Walking Canes: How to Choose the Best One for You

Smaller and more mobile than other tools like walkers, rollators, and crutches, canes are the perfect support for people who just need a bit of added stability. Also known as walking canes, canes are a great way to add support to your gait without slowing you down too much.

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Using a cane can provide a range of benefits, helping alleviate pressure on your joints, decreasing muscle fatigue as you walk, and helping to reduce the amount of pain incurred by being mobile. Additionally, they’re great for providing added stability to those with reduced balance, and helping offer support for people who may be at risk of falling.

Canes are available in a wide variety of sizes, colors, styles, and designs to best fit both your needs and your tastes. Some people may feel embarrassed about the need to use a walking aid, but canes can be just as stylish as they are assistive, making it easier for a user to adapt and comply with using one.

When deciding if a cane might be right for you, consider the following:

  • Can I walk without added support, such as a railing, every day?
  • Does walking cause pain in my joints, limbs, and muscles?
  • Do I ever feel like I may fall when walking without any form of assistance?
  • When I’m walking, do I constantly search for some form of support to provide balance and stability?
  • Am I able to easily walk across uneven ground, or descend and ascend stairs with ease?
  • Do I opt out of things because I am concerned I will fall or that I am physically unable to complete the task due to walking?
  • Does walking tire me more than it should due to extensive physical exertion?

If the answer to any of these questions is yes, it may be the time to start considering an assistive device, like a cane. Unfortunately, choosing a cane isn’t as simple as just picking one you like and then using it; it’s important that you understand your needs and how those translate into appropriate support, and then also make sure you know how to use it properly to ensure safety and comfort.

In order to help you sort through all this information, we’ve laid out everything you need to know to make the best choice and stay safe and comfortable while walking. We’ll guide you through, and then give you some of our best recommendations to make your shopping experience totally effortless.

What are the different types of walking canes?

Straight or Single-Point Canes

Straight Canes are the most common type of cane, and are ideal for users who just need a bit of added stability or unweighting of one side of the body. They normally feature a single tip, generally in the form of a removable or replaceable rubber tip, and are available with several different kinds of handles.

Quad & Three-Point Canes

The hallmark of these canes is that, unlike straight canes, quad and three-point canes feature wider bases with either three or four feet. They are better for users who require a bit more support and stability while walking, and subsequently feature a bulkier base. They also have the ability to stand up when let go, however, which can be very convenient for performing a variety of tasks like opening doors or grabbing something from a shelf.

These canes are designed primarily to balance more support with greater comfort, distributing the user’s weight along the cane and then through three or four separate feet to promote better balance and a cane that can offer greater support.

Folding Canes

For easier travel and convenient portability, folding canes are the best option, providing sturdy support for mobility and then folding down into a compact parcel for easy storage. Often these canes feature an aluminum construction and an angled handle, making them ergonomic and lightweight as well. 

Folding canes are most often available in one of two designs: the first is one that can be folded into smaller sections, and the second is one that allows upper sections to securely slide into the lower section. Both are equally convenient, but it should be noted that the lightweight design of these canes means they often have a lower weight capacity than other styles, and may not be best for heavier users.

Bariatric & Heavy Duty Canes

For larger or heavier individuals, bariatric and heavy duty canes are the perfect solution. Heavy duty canes offer better support for users with more weight, as they feature a sturdier structure and higher weight capacity. They are designed to withstand more stress and pressure than a standard cane as well, taking into consideration the greater durability needed in addition to the weight.

Most often bariatric canes are constructed with aluminum or steel for maximum strength, and they are made with an offset handle to better distribute the weight of the user along the shaft for less pressure on both the cane and the hands.

How do I choose a cane?

In order to make sure you get the most out of your cane, and remain safe and comfortable while using it, it’s important that you take a few different elements into consideration while you shop. These will help you make sure that you get not just the cane that you like the most, but the one that’s the most functional for your life.

Selecting a grip

When choosing a cane grip style, the most important thing to consider is your hands. Do you experience pain? Joint stiffness? Are your hands large or small? Depending on your answers, different grips may be more or less ideal. Generally, foam or padded grips are more often recommended, helping relieve pressure on the hand and fingers. Larger grips are often better for those who have trouble applying a lot of grip force.

As far as shape is concerned, you’ve got a wide range of options. While cane handles can be broken down into very specific shapes and styles, we’ll just label them a bit more broadly as curved, angled, round, or offset.

  • Curved - These are the traditional ‘shepherd’s crook’ style cane, featuring a smooth, rounded curve for the handle. The curved shape allows them to be easily hung on hooks and the backs of chairs to enable easier storage or resting in different public areas like restaurants and bathrooms. They are, however, somewhat hard on the hands for users who may have pain or stiffness in those joints.
  • Angled - Whether a right angle, or a more curved version of that same shape, these canes are designed to be a bit more ergonomic for user comfort and control. Including derby, fritz, ergonomic, palm grip, orthopedic, and even animal-shaped handles, the angled handle is the most versatile of all the options, and therefore gives you the most freedom in choosing something to fit your personal taste. 
  • Round - Often designed more for fashion than for support, round-headed canes feature a knobbed top rather than a handle, meaning they provide less support and can be harder on the hands, though they can be good for special occasions.
  • Offset - This type of handle is the most ergonomic of the styles available, designed to distribute the user’s weight fully and evenly along the shaft of the cane all the way down to the tipped base. They also include a soft grip rubber handle that allows for a more comfortable grip. This is most often the preferred choice for people with greater mobility concerns or pain in the hands.

Choosing the proper grip can have a huge impact on your comfort and mobility, so it's important to make sure that you test a few out first and see what feels the best for you. The right grip can help relieve unnecessary stress on joints, and prevent pain and discomfort. You'll be able to tell if a grip isn't a good match if you notice that you're experiencing pain or numbness in your hands and fingers. 

Checking the fit

A properly fitted cane can often be the difference between help and harm. Although many walking canes are adjustable, many others are not, so it’s important to make sure your cane is properly measured and fitted for ideal support.

To measure yourself for a cane, you’ll need the help of a partner. You should stand straight up, with arms relaxed at your sides; there should be a slight natural bend to your elbow. Then, your partner should measure the distance from the floor to your wrist joint, and this should be the height of your cane.

Additionally, it’s important to make sure that, when you’re holding your cane, your elbow bend is at the correct angle. To check, you can stand up straight and hold your cane in your hand like you normally would. The bend in your elbow should be about 15 degrees. You can check this yourself in a mirror, or have a partner check for you.

These measurements are vastly important: if the cane is too long, it can be difficult to pick up and use, while if it’s too short, you may develop poor posture, or it may throw off your balance.

Checking the cane tip

The tip of the cane is meant to provide better traction on most floor surfaces. The rubber construction basically functions like the tires on a car, gripping the floor and helping you stay stable and supported without sliding.

In order to ensure that your cane is safe and easy to use, your tip should have a bit of give to it, but be mostly stiff and stable. The base tread of the tip should be in good condition. If you cane tip appears worn, torn, or broken, it’s important that you replace it as soon as possible.

How should you walk with a cane?

To properly walk with your cane, you should follow these steps:

  1. Hold your cane in the opposite site from your injury or weakness.
  2. Move the cane simultaneously with the opposite leg; this will be your injured or affected leg.
  3. Channel your weight through the arm holding the cane as you need to
  4. Always have your stronger leg take the first step, especially when shifting up and down steps or non-level surfaces.

How should you walk with your cane on stairs?

Stairs can be tricky, even for able-bodied people. When using a cane to go upstairs, it’s important that you step first with your stronger leg, while grasping the railing, then step with the other leg while moving the cane. When going downstairs, put the cane first on the lower stair, then follow with the weaker leg. Then step with the stronger leg.

If you find that stair railing is difficult to grasp while using your cane, rely first on your cane and then secondarily on the rails. Also, always feel free to switch sides on dual-sided staircases if one side is better for your ability to walk safely.

Frequently Asked Questions

How long should a cane be for walking?

A correctly fitted cane should reach your hip, with the handle being level with your hip bone on the side of your upper thigh. To measure yourself for a perfect fit, stand upright with arms relaxed at your side. Have a second person measure the distance from the floor to your wrist joint. This should be the height of your cane.

Should I use a cane for back pain?

While back pain can stem from a variety of causes, walking with a cane can be a good way to alleviate back pain and pressure. This can be used as a temporary measure to relieve pain while you find out the cause of your pain, or a permanent addition to your routine if your doctor feels like this a good solution.

On which side should you use a cane?

Canes should typically be used on the side opposite your injury or pain. For example, if you have pain in your left knee, you would use your cane on the right side. Keeping your cane on the stronger side will lead to you moving it along with the weaker side. This method always gives you a steady brace while walking, helping to relieve pressure by relying on your strong side, thus relieving pain.

What’s the difference between a cane and a walking stick?

Canes are assistive devices designed especially for use by those who require stability and support while walking, while walking sticks are designed more for outdoor stability, helping support hikers as they move through uneven terrain. Additionally, canes typically feature some sort of bent or curved handle that the user can bear down on, while walking sticks are usually a straight stick designed to be taller, providing stability rather than weight-bearing.

Can I use a walking stick instead of a cane?

Many patients do feel that walking sticks are a better solution for their bodies than canes are, relieving pressure on the shoulder some may experience with canes. However, walking sticks are usually not enough for users who require a large amount of support. In short, maybe. It’s important to test each out for yourself and see what feels more natural for you; both canes and walking sticks have their own pros and cons.

Which canes do we recommend?

Ergoactives Ergocane with Ergonomic Grip Handle

  • Fully adjustable aluminum cane that is both ergonomic and elegant
  • Can adjust to the user’s height with just the push of a button
  • Equipped with soft shock absorbers in the palm of hand
  • Comfortable grip that allows for maximum handling and minimum slipping
  • Includes Ergocap Ultralite Universal Shock Absorber Tip for added support and balance

Adjustable Orthopedic Cane

  • Coated with Epoxy to ensure longevity and durability 
  • Grip can be adjusted to fit right or left hand
  • Rubber tip offers increased traction
  • Height can be adjusted to fit a wide range of users
  • Offered in a range of colors to fit user’s preferences

Aluminum Height Adjustable Folding Cane with Gel Grip Handle

  • Adjustable height
  • Can fold into 4 parts for easy storage
  • Made from sturdy aluminum tubing
  • Has gel grip to reduce hand stress and fatigue
  • Includes a convenient plastic hook for hanging the cane when it’s folded

The Grand Line Heavy Duty Extra Tall Quad Cane

  • Can be used with left hand or right hand
  • Utilizes an offset handle to center the user’s weight
  • Adjustable height that can be changed in 1-inch increments
  • Constructed from a durable lightweight steel
  • Best option for those who are a moderate weight

Quad Cane with Front Wheels

  • Designed to be a strong and reliable stability support 
  • Offers stability and increased support due to quad base
  • Can be used in left hand or right hand
  • Adjusting is easy due to push button adjustment
  • Strong and durable so it can accommodate up to 600 lbs

Summary

Canes can be a great mobility tool for people who need added stability or support while walking and standing, but with the variety of styles on the market and the breadth of information available, it can be difficult to wade through and find the right choice for you.

Our goal is to put everything in one convenient place, guide you through it, and provide some recommendations for some of the best canes in our catalog to help make your shopping experience totally effortless.

To shop canes and compare different prices, designs, and brand names, make sure you check out Rehabmart.com for all your mobility needs. For more helpful articles and buying guides like this one, come visit Caregiver University.

Author:

Megan has been a part of Rehabmart since its inception nearly 20 years ago. For the past several years she has been enjoying her role as HR Director while maintaining her Physical Therapy license. When she isn't working on her next in-service or working to find a new team member, she enjoys her five children, helping those who have PT type ailments, baking, practicing yoga, and working out.

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