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Jonathan Cluett, M.D.

How to use a cane

By July 4, 2007

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Canes can be used for many conditions, including injuries, arthritis, or problems with balance. A cane is helpful in steadying gait and taking pressure off of an injured extremity.

Which hand should hold the cane?
When using a cane, hold the cane in the hand opposite of the leg that needs support. For example, if you have an injured right knee, hold the cane with your left hand. When you place your right leg out, swing the cane out with the leg. When placing pressure on the right leg, also place pressure on the cane with the left hand.

Comments
February 27, 2009 at 10:53 am
(1) john says:

Is this not just backwards?

March 2, 2009 at 8:40 am
(2) orthopedics says:

John,

It may seem backwards, but this is the proper way to use a cane. When you walk, your left arm swings forward with your right leg. To support your right leg, the cane should be in your left hand.

This does take getting used to, but if you watch people who walk well with a cane, they always do it this way. If you watch people who use the cane on the same side as the problem, they have an awkward gait.

Regards,

Jonathan Cluett, MD
About Orthopedics
http://orthopedics.about.com

November 7, 2010 at 3:18 am
(3) Joshua says:

I have MS and use a cane rugularly. Before I was diagnosed I went to a knee and leg specialist about syptoms I was having which turned out to be precursers to my MS. This aged specialist showed me how to use the cane completely opposite from what you are saying. Ex: injured left leg, cane in right, step with cane and RIGHT leg together, to keep time spent off the injured/disabled leg.

February 8, 2011 at 7:56 pm
(4) Timothy Daspit, DC says:

Joshua,

You’ve either misunderstand your physician or you misstated your example. The old school of thought had you hold the cane on the injured side and brace your weight on the cane when you place your weight on the injured side.

In your example, you have the cane and good leg being supported at the same time causing the weight distribution to be completely on the injured leg when you need to use that leg. Completely incorrect.

However, Dr. Cluett is correct in identifying what we use modernly. Hold the cane in the opposite hand of the injured side and brace your weight on the cane as above, but in this case, your weight distribution is moving to the opposite side of the injury. Providing a much more stable and safe environment.

April 2, 2011 at 1:45 am
(5) Cindy says:

I’m injured in my left leg and through trial, I learned on my own that it’s best to use the cane with my right hand, putting it down at the same time as my left leg. So this just confirms that I’m doing it right. I can tell it’s right as it really helps more than any other way. I’m a little confused what to do on steps though and fumble with my cane and end up suffering through the stairs.

April 25, 2011 at 3:27 pm
(6) MoniqueSerpasPT says:

Cindy,

If you haven’t already, you should see a physical therapist. A PT will show you how to use a cane properly in a variety of situations and environments (curbs, stairs, …) They can also give you a personalized exercise program to help lessen pain and improve your mobility.

April 1, 2012 at 7:57 pm
(7) Amanda says:

I have bilateral AVN of all of my lower joints due to steroid use, secondary to Crohn’s…fun times! Ha! My right ankle has been fused and my left is not far behind. My OS has me trying a cane to postpone the left fusion as long as possible. I don’t find that the cane relieves ANY pain. I’ve been to PT to learn how to use the cane properly. Is it useful for ankle pain at all in your experience?

June 26, 2012 at 1:10 am
(8) Serra says:

I agree with the actor “House”!!!! I have been dealing with my right knee problem for awhile now. 25 years plus! Now I can hardly walk without a cane and I naturally gravitate by using the cane on my injured side, the right side. It only seems natural to me to use the cane on the injured side (the side you need help with bearing the weight!!). The doctors do not know everything….do what feels right and do what is right for you…….you know how it feels when you walk!
Do not let a doctor tell you how to walk, you know already.

July 25, 2012 at 9:31 am
(9) David S says:

Old School Vs. New School. I guess it’s sort of like in the old days when doctors told people to tilt your head back when you have a nose bleed while you pinch the bridge of your nose with one hand and cover your nostrils with a tissue.. But since the 80s people now say tilt your head forward, otherwise you are just swallowing your own blood and possibly creating a suction that causes more bleeding. Im guessing that people are going to be confused for a while which side to use a cane. I broke my right foot about 6 weeks ago and am now starting to use a cane. I find that using the cane on my right side works best for me (I think this is the old school method). I just find it gives me more support. If I use it in my left hand while swinging my right foot out seems to put me slightly off balance and I’m finding that I’m needing my right foot to balance more than I should even if there may be less pressure on it. I think the “new school” method is a tad dangerous because it throws your weight off and sets you off balance. I know the cane is there to hold some of your weight but the new school method seems to have us putting more wait on the cane than is safe. Also this method works best on crutches when you can balance better. But so far all I can tell with the new school method is that it’s like pretending to use 1 crutch which seems dangerous to me. I also noticed the my right foot is hurting more using the new school method as well. But this is just me. I’m starting to get the impression that use of a cane all depends on the type of injury and other factors. One day I’m certain they will need to be more research on this to determine the right candidate for which use.

August 14, 2012 at 5:07 pm
(10) Andy says:

Serra what a dangerous thing to say!

You’re telling people to ignore their doctors, people who have trained in their profession. Comments like yours could further injure people and result in permanent damage.

November 27, 2012 at 7:22 am
(11) Oscar Blanco says:

I agree, I’ve been using a cane for four years and when I started; I would use it on the injured leg, and that was just causing more pain to my injured leg at night. I then started using on my opposite side as my doctor recommended and have had some pain but not as much.

December 31, 2012 at 8:21 pm
(12) Bradley says:

My wife has MS. Her right leg now drags and doesn’t lift all the time. This has led to more frequent stumbles and falls. She currently uses a cane in her left-hand to help to keep her balance. This is what she had read somewhere and I believe her Doctor might have told her. This doesn’t seem to be working very well. I have suggested that she try putting the cane in her right hand to help with the right leg drag. Of course this doesn’t feel right to her so she doesn’t give it a chance. (The right leg just doesn’t seem to come all the way forward or through a complete motion, which I believe is where it catches on the ground or carpet and then she looses her balance.) Her left leg thank goodness is still fully functional. Does it make any sense to use the cane in the right hand to help to support the right leg drag that is happening more often? It just seems that having something to support her right side when the right leg goes missing would help her to keep her balance… Any thoughts or help would be greatly appreciated. Thank you for your time and consideration.

March 7, 2013 at 8:22 pm
(13) Dixie B. says:

I have several issues with my lower back, mostly on the left side, which has led to pain in the left hip and leg. I use a cane now, and trying it on the left side was not right for me because proper balance was not achieved. The key was the way my right arm would naturally swing forward when moving the left leg forward. So holding the cane in the right hand seems logical to me, bringing the left leg and right arm forward and putting the left leg and the cane down at the same time.

April 15, 2013 at 11:30 am
(14) Lisa Bartins says:

Hi,

I have progressive degenerative disc disease that affects my right arm, neck, and back. Will a cane take some of the stress of the neck/back/arm?

Thanks,
Lisa

June 6, 2013 at 5:00 pm
(15) Glenn says:

I agree with Dixie B. I have lower back pain which spreads to both sides. When my left side hurts more, I hold my cane in my right hand and vice versa. I have less pain using the cane this way. I started using the cane on the same side as my pain, but after some research I realized I was not really using it properly.

June 15, 2013 at 9:41 pm
(16) bkirk says:

Serra-

If you get all of your medical advice from TV, you may not be long for this world. Not necessarily a bad thing from the perspective of Darwinists.

“House” was entertaining but full of inaccuracies and half-truths. Any pre-med student could disprove much of the “science” used on it.

December 13, 2013 at 2:39 am
(17) Cassandra says:

I have impact related bursitis on the right side of my body and was recommended first to use the cane with my left, which put me very far off balance and started to cause problems on my left side while increasing pain on the right. My doctor and I then fooled around with using it on the right side. The trick has been to create a varied twist with how I use the cane as my issue is needing to avoid repetitive movement, not weight. His comment is that each body is different and that you have to find the way that best supports you, allows you to keep alignment and does not make you avoidant of placing weight/using the injured side. It means pain, but a degree of pain is going to happen to retain mobility. My issue is an uncommon diagnosis (my body was struck by a car) but I did notice the difference between a PT therapist who went by the book and a doctor who took the time to help me figure out what was the best for me.

January 16, 2014 at 11:24 pm
(18) Susie says:

I broke my right foot (7 fractures) two months ago, and I am just starting to use the cane after months of immobility. My PT tells me to use my left hand but it is very awkward and I’ve almost lost my balance twice using this method. For me, using the cane in my right hand and putting my weight on the cane instead of my injured foot when I take a step just feels right. The last thing I want to do is lose my balance and risk another fall just trying to use the cane “properly”. Isn’t it possible that different injuries may require different methods to provide stability? After all, the cane is a temporary solution until one can bear weight normally on the injured foot. It is my hope to toss the cane fairly soon anyway and be walking unassisted.

January 21, 2014 at 11:13 pm
(19) Liv says:

I have an injury to my right hip and am now using a cane. I am concerned because everywhere I read it says to place the cane on the opposite side of the injury. So what happens when you are unable to use your left hand (recovering from hand surgery). Would I be ok as long as I use the can on the right side, but move it at the same time as the injured leg?

April 9, 2014 at 5:34 pm
(20) Bob says:

I’ve used a cane for a few years to support my right leg, weakened by nerve damage. I use the cane on my right and can’t even imagine using it on my left. If someone has a cast on their leg or a bandaged ankle and uses a crutch, they use it on the side with the cast or bandage! Obviously you want the cane to take up some of the weight that would otherwise be supported entirely by the bad leg. Picture a three-legged race; for a right-leg injury, the right leg would be the middle one, the leftmost the left leg and the cane the right. Works perfectly. The bad leg is supported by the cane. That’s my way. You’re saying basically that in the same example, the right (bad) leg would be the right-most, the middle the left leg and the left-most the cane. What is the point of the cane? The same amount of weight is being put on the right leg as if the cane weren’t there! (yes, they’d fall over without the cane but that’s not the point). If the cane is on the opposite side of the bad leg, all it can ever possibly do is take weight off of the good leg. While standing it is moot; weight can be taken off of bad right leg by leaning on cane on left or using it to support right leg by putting cane on right and leaning on it. (actually while standing still the left side and might be better). But soon as you WALK, the three-legged-race problem kicks in and there is no way a cane on the left can take weight off of the right leg except when the right leg is in the air. If the cane opposite the bad leg works for you that’s great, but using it on the same side isn’t “wrong”, it is just right for YOU. And if someone can explain how a cane on the opposite side can take any weight off of the opposing leg while walking I’d really like to read it. Thanks!

April 15, 2014 at 7:46 am
(21) Stacie says:

Bob,

The difference isn’t in which side the cane is on, per se, as in your example, but of which way you lean your weight when using the cane.

With an injured right side:

Cane on RIGHT equals leaning right, putting more weight on injury.
Cane on LEFT equals leaning left, thus taking some of your body’s mass away from your injured leg.

I used to utilized the “old” method because that felt and simply seemed more appropriate. It was awkward to transition to the “new” method and did just feel weird and a little unsteady at first, but if your injury is one where you should minimize weight and force exerted on it, I do agree that new method is far more optimal.

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