Most of us are happy to assume we won’t need a walking stick until we reach our old age. In reality, there are hundreds of reasons to use mobility sticks and they cover many ages and stages of life. The key factor in determining a mobility aid’s usefulness is not your age but whether you know how to use a walking stick correctly.
While it might sound simple, every year doctors treat patients for symptoms caused by the improper use of mobility aids. Used correctly, walking sticks and canes are valuable assistive devices that take pressure off painful joints, leg injuries, ankle sprains and musculoskeletal weaknesses. Used incorrectly, they can exacerbate existing mobility issues and increase the risk of serious trips and falls.
Whether you’re using a walking stick because of chronic mobility issues or temporary impairment, using it correctly will make all the difference to your recovery. Protect your hips, knees and feet by following these guidelines:
How to Use a Walking Stick Correctly for Beginners
If you’ve never used walking canes or mobility sticks before, the first time might feel a little awkward. This is perfectly normal and you shouldn’t be discouraged. As you learn to distribute and shift your weight correctly as you move, it’ll get a lot easier. Use these posture and movement tips to help you started:
1 – Identify the side of your body that needs the most support. Hold the walking stick in the opposite hand.
2 – Position the walking stick out in front of you (about two inches) but slightly off to the side (where you need the support).
3 – Move the stick forward at the same time as your affected limb keeping both in step and evenly paced.
4 – The walking stick should be still (static) when you’re stepping forward with your unaffected limb. It should only move forward when your weaker side moves forward.
5 – Practice indoors to get the hang of these movements and a feel for the rhythm of your footsteps and when the walking stick should match them. If you struggle with balance, ask a trusted friend or relative to stabilize you while you practice. Take only short journeys outdoors until you feel confident moving around without help.
How to Use a Walking Stick on Stairs
Even the best walking stick can feel clumsy on a staircase if you don’t know how to use it correctly. Be extra cautious when ascending or descending stairs with a mobility cane and always keep an eye out for high curbs. These low-lying trip hazards are a common cause of injuries for the mobile and mobility impaired alike.
Use these tips to safely navigate stairs and curbs with a walking stick:
1 – Always use the handrail or support that’s provided. It’s there to give you an extra point of contact while your feet are off the ground.
2 – If you have one strong leg and one impaired leg, step up the stairs with your strongest leg first. Using your strongest limb as an anchor, move your weaker leg and the walking stick forward at the same time.
3 – To walk down the stairs, just reverse the process. This time, lead with your walking stick. Plant it ahead of you as an anchor. Then, move your impaired leg forward to meet it. Then, follow with your unaffected leg.
Again, this can take some time to get used to if you’ve never used a walking stick before. Practice in your home by yourself or with a friend if you’re worried about losing your balance.
How to Use a Walking Stick to Sit in a Chair
The one movement almost everybody who’s new to mobility aids forgets to practice is sitting down in a chair. It’s trickier than it looks because it involves turning and balancing with the walking stick as a pivot.
Practice these movements if you’re having trouble getting into your favorite armchair:
1 – Take a few extra seconds to position yourself in front of the armchair. Being properly positioned is the key to maintaining balance. Face forwards so the backs of your legs are touching the chair. At this point, even if you wobble and lose your balance, you should fall into the right spot.
2 – If the chair has an armrest, position the hand on your weakest side there. Holding the walking stick on your dominant/strongest side, slowly lower yourself into the chair.
3 – If the chair does not have an armrest, try gripping one side of the seat unless this causes you to feel unsteady. If you’re unsure or feel unconfident, ask for help. It takes moments for somebody (even a stranger) to lend you support.
How to Use Walking Stick Correctly After Knee Surgery
Knee surgery is one of the most common reasons doctors prescribe mobility aids and walking canes to patients. In the weeks following surgery, it’s important to ease pressure on the affected limb and allow it time to heal under a reduced amount of weight.
However, mobility plays a crucial role in recovery and patients must stay active to maintain strength and stability. If a patient is capable, it’s much better for them to walk with a mobility stick than it is to use a wheelchair. With a walking stick, the affected limb is still used and reductions in strength are minimized.
If you’re recovering after surgery, your physical therapist may require you to work with a walking stick during rehabilitation sessions.
Working Out If a Quad Cane is Right for You
Quad canes are walking sticks with four rubber tips instead of the single tip that’s typical of traditional canes. These canes are recommended for elderly people with severely limited mobility and those affected by stroke, hemiplegia and partial paralysis.
The primary advantage of using a quad cane is extra stability when walking. The end of the cane isn’t balanced on just one pivot point so there’s a much smaller risk of trips and falls. However, it’s worth noting the quad cane’s four tips need a lot more room for maneuvering. They are much wider than single-tipped canes and may not fit comfortably on staircases.
If you expect to be using a walking stick for a long time, it might be worth using two types: a single tipped cane for ascending and descending stairs and a quad cane for stable walking outdoors.
More Tips and Tricks to Consider When Using a Walking Stick
- Pay attention to the condition of your walking stick’s tread. This is the rubber bit on the bottom that helps with grip. If it starts to look worn, it’s time to replace it.
- Try to look up and forwards when walking with your stick. It might feel difficult at first because you’re worried about falling but you’re always more likely to trip if you stare down at your feet.
- Take your time. Account for the extra time you’ll need when walking to events or appointments. That way, you won’t feel you have to rush and potentially put yourself in danger. Make sure the walking stick is firm and stable on the ground before you move your body to meet it.
- Be careful not to take over-large strides. Avoid positioning the stick or cane too far forwards. Small, steady steps are the key to moving safely particularly when you’re learning how to use a cane for the first time.
- Consider carrying important items in a fanny pack or cross-body bag where you can access them quickly. You should be able to carry things like your keys, wallet and phone hands-free.
Even the best walking stick is only as useful as the individual holding it. Whether you’re permanently impaired or dealing with a loss of mobility after surgery, it’s important to understand there’s a right way to use a cane.
Talk to your doctor or physical therapist about the best options for recovery. They can help you decide which type of walking stick is most suitable, how often to use it and what types of environments it is designed to aid you in.