How to Use a Cane

Learn How to Walk With a Cane Properly for Better Balance and Support

Whether you just had hip surgery and are in recovery or simply have a bad knee, using a cane for added support, balance and improve your mobility. However, you need to learn how to properly use a cane to get the most from it. Using a cane correctly ensures better results and may prevent falls.

If you are using a cane for the first time, it is highly important to take a moment to learn how to use a cane properly.

First, understand that canes are not intended to be used like crutches and they are not designed for full weight bearing. Canes are an assistive device to give you better balance and relieve some of the strain on your muscles and joints while walking. This is how they can improve your recovery time, reduce pain in your back and knees and improve your life.

The cane is really a key device in mobility and safety. When used correctly it should help you get around more easily and live with less pain.

When Using a Cane, Which Side Does it Go On?

A cane is meant to give you balance and support, which is why it is used on one side of your body. When using a cane, it always goes on the injured or painful side of your body, also called the weak side. This can be the side you had a recent surgery on, or the side where arthritis is most painful. Holding a cane on this side helps take pressure off that injured limb when you take a step with the strong leg. This provides some pain relief, along with more balance and control. The only time you don't use a cane on this side of your body is when using a hand railing that is on the same side as your cane. In this case, place the cane in the other hand and use the railing for support. This gives you better balance and control since you have support on both sides.

How to Walk with a Cane the Right Way

For better balance and support, use these step-by-step instructions to learn how to walk with a cane.

  1. Grip the cane in the hand on your "strong" side (the side of your body that does not have pain or injury). This provides support to the opposite lower leg.
  2. As you take a step with the weaker leg, move the cane forward with the leg about 1 ½ feet or about the distance of your stride
  3. Place the cane down as your weak-side foot steps down on the ground
  4. Place your weight on the cane with the arm that is gripping it as needed. Do not over do it here but place enough weight on the cane to make walking easier.
  5. When walking on level surfaces make sure the weak leg always takes the first step.
  6. The walking cane should be moved about the length of a single step each time, which is around 1 1/2 feet forward each step. Always place the cane on solid ground.

Tips on Walking with a Cane

These handy tips on using a cane can help keep you safe and offer you more mobility.

  1. Use the cane to provide balance as you stand in place or step with the strong leg
  2. Always ensure the weak leg assumes the first step, which holds the most weight, on level surfaces
  3. The walking cane should be moved only about 1 1/2 feet forward with each move
  4. Lift the cane just a few inches above the ground when moving it, high enough to avoid dragging it on the ground but not so high as to lose balance

Walking With a Cane on Stairs and Unlevel Surfaces

Learning to use a cane on stairs can be a challenge but it's a necessary skill. Learn how to properly walk up and down stairs with a cane and you can get around more safely and with more confidence.

Using a cane to go up and down stairs is really about balance and support for your weaker leg. Whenever you take stairs with a cane, always grab and use the handrail regardless of whether it is on the same side of your body as the cane normally would be. Using both the handrail and your cane will provide better support than just using the cane on your weaker side.

Walking Up Stairs with a Cane

When going upstairs with a cane always take the stairs one step at a time leading with your stronger leg since this will bear all your wait as you go up each step.

  1. Hold onto the hand rail if there is one and grip the cane in your other hand (regardless of which side is your weaker leg) on the same step as your feet.
  2. Step up onto the first stair with your strong leg
  3. Slide your hand up slightly on the hand rail
  4. Step up onto the stair using the handrail and cane for balance and support
  5. Lift your weaker leg up onto the stair beside your strong leg, moving the cane with it and placing it beside the leg on the stair again

Walking Down Stairs with a Cane

Walking down steps with a cane is the same process as walking up them but in reverse. You will place your weaker leg onto the lower step first, to avoid placing on your weight on this leg as you step down.

  1. Hold onto the hand rail with the cane in the opposite hand
  2. Step down onto the lower stair with your weaker leg while grasping the hand rail and cane for support
  3. Balancing on the cane and handrail, move your stronger leg down onto the lower stair
  4. Slide your hand down the rail even with your body and set the cane beside it, use both as support

Note that whether the cane is opposite or on your weaker side due to where the handrail is, you will always be using the same process. You simply use the hand rail and cane for balance. When there is no handrail, use the cane only in the hand on your weaker side. The process and steps are still the same but without the steps to use the handrails.