A walking cane lends support and improves balance for those with minor to moderate mobility issues. Also known as a walking stick, a cane provides more freedom than a set of crutches but not quite as much support as a walker.
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Please see the above matrix for five of the market’s top walking canes.
And if you need help finding the right cane for your needs, please check out the information below.
You know you want a walking cane, but what type of material suits you best?
Almost all canes are made of materials known for their tensile strength and light weight. Some materials excel in terms of durability and/or weight capacity; others stand out when it comes to appearance and/or comfort.
People have been leaning on wooden canes for centuries. Perhaps you want an aesthetically pleasing cane with carvings or other decorative elements. Perhaps you want a sturdy cane with a comfortable grip and supportive shaft. In either case, solid wood is a viable material that provides medical-grade stability.
On the downside, wooden canes cannot be adjusted after they’re made. You get one opportunity to customize a new wooden cane, so we advise you to choose wisely.
While not as handsome as wood, aluminum is a popular choice for medical-grade mobility aids. Aluminum provides the same level of support and durability as steel, but it weighs half as much.
Any mobility aid can fatigue your muscles over time, so employing a lightweight aluminum cane makes sense. Another advantage is adjustability. For maximum balance and comfort, aluminum cane owners can choose from a menu of different height settings.
Many manufacturers incorporate lightweight materials into their canes these days, but canes of steel are still found in medical supply stores. Steel wields several advantages over aluminum and wood, including its higher weight capacity.
What’s more, a rigid steel walking cane provides the extra support needed for heavy-duty users. Those who regularly tackle stairs or other rough terrain may also feel more comfortable with a steel cane in hand. On the down side, a steel cane weighs more and could eventually cause discomfort or muscle fatigue.
Combining the strength of aircraft-grade aluminum or steel with the lightweight qualities of wood or plastic, carbon fiber has grown in popularity in recent years. While not as easy to find on medical supply store shelves, it is commonly used to make folding or travel canes. These collapsible canes store easily, yet when assembled, they support weight just as well as their aluminum and wooden counterparts.
A cane that is too short will cause the user to bend with each step, creating muscle strain and balance issues. A cane that is too tall will be difficult to control and won’t support the user’s full weight. The ideal cane complements the user’s height, matches natural wrist movements, and is, in effect, an extension of his or her organic stride.
To determine the ideal height of a walking cane, grab a measuring tape or yardstick and enlist the help of a volunteer. Wearing street shoes, stand on a flat, level surface with your arms at your sides.
Your assistant should measure the distance from the floor to your wrist — ideally at the spot where your wrist bends. This is the preferable length of a customizable walking cane; most adjustable walking canes should have a setting that closely matches that measurement.
The choice of a handle for a walking cane may seem like an afterthought at first, but a cane’s handle affects user comfort as well as aesthetics. Most walking cane handles hail from three schools of design:
Round handles exemplify the traditional wooden walking cane.The end of the shaft features a C-shaped curve, which is the handle. The handle might be reinforced with metal or padded with foam for comfort. People who use this type of cane need a strong grip for maximum control. Those with arthritis or other hand/wrist issues may wish to consider a cane with a derby or offset handle.
Derby handles sport a stylized L-shape that extends back toward the user. Some derby handles are made from pricey materials such as pearl or precious metal. Others, comprised of strong polymers, focus solely on function. People with limited grip strength may fare better with a derby handle than a round handle. One drawback to this design is that the user’s hand falls behind the cane’s shaft, reducing the amount of body weight the cane can bear.
Offset handles solve the weight-bearing problems suffered by most round and derby handles. The offset handle curves away from the shaft in a gooseneck, then curves back to form the user’s actual grip. This design places all of the user’s weight on the shaft, maximizing stability and reducing hand/wrist fatigue. Some walking canes carry this a step further by employing clamps that fit over the user’s forearms for additional support.
While the handle and shaft are both important elements to consider, shoppers should look closely at the place where the rubber meets the road: the cane’s feet. At all times, a walking cane must remain stable and secure.
Consider these foot styles:
Many wooden and aluminum walking canes feature a single point of contact between the shaft and the ground. Medical-grade walking sticks with a single point are usually capped with rubber or polymer for traction. These caps wear down over time and should be replaced periodically.
Some aluminum, steel, and carbon fiber walking canes feature a set of three or four rubberized feet. With every step, these feet make solid contact with the ground, enhancing stability. When not in use, the cane remains upright and easy to access. However, the additional weight at the bottom of the cane can cause problems for some users.
Sometimes a rubber tip (or four) isn’t enough. Thankfully, specialized walking cane attachments can help address this issue. For example, a set of feet with ice grips improves user safety during the slippery winter months.
Using a walking cane is like adding a companion leg to your walking process. Your weaker leg should always be supported by the cane.
You should gain the approval of your personal physician before buying a cane. You may also want to consult a physical therapist for expert advice and instruction. Using a walking cane is not an easy skill to learn, so in addition to the above pointers, we recommend watching a video, reading a how-to guide, or getting face-to-face help from a professional.
Q: Can I use a decorative walking cane for medical purposes?
A: Definitely not. Decorative/novelty walking canes aren’t designed to support your full body weight. They’re often made of cheap materials such as bamboo, plastic, or wood composite. Most are “one size fits all” and cannot be adjusted properly. If you need a medical mobility aid, don’t settle for a cheap alternative; it simply isn’t safe.
Q: Can I use two walking canes at the same time?
A: Yes, it is possible to use two walking canes at the same time. Many people with limited mobility use two canes with arm supports in order to avoid the complications associated with long-term wheelchair use. This is an issue you’ll want to discuss with your physician or a physical therapist, because the biomechanics required for two canes differ from that of a single cane.
Q: Is a proper fit really that important?
A: If your walking cane is merely a fashion accessory, finding a proper fit is not essential. But most medical mobility aids (crutches, canes, walkers, wheelchairs) require customization for maximum effectiveness. Using an improperly fitted walking cane can result in painful side effects.