How To Use a Cane

A cane is a walking aid that offers an extra point of balance and stability when you walk. There are many possible reasons why you might need to learn how to use a cane to support you. It's important to use a cane correctly to get the most benefit from it and to prevent falls and injuries.


What is a cane?

A cane is a walking stick with a handle. It can help provide stability and balance while you walk. If you’re new to walking with a cane, it’s important to learn how to use a cane correctly for safety and support.

Why use a cane?

You might want to use a cane temporarily if you’re recovering from an injury, surgery or illness that weakened you. Or you might want to use a cane regularly if you’re just a little unsteady on your feet.


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What should I do before using a cane?

Before you learn how to walk with a cane, it’s important to make sure you have the right type and fit. A healthcare provider can recommend the right type of cane for your needs and help you with the fitting.

Types of canes

  • Single-point cane. The standard walking cane has a curved or bent handle at the top and a long shaft that ends in a single tip. These are sometimes called single-point canes, because some newer canes have more than one point. A single-point cane often works for people with orthopedic issues, like arthritis or back pain. For balance issues, you might want more support.
  • Multi-point canes. Some newer canes have three-point (tripod) or four-point (quad) bases. These offer more weight support and balance, though they’re a little more awkward to walk with. The multi-point bases often have a pivot feature that allows the shaft to lean different ways while the feet stay connected with the ground. These are sometimes called pivot canes.
Special features

Some canes have special or custom features, like:

  • Ergonomic handles to relieve hand fatigue and pressure.
  • A fold-out seat with a tripod base for rest breaks.
  • Collapsible or folding shafts with carrying cases.
  • LED lights for using at night or with vision impairment.

Fitting your cane

A well-fitted cane is the right height for your walking posture and has a handle that suits your grip. A knowledgeable provider can help you determine the height and handle type that will work best for you.

Once you know what you need, you can shop accordingly. Many canes are height-adjustable, while others come in custom sizes. Canes come with certain handles, but sometimes you can swap them out.

Adjusting the height

To fit your cane to your height, stand up as straight as you comfortably can with your shoulders relaxed and your hands down at your sides. The handle of your cane should line up with the crease of your wrist.

Ask someone to measure the distance from your wrist to the floor. (It’s usually about half of your height with shoes on.) Now, put your hand on the grip. Your elbow should be slightly bent (about 20 degrees).

Picking a handle

Picking a handle is mostly a matter of what feels most comfortable to you. This may take some trial and error to work out. If you have joint pain in your hand or wrist, you might need a certain type.

Some options include:

  • Crook handle: This is the classic cane shape, based on a shepherd’s crook. It’s also called a tourist handle or “J” handle. It’s not the most ergonomic style, but it works for occasional use.
  • Derby handle: The derby handle is a common traditional style. It’s a perpendicular handle with a slight downward curve at the end, like a bird beak. It’s comfortable and good for hanging.
  • Fritz handle. Also called a crutch handle, the Fritz is like a slimmer, more tapered derby handle without the hook at the end. This makes it easier to grip if you have arthritis in your hand.
  • Offset handle: An offset handle positions your hand over the shaft rather than to the side of it. The shaft of the cane has a bend near the top. This allows you to put more weight on the cane.
  • Orthopedic grip handle: These ergonomic handles have contours that fit your hand and reduce stress on your fingers, palms and wrists. They often have a flexible grip made of foam or gel.
  • Palm grip handle: A palm grip handle is molded to fit your hand — your right or left hand, specifically. The contoured fit reduces stress on your hand and wrist. It also reduces sweating.

What is the correct way to use a cane?

Once you have your cane picked out and fitted, you’re ready to learn how to walk with a cane. But before you start walking, you might have a few questions about how to hold and use a cane correctly.

Which side should I use my cane on?

If you have an injured or weaker side, hold your cane on the opposite (stronger) side. If you don’t have a weaker side, consider holding your cane in your non-dominant hand to keep your dominant hand free.

How do you hold a cane properly?

Hold your cane at your side, not in front of you. It should hang about 4 to 6 inches out from your leg. With your elbow bent at a slight angle, your hand should grasp the handle like a handlebar, palm down.

How do you use a cane for balance when standing?

Keep your cane lined up with your opposite foot for balance. You don’t need to lean on it all the time, just when you’re wavering. When that happens, you need to know it’s in the right place to support you.

Which leg goes first when using a cane?

Start with the leg opposite your cane. If you have a weaker or injured leg, this will be the leg opposite your cane. You’ll move this leg forward simultaneously with your cane in your opposite hand.


How do you walk with a cane?

  1. Step forward a comfortable distance with your weaker leg and your cane in the opposite hand. It’s normal to swing your opposite arm with your leg as you walk, so this should come naturally.
  2. As your foot and cane come down together, put as much weight onto your cane as you need. This will help support your leg if it’s weak or unstable and help relieve pressure if it’s sore.
  3. When the tip of your cane and leg are securely on the ground in front of you, follow with your other (stronger) leg. As this foot comes down beside the other, shift all your weight to this leg.
  4. Continue by stepping forward again with your other leg and cane, letting this side set the pace. Remember to keep your posture upright and look ahead of you, not down at your feet.

How do you use a cane on stairs?

If you need to walk on stairs with your cane, the rule of thumb is to lead with your stronger leg when going up and lead with your weaker leg when going down. You may use the railing opposite your cane.

To walk upstairs:

Start with your stronger leg, which will bear your weight up the step. Then bring your cane and other leg up to meet it. Push down on your cane to bear your weight as you step up with your strong leg again.

To walk downstairs:

Step your cane down on the step first, then bring down your opposite leg, using the cane for support. With your weight on your cane, bring your other leg down and shift your weight to this (stronger) leg.

Risks / Benefits

What benefits can using a cane provide?

A cane provides walking support for mild to moderate instability or discomfort. Since a cane is a one-sided walking aid, it provides less support than crutches or a walker. But it might be just right for you.

If you have some risk of falling due to weakness, balance or sensory deficits, a cane can offer the extra security you need to venture out on your own. It may even improve your independence and fitness.


Who might benefit from using a cane?

You might benefit from using a cane if you:

  • Are recovering from an injury, surgery or illness.
  • Are beginning to experience age-related changes in strength, mobility or balance.
  • Have chronic pain that feels worse when you walk.
  • Want to relieve pressure on your joints.
  • Have a neurological condition that affects your coordination or muscle strength.
  • Have peripheral neuropathy that makes your legs or feet numb.
  • Have a temporary or long-term walking abnormality.
  • Are relearning to walk after temporary or partial paralysis.

Who shouldn’t use a cane?

A cane might not be the best walking aid for you if you need to put a lot of weight on it. Since it’s on one side, a cane can only safely support up to 25% of your body weight, while a walker might support half.

You’ll also need some upper body strength and an upright posture to use a cane properly. If you have trouble bearing your weight through one arm or walking upright, a cane might not work so well for you.

What safety precautions should I follow when using a cane?

To reduce your risk of falling:

  • Make sure the tread on your cane tip is still in good condition to provide traction. If you’re using an older cane, the tip might need replacing. Tips are easy to find at most pharmacies.
  • Make sure your path is clear of potential hazards for your cane, like loose rugs, cords and spills. Avoid wet and waxed floors. If you want to walk in winter weather, you can use a special tip.
  • Don’t use your cane to help yourself sit down or stand up. The weight balance isn’t reliable this way. Use your opposite hand on the arm of your seat to push yourself up or lower yourself down.
  • Wear proper walking shoes with low, closed heels and non-slippery soles. If they have laces, tie them in a double knot. This is to prevent you from tripping or needing to look down at your feet.

A note from Cleveland Clinic

Using a cane can help you walk more safely and comfortably — but only if you have the right fit and technique. A poor fit or poor technique can cause new stress and strain and raise your risk of falling.

While everyone has seen a cane, not all of us have had the chance to practice using one. Don’t look to actors to show you how to use a cane correctly. Instead, consult a knowledgeable healthcare provider.

Medically Reviewed

Last reviewed on 04/19/2024.

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