How to choose and use a cane

Published 4:24 pm Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Dear Savvy Senior

Is there anything to know when it comes to buying a cane? My dad has arthritis in his knee and could use a little extra help getting around. What can you tell me?

Raising Cane

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Dear Raising,

When it comes to choosing a cane for walking and support, just any old cane wont do. Canes come in many shapes and sizes today, and choosing the right fit is very important for your dads comfort and safety. Heres what you should know.

Types of Canes

Not surprisingly, the most widely used assistive device in the U.S. is the cane, used by nearly 5 million people. The kind of cane you get for your dad should be determined by the amount of support he needs and the style of the grip he prefers. Here are the basic types of canes youll have to choose from:

Crook or C cane: Shaped like a candy cane with the curved handle, this is the most common and basic type of cane and the least expensive, starting as low as $10.

Ergonomic-handle canes: These types of canes have bigger, ergonomic shaped handles (there are lots of styles to choose from) which provides a more comfortable and secure grip than a crook cane. Usually made of lightweight aluminum or wood, most of the aluminum models are adjustable in height and some even fold up which is convenient for travel. Prices typically range between $20 and $80. Offset-handle cane: This style has a swan neck curve in the upper part of the shaft that puts the users weight directly over the cane tip, making it ideal for people who need extra stability. Starting at around $25, offset-handle canes are typically aluminum, adjustable and come with a flat, soft grip handle thats easy on the hands. Knob cane: Also known as brass handle or parrot head canes this style is best suited for people who need a cane only for balance or mild weight bearing. Quad cane: This cane works best for people who need maximum weight bearing and support. As the name implies, a quad cane comes with four separate tips at the base and usually have an offset flat handle, and cost $30 and up. Make it Fit

Many canes are adjustable, but some are not. To make sure your dads cane is the right fit; have him stand up with his arms hanging straight down at his side. The top of the cane should line up with the crease in his wrist. And, with the cane in his hand, his elbow should bend at a comfortable 20 degree angle.

If his cane is too long, it wont provide the support he needs. Too short, and hell have to lean or bend over to use it which is uncomfortable and may even cause him to fall.

Check the Tip

The rubber tip on the end of your dads cane grips the floor and helps provide traction. Make sure the tip is supple and the tread is in good shape. If the tip looks worn, buy a replacement tip at a pharmacy or medical supply store.

How to Use

When using a cane, it should always be held in the hand opposite of the leg that needs support. For example, if your dads knee pain is on his right side, he should use the cane in his left hand. The cane should then move forward as he steps forward with the bad leg.

If he has to go up stairs, he should lead with the good leg. And when he goes down stairs, the cane and bad leg should go first. To help, the Mayo Clinic offers a slide show on their Web site ( that will show you how to choose and use a cane. Its also a smart idea to work with your dads doctor or physical therapist.

Where to Buy

You can find canes at drugstores, discount retailers, home medical supply stores and online at sites like and And if money is a concern, most insurers, including Medicare, help cover the cost of a new cane with a written prescription from a physician.

Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of The Savvy Senior book.~ Savvy Senior written by Jim Miller