Buyer's Guide: Selecting the Right Walking Cane
If you're having trouble walking or recently experienced an injury or surgery, one of the first mobility aids you might consider is a cane. The right cane can provide support to help improve your balance, relieve pressure on your joints, and compensate for the weaker side of your body. It can also help reduce the risk of falls and assist you in sitting or standing.
But how do you choose the right cane for you? The wide array of canes on the market can make choosing the right one daunting and confusing. This guide outlines everything you need to consider before purchasing a cane.
Do I need a cane?
Before shopping around for the right walking cane, it's essential first to determine if a cane is the best mobility aid option for you.
Since canes only provide support to one side of the body, they are most beneficial for those:
- Recovering from surgery on one side, such as a leg or hip
- Recovering from a stroke
- With an injury or disability that affects only one side of the body
- With back pain
- With arthritis in the ankles, knees, hips, or back
- Needing a little extra support for balance and stability
What to Consider
Once you've determined that a cane will be most helpful for you, it's time to pick one out. To narrow down your search and find the right cane, you'll want to consider the cane type, handle, material and design, height, and weight capacity you would need or prefer.
Single Tip Cane
The single tip cane is the most standard type of cane and probably the one most familiar to you. As its name suggests, a single tip cane provides some added stability by distributing your weight over a single point. This is typically enough support for those with minor mobility issues, arthritis, or those keeping weight off of an injury.
Quad Tip Cane
For those who need more support than a single tip cane can provide, a quad-tip cane is a better option. It distributes your weight across four points rather than just one, providing greater balance and stability. Although it may be bulkier than a single tip cane, it can stand on its own and is more likely to improve steadiness and reduce the risk of a fall. You may prefer this added support if you are recovering from a stroke or have more significant balance issues.
If you would like a cane that is easy to store and travel with, you might prefer a folding or collapsible cane. These canes fold up smaller, so they don't take up too much space when not in use. They are most often single tip canes, but you can also find quad-tip folding canes if a quad-tip is needed.
Walking Stick vs Cane
You may sometimes hear the terms walking stick and walking cane used interchangeably. A walking stick is typically an aid used part-time during recreational activities such as hiking. They can help you keep your balance on uneven terrain but do not provide the same amount of support as a cane. If you need a mobility aid for every day or medical purposes, you will need a walking cane rather than a walking stick.
When choosing a cane, you will also want to consider what type of handle you like the best and would be most comfortable for you.
A round cane handle is the most classic style of handle, resembling that of a shepherd's crook. This simple design can easily be hooked on a chair or doorknob when not in use, and you may choose it due to its aesthetic appeal. However, these handles can be uncomfortable and hard to hold, so if you need additional comfort, this might not be the right handle for you.
The thicker, curved derby handle is another classic style and one of the first handle designs created. It is easy to grip and more comfortable than the classic round handle, making it ideal for those with arthritis.
Through a bend in the cane shaft, offset cane handles are positioned over the length of the shaft. Their design evenly distributes your weight along with it and to the rubber tip. These padded handles reduce strain on your wrist and provide a comfortable grip.
Ergonomic handles are designed to be easy to hold and reduce shock and hand fatigue. Their design makes them a great choice if you have arthritis or carpal tunnel syndrome. Depending on the cane, a derby or offset cane may have an ergonomic handle.
Knob handles are a sophisticated and stylish option. They fit comfortably in the palm of your hand and make your cane an elegant accessory in a way other handle options cannot. However, if you need something that is more weight-bearing like a quad-tip cane, this type of handle will not provide you with the support you need.
Decorative handles come in many different shapes, like the shape of an animal, and can be great to have for a stylish look at a party or function. However, they can be awkward and uncomfortable to hold and aren't meant to be used regularly.
Canes with secondary handles can be useful for those who may have trouble sitting or standing. The secondary handle flips out for added support when transitioning to and from a seated position.
Material and Design
Wood vs Metal Canes
Once you've determined the cane and handle types that are right for you, you'll notice that canes on the market can come in a variety of materials. Most often, though, your choice will be between wood or metal, such as aluminum or steel.
A wooden cane has a classic and sleek look to it, and you may consider it to be more aesthetically appealing. It can also be much easier to cut than a metal cane if the cane needs to be resized to a proper height. However, solid wood canes can be heavier to use and carry and are typically only available as a single tip cane.
Metal canes, usually made from aluminum or steel, have the impressive combination of being both lightweight and durable. If you need a heavy-duty or quad-tip cane, this is likely the material option you will go with. Metal canes can be harder to cut to size, but some are height adjustable.
While purchasing a plain wooden or gray metal cane can be the easiest choice to make, those aren't your only options. There are many designer canes on the market that come in different colors and designs to make your cane a fashion statement in addition to being a mobility aid. Shop around for your favorite color or pattern and have fun with it! Needing a little assistance getting around doesn't have to be boring, especially if you plan on using the cane regularly.
Once you've chosen the type, handle, materials, and design of your cane, you should make sure the cane you're considering can accommodate your height. A cane that is too short or too tall for you can not only be uncomfortable to use but can also be less supportive and stable than a properly sized cane.
How to Measure for a Walking Cane
Measuring Wrist to Floor
To determine the cane size best for your height, recruit a friend or family member, and try the following:
- Put on your usual walking shoes and stand naturally upright.
- Let your arms fall to your sides with a natural, relaxed bend of the elbow of about 15 to 20 degrees. Bend your elbow slightly more (up to 30 degrees) if you will be using a cane for balance.
- Have your friend or family member measure the height from your wrist joint to the floor.
The height of your chosen cane should be the closest half-inch to this measurement. For example, if your measurement is 31.8 inches, you will want a cane with a height of 32 inches.
While it is easier, this method is often less accurate than taking a specific measurement. To find the best size cane for you, we highly recommended taking the wrist to floor measurement.
Cutting Your Cane
If you can't find a cane of the proper height for you, you may find it easiest to purchase an adjustable cane with a height range that your measurement falls under. These canes don't require any cutting and can instead be easily adjusted using a knob or push button.
However, if your ideal cane isn't height-adjustable, walking canes made of wood, lucite, carbon fiber, or aluminum can be cut to size.
If you decide to cut your cane, be sure to do the following:
- Make sure your cane can be sized. Some canes may state on a label or in the product description that they should not be. If that is the case, do not cut the cane.
- Use one of the measurement methods stated above to find the proper cane height for you.
- Measure the length of your cane from the top of the handle to the bottom of the rubber tip.
- Subtract your proper cane height (#1) from the cane length (#2) to determine how much of the cane should be cut off.
- Twist off the rubber tip from the end of the cane.
- Measure and mark the cane shaft where the cut is to be made.
- Cut cane at a flat angle with a hacksaw or fine tooth blade. If you don’t have the necessary tools, you can also take your cane to a local hardware store that cuts wood and other materials to have it cut for you.
- Return rubber tip to cut end and secure.
Remember to measure and cut carefully, as canes can be cut short but not lengthened.
How do I know if my cane is the right height?
To check the fit of a cane you own, have cut, or are considering purchasing, check that the following are true:
- When you stand naturally upright, the cane handle is level with the crease of your wrist.
- When holding the cane, you can relax your arm with your elbow bent at a comfortable angle (about 15 to 20 degrees).
If you have to bend your elbow more than 15 to 20 degrees to hold your cane, it is likely too tall. If you have to slouch or lean toward the cane, it is likely too short.
In addition to your height, you will want to make sure that your cane can accommodate your body weight. Be sure to check for a weight capacity in the product description or on the label of the cane you are considering to ensure your body weight is safely supported.
When you purchase your cane, it will come with an attached rubber tip to provide you with necessary traction and stability. However, these tips can become worn out over time and can cause you to trip or fall if not replaced. If you notice the tip of your cane is worn out, you will find it much easier to replace the tip rather than the entire cane!
To replace worn cane tips, remove the worn tip from the cane and measure the width (or diameter) of the shaft in inches. Typical widths are ¾" or 1". Replace with new tips in measured size and ensure that the tip is pushed onto the cane completely.
A wrist strap can be helpful if you often find yourself dropping or misplacing your cane. It allows you to hook your cane to your wrist to help you get a better grip of the handle and allow you to use two hands without needing to set your cane down. Wrist straps also allow you to easily hang your cane up when not in use.
Ice tips are great to have during the cold winter months to keep you safe in the case of inclement weather. These tips are typically made with durable steel and feature sturdy, pointed prongs to help better stabilize you while walking over snow or ice. They also can often be conveniently flipped out of the way when they are not needed.
How to Properly Walk with a Cane
Once you've found the right cane for you, walking with it should be relatively easy. To properly walk with a cane:
- Hold the cane on your uninjured or stronger side to best support the affected leg.
- Step forward with your affected leg and move the cane forward at the same time. Your affected leg and the cane should be moving together as you walk.
- Lean your weight through your arm and onto the cane for support as needed.
- Always move the cane the same distance as an average step. You do not want to step ahead of it or feel like you have to "catch up" with it.
- Always step with the affected leg and cane first on level surfaces.
To walk upstairs:
- Stand close to the first step and step up with your stronger leg.
- Lean forward and step up to the first step with your affected leg and cane.
To walk downstairs:
- Step down with your affected leg and cane.
- Step down to the same step with the stronger leg.
- Try to keep your back erect and lean forward as little as possible.
Buying a new cane can be stressful and confusing, especially if this is your first time needing a mobility aid. We hope this guide has alleviated some of the stress and made it easy to pick the best cane for you so you can continue to walk safely and happily.
About the Author
Stephanie Schwarten is a freelance writer and editor with a Bachelors degree in Professional Writing. She specializes in content marketing as well as both developmental and copy editing.
About Carex Health Brands
Carex is your one-stop shop for home medical equipment and for products that assist caregivers with providing the best possible support and care for their loved ones. Carex Health Brands has been the branded leader in in-home, self-care medical products for over 35 years. Our goal is to improve the lives of our customers by bring them quality products that bring dignity back to their lives. With our three nationally distributed brands, Carex Health Brands serves national, regional and independent food, drug and mass retailers along with wholesalers, distributors and medical dealers.
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