How to choose and use a cane

General instructions

A cane is a stick used to give you support and balance when walking. You may need to use a cane if you are weak on one side of your body. If you have balance problems you may also need to use a cane. The cane may also help you to feel less tired or lessen your pain when walking. This is because the cane takes weight off your leg and joints. Most canes are made of metal, wood, or plastic.

What kind of cane should I use?

There are many kinds of canes. A cane can be made longer or shorter to fit your height. When standing with a cane that is the correct length for your height, your elbow should be bent slightly (about 30 degrees).

If the elbow is bent too little or too much it will be more difficult to use the cane. Your caregiver will help choose the cane that is right for you. You can buy canes at drug stores and medical supply stores.

How do you use the cane?

Your caregiver will teach you how to use a cane. Put your cane in the hand on your stronger side. The following steps may also help you learn to walk with a cane.

Walking on flat floors:
  • Put the cane about 4 inches (10 cm) to the side of your stronger leg.
  • Put weight on your stronger side.
  • Move the cane about 4 inches (10 cm) in front of your stronger leg, bringing your weaker leg forward at the same time.
  • Using the cane to help keep your weight off your weaker leg, move your stronger leg ahead.
  • Your heel will be a little beyond the tip of the cane.
  • Repeat these steps and try to walk straight.
Using your cane on stairs:

Ask your caregiver to show you how to safely use your cane on stairs. Do not use your cane on the stairs unless someone is with you.

To go up stairs:
  • Walk with your cane up to the step.
  • If there is a railing on the side without your cane, you may use it.
  • Step up onto the first step with your stronger leg, then move your cane and weaker leg up onto the same step.
  • Continue up the stairs, repeating this process.
To go down stairs:
  • Walk with your cane up to the step.
  • If there is a railing on the side without your cane, you may use it.
  • Place your cane down onto the first step, then move your weaker leg onto the step, then move your stronger leg onto the step.
  • Continue down the stairs, repeating this process.
To get into a chair:
  • Put all your weight on your stronger leg.
  • Slowly sit down and slide backwards into the chair.
Using your cane to get out of a chair:
  • Hold your cane with your stronger hand.
  • Grasp the arms of the chair.
  • Put your stronger foot a little forward.
  • Lean a little forward and push on the arms of the chair to raise yourself.
  • Stand with your cane about 4 inches (10 cm) to the side of your stronger foot.
  • Wait a few seconds to get used to standing before you start walking.
Tips for using your cane safely:
  • Wear shoes with rubber soles, such as tennis shoes. Slippers should not be worn because they can slide off your feet and cause a fall. Do not wear shoes with leather heels or soles that may slide and cause you to fall.
  • Check the floor to be sure it is safe for using the cane. The floor must be clean, dry, and lighted. Remove throw rugs to prevent falls. Tape or nail down loose carpet edges. Keep the traffic areas and the floor free of clutter.
  • Stand a few seconds before you start moving with your cane. This will get your body used to standing. Do not start walking if you are dizzy.
  • Look straight ahead when you are walking. You may run into or trip over something if you are looking at your feet.
  • To carry light things while using your cane, use a backpack or carry a bag. Do not try to carry heavy things.

Disclaimer: This material provides general information only. It should not be used in place of advice, instructions, or treatment given by your doctor or other health care professional.