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Using a Cane

Woman using cane

How to Measure for a Cane

The correct cane length is the key to safe use and better mobility. Many models of canes are adjustable, but it is still helpful to know what the proper length should be.

  1. Obtain measurements while wearing regular walking shoes.
  2. Standing upright, allow arms to relax (with normal bend at the elbow) at your sides.
  3. Have a second person measure the distance from your wrist joint down to the floor. This number is the right length of cane for you.

An estimate of the proper cane length can be made by dividing an individual’s height by two. For most persons, the right sized cane is within one inch of half their height. This guideline can be applied if the user is not available for an actual measurement.

Proper Use of a Cane

To walk safely with a cane on level surfaces:

  1. Hold the cane in the hand on your “good” side so that it provides support to the opposite lower limb
  2. Take a step with the “bad” leg and bring the cane forward at the same time. Move the cane and affected leg forward together.
  3. Lean your weight through the arm holding the cane as needed
  4. Always have the bad leg assume the first full weight-bearing step on level surfaces
  5. The cane should be moved the distance of one average step forward with each move. You should not feel that you are stretching to catch up to the cane or stepping ahead of it.

If you are using the cane for general mobility rather than an injury, hold the cane using your dominant hand and bear weight on this side of your body. If you are working with a physical therapist due to an injury, he or she may have a specific cane-walking plan different from this one.

Managing Steps with a Cane

To properly ascend stairs, it is “up with the good.” While holding onto the rail with one hand, advance the stronger leg first placing it on the step above where you are standing. After this good leg is appropriately placed on the step, advance the weaker leg up to the same step that the stronger leg is on. If there is no rail to hold on to, the cane is placed on the upper step at the same time or after placement of the weaker leg.

To properly descend stairs, it is “down with the bad.” While holding onto the rail with one hand, advance the weaker leg first placing it on the step below where you are standing. After this affected leg is appropriately placed on the step, advance the stronger leg down to the same step that the weaker leg is on. If there is no rail to hold on to, the cane is placed on the lower step at the same time or after placement of the stronger leg.