How to Walk with a Cane? | Learn to Use Your Cane

One of the first things you have to understand about a cane thoroughly is that it is an ambulatory assistive device.

So what is an ambulatory assistive device? Well, allow me to enlighten you!

Ambulatory is more of a medical term than regular. It is frequently used by professionals in the field to refer to patients or individuals who are not bedridden and can walk on their own independently.

Such people may or may not require the assistance of mobility aids when walking from place to place.

Purpose of Canes

From the above definition, it is established that canes are used to assist people who already retains the ability to walk self-sufficiently, but may find it difficult to maintain a consistent balance.

Hence the bottom line here is canes assist people in improving and maintaining a steady postural balance at all times. Hence, this type of device is prescribed to individuals who require minimal stability support or are suffering from moderate to little mobility impairments.

An injury to the leg such as fractures, bruises, pains encountered due to some trauma, or post-surgery dependency, as well as age-related complications such as fragile bones or lack of strength, may all contribute to reasons for one to rely on a cane.

Sometimes one may require the assistance of such a device permanently. While in other situations, the usage may be temporary. For example, until a certain injury is healed and the person once again retains his strength and balance to walk freely with confidence.

How the Cane Functions

Canes assist an individual in maintaining balance by widening their base support. They do this by decreasing the weight-bearing pressure on the injured leg or other wounds encountered in the lower part of the body. 

As opposed to crutches that are assigned to take the weight completely of an injured foot, canes are mobility devices made to especially support a leg by “decreasing” the natural bodyweight on it. The load is usually decreased by shifting the pressure from the lower to the upper part of the body.

And the physics at work being, the tip or base of the cane which is in contact with the ground takes the weight of the injured leg. And then it transfers the pressure through the shaft to the top of the cane, ready to be counterbalanced by the upper part of the body, especially the hand and wrists.

Hence, most of the canes, in order to provide base comforts, are equipped with ergonomic grip handles and diverse options of bases or tips to provide maximum stability and convenience. Here I find it important to point out that canes are only good to use when one side of the lower extremity or a single leg is injured.

This is because canes do not provide a high level of weight-bearing capacities seen in other types of mobility aids such as crutches, walkers, mobility scooters, etc. And this goes on to cement their reputations in being a marvelous ambulatory assistive device.

How to Use a Cane

Here are some tips to follow when it comes to taking full advantage of the canes. Let’s talk about the entire process of using a cane for walking.


Choosing the Right Cane

Canes are not some fancy walking-sticks you see superstars sporting in movies. Rather it is a kind of serious medical assistive that one finds oneself relying upon in times of post-trauma recovery or other mobility restraining situations.

Also, different degree of injury or walking disabilities gives rise to different areas of concern. Primary of these being how much upper body strength is necessary, determination of the ratio between balance and coordination, factoring the physical endurance existent or required of the user. 

Not to forget issues such as type and degree of the injury or disability, cognitive functions, as well as the lifestyle and living standard of the individual also needs careful consideration.

All these varied aspects play together to select the right cane for the right person. As a result, consulting a medical professional before choosing a suitable cane is only an intelligent course of action as opposed to selecting a cane that catches your fancy.  

Custom-Fitting the Cane

A cane’s height ultimately establishes the delicate equilibrium between safety and optimum stability.


Because there is no “one size fits all” policy when it comes to using a cane, it is important to measure accurately and custom-adjust the height to meet your weight-bearing needs satisfactorily. Once again, a physiotherapist can prove to be an expert in this regard.

However, there is no loss in knowing personally how the measurements are usually taken. Thus, given below are the steps to measure the correct cane length:

  1. Wear shoes you are most likely to take walks with.
  2. Stand straight, commanding your full height.
  3. Allow your arms to relax and hang at the sides.
  4. Ask someone to measure the height from the wrist joint to the ground.
  5. The measurement thus retrieved is the ideal digit for the cane height.  

Perfect Your Posture

Once you are done choosing the right cane and custom fitting its height to best suit your needs, it is now time to focus on perfecting the posture. To retrieve maximum support from your cane, it is important to implement these set number of techniques as follows:

  1. Always hold the cane on the hand opposite the side that requires support. This means if your left leg is injured, place the cane on the right hand, and vice versa.
  2. Standing straight, make sure to level your wrist crease on top of the cane when holding it.
  3. The elbow should bend at least by 20° when holding a cane. This enables one to attain maximum stability without risking shoulder, joint, or arm cramps and pains associated with cane usage over time.

Coordinate the Steps

This is the stage where most people are seen to make mistakes that ultimately bitter up their walking experience with the device.

However, if one only took a little time to consult and coordinate their steps according to the general rules of cane walking, they could easily avoid such grievances. So here is the thumb rule for cane assistive movement in three different situations.

Walking on Flat Surface

A therapist usually evaluates the degree of injury and the stability required to decide on a gait pattern most suitable for an individual. Generally, there are two types of step patterns:

The 2-Point Gait (a.k.a.) Walking Forward in 5 Steps

  1. Hold the cane in hand opposite the injured foot.
  2. Stand straight, putting most of the pressure on the good foot.
  3. Move the cane and the affected leg one step forward at the same time.
  4. Now bring the unaffected leg forward to meet the same distance.
  5. Repeat the process over and over again to reach your destination.

As phase (iii) + (iv) together helps to move 1-step forward; hence, this walking pattern is known as 2-point gait.   

The 3-Point Gait (a.k.a.) Walking Forward in 6 Steps

  1. Hold the cane in the strong side hand.
  2. Again stand tall, putting most of the pressure on the normal foot.
  3. Move the cane one step forward.
  4. Then bring the affected leg out to match the distance.
  5. Finally, bring the normal/unaffected leg forward to meet the same distance.
  6. Continuously repeat the process to reach your destination.

Here phase (iii) + (iv) + (v) is used to move 1-step forward; hence, this walking pattern is known as 3-point gait.  

Gait pattern is not only subjected to these two methods. Rather there are different combinations of gait patterns to adapt to the requirements of different injuries. As mentioned before, a therapist is the person to consult on the best course taken. 

Sitting Down & Getting Up from a Chair

Use your regular gait method to get as close to the chair as possible. Put the pressure on your good foot and turn a circle so that your back faces the chair. And while keeping the pressure constant on the normal foot and the cane, slowly lower yourself down.


To ensure stability, put your free hand on the armrest when you reach its proximity.  With the added support, keep on moving down till you are safely seated.

In Case of Standing Up-

  1. Holding the cane on the good side, slightly lean forward on the seat.
  2. Once again, put your other hand on the armrest to secure stability.
  3. Then putting pressure on the cane and the good foot slowly rise to a standing position.

Stair Climbing

When it comes to mobility impairment, climbing up and down the stairs is a big challenge. But if you follow these simple steps, the procedure could prove to be less taxing on the overall endeavor.

While Climbing Up

  1. Upon reaching the staircase, place your free hand on the rail or the wall. This will provide an additional balance.
  2. Leaning slightly forward, simultaneously place the cane and the uninjured foot on the first step.
  3. Now keeping the pressure on the cane and good side bring your injured foot to the same step.
  4. Carefully keep on repeating the process until you reach the top.

While Climbing Down

  1. Once again, slightly leaning forward, put the freehand on the handrail.
  2. Simultaneously place the cane and the injured foot on the first step, making sure that most of the pressure is applied on the cane through the arm.
  3. Finally, bring the good leg to the same step to secure stability.
  4. Keep on repeating the process until you reach the landing.

The Do’s and Don’ts of Cane Walking

Nobody is ever going to feel extremely confident when walking on canes the first time. Sometimes people can’t get the hang of it even after using it for weeks. This is because a consistently balanced cane walk requires techniques, practice sessions, and above all, patience.

Hence, to help ease the journey, presented below are some do and don't facts of the device.

What to Do

  1. Use canes only in cases of minimal mobility impairments.
  2. Always hold the cane in hand opposite the injured side.
  3. Consult a therapist about the gait pattern and posture before utilizing canes or any other type of assistive device.
  4. During the first few days of learning to walk, it is advisable to work on safe environments like the house or care facilities to avoid mishaps.
  5. Only when you are sure of your footing capabilities, proceed to take the cane along street strolling adventures.
  6. Always adjust your cane height to meet your requirements. As too high or too low cane instead of assisting will put a strain on your endeavors.

What Not to Do

  1. Never place the cane too close to the side. This increases the risk of accidental trips or stumbles.
  2. Similarly, don't place the cane too far away as it will negatively interfere with your posture and balance.
  3. Canes are made to ease your walking experience. Hence, it is always wise to not place your cane at a distance greater than an average step, as it will undoubtedly strain or stress your muscles the wrong way.   

Final Words

Learning how to walk with canes for the first time can be overwhelming both psychologically and physically.

Thus, when facing such times, do not solely rely on medical professionals to get through the ordeal. Rather reach out to your friend or family, even if only the first few days, to help boost the morale and in getting those feet steadily on the ground.

As for the walking experience, once the techniques of stepping the right stones are mastered, you are bound to fall in love with the stability, safety, and above all, the free-spirited independence that a cane offers.

  • Updated March 28, 2020
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