pack, shoulder bag, or backpack to hold the items you need with you. This way, you’ll always have a free hand when walking.
- Have someone close by to give you extra support when learning to use a cane.
- Check the tips of your cane regularly and replace them when they’re worn.
The Bottom Line
A cane can help you move around and even do light exercises. But that doesn’t mean you should pick any cane out there. A proper cane should fit your height, have a tight grip, and provide balance and support.
With the tips above and the right cane, you should be able to move around your home independently in no time.