Millions of Americans are using canes. However, canes are among the most underutilized mobility assistive devices for older people.
The commonly used canes are the adjustable single-tip, un-adjustable (wooden) tip and quad type (with four tips).
Studies from Liu et al., Kaye et al., and Neil B. Alexander identified these common mistakes when using a cane:
- Incorrect cane height;
- Improper maintenance;
- Wrong placement of cane in improper hand; and
- Improper posture during walking as among the major problems of using this device.
Here are the ways to correct these mistakes:
- Incorrect height
The American Geriatrics Society (AGS) recommends these steps to achieve the proper height of a cane:
- Use your normal shoes.
- Allow your arms to hang loosely at your sides.
- Request someone to measure the distance from the floor to your wrist.
- Adjust the device based on that distance.
- Check your elbow bend. When there is a 20 to 30-degree bend of your elbow once you hold the handle, then that is the correct height.
- Improper maintenance
The tip of this device is often the part that requires maintenance. The Geriatric Society recommends that non-skid rubber tips should be used. The organization also suggests that this should be checked often and needs to be changed once they look worn. Non-skid rubber tips can be bought in your local medical supply store or pharmacy.
- Hand placement
In an article published in the Geriatrics & Aging, Dr. Robert Lam recommends that for those with painful or weak leg, the cane should be held in the contralateral hand and advanced in unison with the affected leg. This way of holding reduces the total force across the affected hip joint by almost two thirds.
According to Dr. Lam, the user’s preference determines which hand the cane should be held when the device is primarily used for balance impairment.
- Improper posture
When using this device, maintain an upright position.
- Other safety tips
Dr. Lam recommends that if a quad type is used, the longer feet should be positioned on the lateral side to allow foot clearance during walking.
The AGS also suggests that this tool should be placed firmly on the ground prior to taking a step. It is also important not to place the tool too far ahead of you as this could slip under you.
Who should use
Canes should only be used by the following:
- Those who can walk by themselves but need support on one side of their body;
- Have a good hand, arm and shoulder to hold the tool; and
- Those who need up to 25% of their weight.