What to Know About Using a Cane

Medically Reviewed by Poonam Sachdev on November 23, 2022
6 min read

Canes are an ancient form of medical technology — dating back to the prehistoric use of walking sticks by injured humans. These days, cane technology has advanced. But they’re still humanity’s go-to tool for certain balance and mobility problems. 

Before using this mobility device, make sure that you’ve got the right type and that you know how to use it.

Canes are one of many types of mobility-assisted devices. Others include: 

Canes are one of the simplest forms of this kind of technology. They’re meant to help you get around and navigate all of your daily activities, including: 

  • Walking
  • Standing
  • Navigating stairs
  • Dressing
  • Grooming
  • Bathing
  • Cooking

They do this by providing extra support when your body is unable to properly balance and stabilize itself on its own. Canes are useful for both short-term and long-term use. The amount of time that you need to use a cane depends on your underlying medical condition.

Canes aren’t just a medical tool — they’re a means of regaining and maintaining your independence. Research indicates that people who have any kind of mobility impairment are much better off — both mentally and physically — when they can access devices like canes. As you age, they can even allow you to live on your own for a longer period of time. 

Don’t hesitate to try out a cane if you have any issues with your overall balance and stability — it could have a meaningful impact on your daily life.

Canes are useful for a wide range of people. Situations that could require a cane include: 

  • Healing from broken leg or foot bones
  • Balancing with severe sprains and strains in your knee or ankle
  • Managing hip problems
  • Recovering from surgical procedures on the knee or lower leg
  • Recovering from a stroke
  • Managing age-related balance and strength problems 
  • Managing a permanent or temporary disability
  • Managing certain chronic conditions — like multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease
  • Managing a birth defect — also known as a congenital defect

This list isn’t exhaustive. Your doctor can prescribe a cane to help with most relevant medical problems. They should automatically recommend or prescribe one if you’ve just been treated for an injury or undergone surgery. 

If you think you need a cane but have never talked about a prescription, don’t hesitate to ask your doctor. They can offer you the best advice for your body’s specific needs.

There are three types of canes that are practical for most relevant health conditions. These types of canes include: 

  • Single point. Also called a crook cane, this is the most common version. It’s the most basic shape — a straight stick with a hook as a handhold at the top. This type is a simple solution for temporary problems like sprains. 
  • Center balance. Like the single point, this cane also has one point in contact with the ground. But the handle is flatter and larger. This makes it easier for you to grip. It also allows you to put more pressure on it when you’re standing up and sitting down. This kind of cane is more helpful in the long run if you have a condition like multiple sclerosis.  
  • Quad. This type of cane has four small legs that each make contact with the ground. These legs lead up to one main stick that ends in a handle. This cane provides the most support and is a good alternative to a walker. You’ll likely need this type if you’re trying to transition away from a walker.

If you’re looking to get a cane for a specific medical condition, your doctor or physical therapist will likely tell you which kind to get. Make sure to follow their advice. 

Otherwise, you should evaluate your personal needs and decide which type of cane would fit them best. When choosing a specific product, it’s important to find a device that fits your body. A cane is the right height for you if the handle reaches your wrist joint and your elbow is slightly bent when you’re using it. 

Other factors to keep in mind include things like cost, portability, and material. Shop around to find the cane that’s right for you.

No matter what kind of cane you end up with, it’s important to use it correctly. Otherwise, you could end up injuring yourself further or slowing your recovery process. Follow the steps below to learn how to properly stand, sit, walk, and navigate stairs while using a cane. 

For all of these movements, you should have the cane on the opposite side of your body from the injury. For example, if your right leg is injured, the cane should be in your left hand. 

Standing. To stand up with a single-point or center balance cane, you grasp the handle in one hand and place your other hand on your furniture. Use the hand that you have on your furniture to push yourself up. Steady yourself with your cane before taking your first step. For quad canes, you shouldn’t grip the cane until you’re already in a standing position. 

Sitting. To sit, walk backward until you feel the chair pressing against the back of your legs. For single-point and center balance canes, you leave one hand on the cane and move the other to the chair. Then ease yourself down while keeping a grip on each. For a quad cane, you need to entirely let go of the cane and get down by supporting yourself with both hands on the furniture.   

Walking. Place the cane a small step out in front of you and off to the side of where you’ll place your foot. First, move your injured leg forward until it’s even with the cane. Then complete the step with your good leg. 

Going upstairs. Push down on the cane for support. Raise your uninjured leg up to the step. Shift your weight to your good leg as you raise your injured leg up to the step. Then move the cane up to the step too. Repeat as needed. 

Going downstairs. You go downstairs the exact opposite way that you go up them. First, place your cane down on the step below you. Next, move your injured leg to the step, then move your uninjured leg. Repeat as needed.

A lot of insurance plans will cover canes when they’re prescribed by your doctor. Medicare Part B — the medical insurance part of the benefits — considers canes a type of durable medical equipment. This is distinct from the related category of assistive technology devices — which aren’t as widely covered as objects like canes. 

Medicare is also likely to cover a cane if you need it for age-related mobility reasons. 

Even when your insurance covers the cost of your cane, you may still need to pay a copay. This is determined on a case-by-case basis. The copay will be less than the full cost of the cane.

Without a prescription, you’ll likely need to pay full price for your cane at a store. Single-point canes are generally the least expensive. 

Even if they can’t give you a prescription, you can always ask your doctor or another medical professional for brand recommendations. A cane could be just the device that you need to make everyday tasks easier to manage.