Illness, injury, or the effects of aging can affect mobility. Doctors and physical therapists may recommend using a cane to provide stability and balance when recovering from a stroke or injury, or to ease the burden on joints affected by arthritis. Seniors and their caregivers, or anyone recovering from an injury that affects their ability to walk, can benefit from learning how to choose an appropriate walking cane.
Select the Correct Type of Cane
Canes can be made of wood, aluminum, carbon fiber, or even clear lucite. Each cane has several elements to consider: the type of handle, the cane shaft, and the kind of tip that comes in contact with the ground. Some canes are adjustable or fold to make them compact for storage or travel, while others are designed to double as seats. This way, you can use your cane as a chair if you need to take a break while walking or just settle in to watch an outdoor event. Canes can also serve as fashion statements with colorful patterns, unique animal-shaped handles, or personalized engraved medallions.
Handle and Grip
Cane handles come in many different shapes. Some are designed mostly for comfort, while others focus on practicality, usability and style.
- Crook handle: the classic curved handle is simple and easy to hook behind a chair, doorknob or on a hat rack when not in use. This kind of handle requires a firm grip. As a result, it isn’t as comfortable as other types of handles and may not work well for someone with arthritic hands.
- Derby and ergonomic handles: these handle styles support the palm better than a crook style handle and provide a more comfortable and easier grip.
- Offset handle: these handles form a kind of question mark shape atop the shaft of a cane, distributing weight along the shaft and reducing wrist strain. The shape can reduce knee and hip strain by taking more of the pressure off the user’s weight.
At the opposite end of the cane from the handle is the tip. Most canes have a single tip. Users who need extra stability and help with balance often select a supportive base that allows the cane to stand on its own. These have a four-point base providing broader contact with the ground and better steadiness for those with balance issues. These self-standing bases can be put on most canes that are 5/8” – ¾” in diameter in thickness once the rubber tip is removed.
Cane tips are usually fitted interchangeable and replaceable. These rubber tips grip the floor or sidewalk. Ice tips cane also be useful. They grab onto the ice to reduce slipping.
The most important part of choosing a cane is getting the right fit. When standing straight with your arms hanging comfortably down, the top of the cane handle should be at the crease of the wrist. Your elbow should bend comfortably at about a 15˚ angle when you hold the cane. Getting the right length is critical—if the cane is too long, it is more difficult and tiring to use. If it is too short, you may bend forward or sideways too much, affecting your posture and balance. Canes can be cut to fit properly.
Choosing an appropriate walking cane will make using one as a mobility aid easier, more comfortable, and even quite stylish.