From experience, a person who is unsteady on their feet, and then trips and falls, is a frightening feeling. Not only are they suffering from impaired mobility and pain, the fall may cause untold problems with fractures or even broken bones. This is why they need support.
The use of a walking cane can be beneficial for anyone that suffers with impaired mobility who finds walking a struggle. A cane can help by providing additional support and assist with balancing and therefore reduce the risk of falls, and it can also make walking less painful.
In this article we will cover the different types of canes that are available, the important factors you should consider before purchasing one, and we will cover how to use a walking cane safely.
- 1 What is a Walking Cane?
- 2 Who Can Benefit from Using a Cane?
- 3 Types of Canes
- 4 Types of Cane Handles
- 5 Selecting a Grip
- 6 Cane Materials
- 7 Types of Cane Ferrules
- 8 How to Ensure a Cane is at the Correct Height?
- 9 How to Walk Safely With a Walking Cane?
- 10 How to Climb-Up Stairs with a Walking Cane?
- 11 How to Climb-Down Stairs with a Walking Cane?
- 12 Useful Cane Accessories
- 13 References
What is a Walking Cane?
A walking cane or otherwise known as a walking stick, is an assistive device that provides users with improved support and assists with balancing while walking. These lightweight and portable walking aids are suited for anyone that suffers with impaired mobility but is able to stand and walk and requires some additional support while doing so.
The use of a cane can make walking less painful, and reduces the risk of falls as it helps to redistribute the individual’s weight and widens the base of support, and alleviates pressure on the lower limbs. They allow users to carry out their day-to-day activities more easily and independently.
Who Can Benefit from Using a Cane?
Types of users who can benefit from using a cane include:
- Those recovering from recent surgery such as a knee or hip replacement.
- Anyone who is unsteady on their feet or those suffering from balance issues.
- Users suffering from a long-term illness such as Multiple Sclerosis.
- Anyone that finds standing-up from a seated position or finds going up and coming down stairs challenging, due to weakness in the lower limbs.
- Individuals suffering from pain in their joints, limbs or muscles.
Types of Canes
There are a wide variety of walking canes to suit all needs. Choosing the right cane will depend on your individual circumstances and requirements. It is important to choose one that provides adequate support for your particular needs and is comfortable to use.
The most common walking canes include:
Non-adjustable canes made from wood or aluminum are the most common type of cane. They are generally inexpensive and are suited for anyone that requires some extra support when walking.
As they are usually built from a single shaft of metal or wood, they are extremely durable so they can withstand plenty of use. As they are of a fixed height, it is important that you select one that is appropriate for your particular height otherwise it may not provide adequate support. Handles on a traditional cane can come in a range of different styles and shapes.
Anyone looking for a traditional cane that is sturdy but also stylish, may want to check out the one from Brazos. The wooden cane is constructed from hickory which means it can withstand the most strenuous conditions. The ergonomically designed handle has been shaped so that it fits perfectly in the hand making it comfortable to use. The rubber tip provides good traction and helps to provide good cushioning so you don’t feel all the bumps as the cane is used.
The cane comes in three different sizes, 34″ which is suitable for anyone shorter than 5’4″, a 37″ cane which is suitable for anyone between 5’4″ and 6’ and for taller individuals over 6’, there’s a 40″ cane.
While many traditional canes may look rather similar, this is the not the case with this walking cane from Brazos. Each stick has a slightly unique look and feel and its smooth polished finish certainly sets it apart from other wooden canes.
Tetrapods/Quad and Tripod Cane
Tetrapods (four prong base) and tripods (three prong base) are a good alternative to a conventional cane, they are particularly suited for anyone that suffers with balance issues or who is unsteady on their feet when walking.
This type of cane provides greater stability and support over a single-point cane as it helps to distribute the user’s weight across a wider area. Another benefit is it stands up unaided so you won’t need to worry about it falling over and having to bend down to pick it up.
In order to use a tetrapod or tripod safely, you need to ensure that all points are in contact with the ground as you use the cane to ensure it provides full stability.
Tetrapods and tripods can come with either a small base or a wider base. A wider base is suitable for anyone that requires more support and extra stability. The downside however with a wider base is it is unsuitable for going up or down stairs, and due to its bulkier size it’s unsuitable if you need to carry it with you on your wheelchair or mobility scooter.
These types of canes are usually heavier than a single point cane. If you’re looking for a lightweight option, opt for one made from carbon fiber like the tetrapod/quad cane from Vive. The cane weighs less than 1 lbs so it’s both ultra-light and extremely durable.
It has a four prong base that offers good stability and it can be used to navigate over all types of surfaces and the non-slip grip feet help to provide greater traction. It is height adjustable and can extend from 26” to 36” in height.
This type of cane consists of three or four metal shafts that are connected by durable elastic. When not in use, it can be collapsed and conveniently stored away in a bag, backpack or suitcase. Due to the compact nature, it is ideal for anyone that occasionally requires the use of a cane, it can easily be carried with them and unfolded when required.
Usually constructed from lightweight aluminum, they can either be fixed height or height adjustable.
If you’re looking for a compact cane, the height adjustable folding cane from Vaunn Medical is a good choice. It folds into 3 pieces to 11″ in size which means it can easily be carried in a bag.
It is constructed from anodized aluminum, which is both corrosion-resistant and lightweight (0.7 lbs) and has a weight capacity of 250 lbs. When unfolded, the sections automatically snap into place. The cane’s height can be adjusted from 33″ to 37″ to suit all types of user needs.
The ergonomically and non-slip gel grip “T” handle reduces the strain on the hands which is perfectly suited for anyone that suffers with arthritic hands. To store the cane, simply pull each section apart and fold the cane and slide the band over it to keep it in place. It comes with a pouch where you can store the cane when it is not in use.
If you’re looking for extra stability, than a Hurrycane cane could be a good alternative. Unlike a single-point foldable cane, a hurrycane has a pivoting base with a 3-point contact that provides greater balance and support and it is also foldable.
Cane with Folding Seat
A cane with a seat is perfect for anyone that needs to take regular rests while they’re out and about. This style of cane not only acts as supportive walking aid, but it also features a seat which can easily be unfolded so that the user can sit down to rest their limbs and regain some strength.
Depending on the model, some may have three legs, while others have four legs which offers greater stability. It is recommended to choose one that is height adjustable so that it can be positioned at the correct height for the individual. This can help to avoid excessive straining when sitting and standing from it.
It is important to always check the weight capacity for a particular cane seat to ensure it can safely bear the user’s weight.
The following cane from BSROZKI is made from lightweight but durable aluminum and has a retractable seat and comes with a handy LED flashlight. The cane and seat can be adjusted to suit different user height preferences. The seat has breathable holes and it is contoured to provide extra comfort. Despite it only weighing 2 lbs, it has a sturdy weight capacity of 467 lbs.
Types of Cane Handles
Cane handles come in a range of shapes and styles. When selecting the right handle for your needs, don’t just consider how it looks but also consider how comfortable it will be to use. This is especially important for anyone suffering with reduced hand dexterity or with arthritic hands who may struggle with certain shaped handles.
The most common type of cane handles include:
They have a round curved handle and look like a traditional shepherd’s hook and are normally found on fixed height canes. They are usually constructed from wood, and due to the shape of the handle it can hook over the arm or it can be hang up easily on a coat hook or chair.
Holding a crook handle does require more grip and it is therefore less comfortable than other types of handles. It’s not particularly suited for users that suffer with arthritic hands or have a weaker grip.
A derby handle is shaped like a ‘T’. It is ergonomically shaped and is designed to fit the palm naturally, it helps with providing the user with a more comfortable and firmer grip over a crook handle and it also provides greater stability.
Just like a crook handle, it can be conveniently placed over the arm or hung over a chair.
Ergonomic canes such as ones fitted with Fischer type handles are particularly suited for Rheumatoid Arthritis sufferers. They are designed to distribute the weight across the entire palm, improving comfort and helping to relieve pressure on the user’s hands and wrists.
As they conform to the shape of the palm, they come in left and right handed options so it’s important to choose the right one for your particular needs.
An offset handle bends over the cane’s shaft to form a question mark shape. The purpose of this type of handle is it helps to reduce the strain on the wrist and it is designed to evenly distribute the user’s weight along the shaft for increased comfort and stability.
Offset handles are commonly found on tetrapods and tripods. This type of handle is particularly suited for users with arthritic knees or hips as it can help to reduce the weight and pressure on the lower limbs.
Selecting a Grip
Grip types can vary between different models of cane. They can also be purchased separately and fitted onto a cane to increase comfort as well as to replace a worn-out grip.
Choosing the right grip is especially important. It can help to reduce the pressure on the hands and fingers when grasping it. It can therefore make a cane more comfortable and safer to use.
The most common types of grips include:
Grips made from cushioned foam are soft and comfortable on the hand and they can help to reduce the risk of calluses. They are the most economical type of grip although they are more likely to wear out over time so will need replacing regularly.
Foam allows for easy gripping and in hot weather, if the hand perspires, it is less likely to slip.
Gel grips are harder wearing than foam. They are often ergonomically shaped which are ideally suited for users with reduced hand dexterity. They are easier to grasp and can relieve pain in the hand and wrists. Some gel or rubber grips are textured for a non-slip grip.
Unlike with foam, they can easily be cleaned and disinfected helping to reduce the build-up of dirt and germs on the handle.
An important factor to consider when purchasing a walking cane is to decide on the type of material that it is made from.
The most popular materials include wood, aluminum and carbon fiber. The major differences between the three include:
Wooden canes are hardwearing and they have a good weight capacity. They are usually constructed from hardwoods such as ash, hazel, oak, birch, cherry and hickory which don’t flex and are extremely durable and can last a lifetime.
One of the benefits of a wooden cane is they are usually more visually appealing than metal canes. They are often handcrafted with decorative carvings with ornate handles making each one unique.
The drawbacks of a wooden cane is they are generally heavier than aluminum or carbon fiber ones and they are also not adjustable, so it’s important to choose the correct height cane for the particular user.
Aluminum canes are both lightweight, durable and much lighter than steel ones. They also do not corrode so they can be used in all weathers.
Most are height adjustable and some fold into a compact size which fit into a coat pocket, bag or backpack and can be carried easily by a user when not in use.
Canes constructed from carbon fiber are incredibly light and they are also more hard wearing and provide greater support than aluminum. Carbon fiber is ideal for users with arthritic hands who may struggle holding a heavier wooden or aluminum cane.
While carbon fiber canes are often more expensive than aluminum, they are a good value for money considering they could last a lifetime.
Types of Cane Ferrules
A ferrule is what appears at the end of the stick that helps to grip the floor and prevent it from slipping while the cane is in use. Ferrules are usually constructed from rubber although they can also be made from metal.
Here are some common examples of cane ferrules:
Rubber ferrules provide good grip and they also help to absorb any impacts as the cane touches the floor which assists in reducing any vibrations.
Rubber ferrules can wear out over time. It’s important that you regularly check the condition of it, otherwise it may not provide sufficient traction and your safety could be at risk. Always ensure that you replace it as soon as you see any wear or tear.
There are a wide range of rubber ferrules to choose from. Some may have raised bumps on the tip which offers better traction as shown below:
While others may just have a regular rubber tip as seen on many traditional canes, like the following:
Ferrules are also available in a range of different metal alloys including silver, brass and steel. While metal ferrules are harder wearing than rubber ones, they offer less grip and they are also not as good at absorbing shocks and vibrations and they can be noisier.
Tripod ferrules are suited for users with balance issues. Unlike a regular ferrule, it has a three pronged base which offers the user greater stability and traction when walking and it has the added benefit that the cane will stand-up upright unaided. They can either be constructed from rubber or aluminum.
While traditional ferrules generally offer good support, they often don’t provide enough traction and they are also designed not to bend. The Flexyfoot on the other hand, is a flexible ferrule.
The advantage of a flexible ferrule, is it has a spring action which aids with walking and it helps to reduce fatigue. It provides better traction even on uneven and wet surfaces, which can help to reduce trips and falls. It also helps to cushion any impacts as the cane is being used.
If you need to use a walking cane in icy weather, you may to consider investing in some ice cane ferrules. They fit to most types of canes and they consist of one to five spike prongs that provide a good grip and stability in icy or snowy conditions and can help to prevent any nasty slips.
They are easy to fit and simply clip onto the cane. They have a flip-up mechanism, so the tip can be popped up or down as required.
Not only is this type of ferrule suitable in colder climates but it can also prove useful when using a cane on sand, gravel and grass surfaces to prevent the cane sinking into the ground.
How to Ensure a Cane is at the Correct Height?
Choosing a cane that is at the correct height for a user is vital. If the cane is too short, it can cause the user to stoop over which will prove uncomfortable and may impact their balance. If the cane it too long, it can put unnecessary strain on the body and it will also mean that the user’s weight is not fully supported.
To measure the correct height for your cane, follow these simple steps:
- Wear your regular outdoor shoes and stand on a flat surface with your hands by your side.
- Get someone else to measure the distance from your wrists down to the ground.
- This measurement should be the correct length cane that you should be looking for.
How to Walk Safely With a Walking Cane?
- Hold the cane in the hand opposite to the injury or “weaker leg” and ensure that your elbow is slightly bent between 20-30 degrees.
- Place the cane by your side and place your full weight on the unaffected leg.
- Take a step with the bad leg/side and move the cane forwards at the same time. Always ensure that you don’t place the cane too far forwards, otherwise this may impact your stability and balance.
- Now step forwards with the unaffected leg.
- Repeat steps 2 to 4.
How to Climb-Up Stairs with a Walking Cane?
- Hold the cane in the hand opposite to the injury or “weaker leg”.
- Step up with the unaffected leg first and bring the cane forwards at the same time.
- Now bring the affected leg to the same step.
- Repeat steps 2 – 3.
How to Climb-Down Stairs with a Walking Cane?
- Hold the cane in the hand opposite to the injury or “weaker leg”.
- Step down with the affected leg first moving the cane forwards simultaneously.
- Now bring unaffected leg down to the same step.
Useful Cane Accessories
There are a wide variety of cane accessories that are available for all different types of needs. The most useful cane accessories include:
Whether you’re at home or you’re out and about, there is nothing more frustrating than having to keep bending down to retrieve your cane. Trying to balance a cane against a table can often seem like an impossible task.
If you use a cane holder however, you will never need to worry about this ever again. This simple but useful device allows you to conveniently hang your cane on a table, chair or countertop and it helps to keep it securely in place.
If you use a foldable cane, a handy accessory is a cane bag. Simply place your folded cane into the bag and you can carry it conveniently with you wherever you go.
Alternatively, you can opt instead for a clip that helps keep your cane securely held together when not in use.
Attaching a strap to your cane can be a useful way to stop it from falling over. It attaches quickly to your cane without the need for any special tools. Once attached, you just need to place your wrist through the loop and you will have it within easy reach all the time without having to worry about dropping it.
Walking in the dark can be particularly dangerous especially if you have impaired mobility as it can increase the risk of falls. To improve safety, a flashlight can be attached to a cane so that you can see in the dark, allowing you to spot any obstacles.