Mayo Clinic Health Library

Slide show: Tips for choosing and using canes

Updated: 02-19-2011

Using a cane

Photo of canes

A cane can improve your balance as you walk or help you compensate for an injury or disability. But how do you choose a cane? If you need the cane only for balance, consider a standard cane with a single tip. If you need the cane to bear weight, you might choose an offset cane with four tips. The following slides show different types of grips and ways to make sure your cane fits you correctly. Use this information to help you narrow down your choices. Also ask your doctor or physical therapist for suggestions.

Selecting a grip

Photos of four types of cane grips

Generally, choosing a grip is a matter of personal preference. Consider a foam grip or a grip that's shaped to fit your hand. If you have trouble grasping with your fingers — because of arthritis or other joint pains — you might prefer a larger grip. Choosing the correct grip will relieve unnecessary stress on your joints and help prevent joint deformities. Numbness or pain in your hand or fingers might signal that your cane's grip isn't a good fit for your hand. Your physical therapist can help you choose the best grip for your particular situation.

Checking the fit

Illustration of a person using a cane

Many canes are adjustable, but some are not. To make sure your cane fits you properly:

  • Check your elbow bend. With the cane in your hand, your elbow should bend at a comfortable angle, about 15 degrees. You might bend your elbow slightly more if you're primarily using the cane for balance.
  • Check your wrist height. With your arm hanging straight down at your side, the top of your cane should line up with the crease in your wrist.

If your cane is too long, you'll need to work harder to pick it up and move it. If your cane is too short, you might lean to one side — which can throw you off balance.

Stepping with the affected leg

Illustration of a person taking a step with a cane

If you use a cane for stability, you may grip it in either hand — whichever feels most comfortable. Pick up and move your cane in unison with the opposite leg. Don't place your cane too far ahead of you.

If you have an injury or disability affecting your hip, knee or ankle, your doctor or physical therapist might recommend a specific walking pattern. For example, you might hold the cane in the opposite hand of the affected leg and move the cane in unison with the affected leg. Each time you step with the affected leg, move the cane, too — to give you support as you walk. When you step forward with the unaffected leg, keep the cane in place.

Using the cane on steps

Illustration of a person using stairs with a cane

Be careful when using steps with a cane. If you have an injury or disability affecting one leg, grasp the railing — if possible — and step up with your unaffected leg first. Then step up with your other leg as you move the cane. To move down steps, put your cane on the lower step first, then your affected leg and then your other leg — which carries your body weight.

Checking the tip

Photos of a proper cane tip

The pliable rubber tip on the end of a cane grips the floor much like the tread on car tires grips the road. The tip of your cane can help provide traction on most surfaces. Make sure the rubber tip is supple and the tread is in good shape. If the tip looks worn, buy a replacement tip at a pharmacy or medical supply store.

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