How to use canes, crutches, and walkers

How To Properly Use Crutches, Canes, And Walkers

In Wellness by Alnoor Ladhani, Chiropodist

Nobody expects to experience an injury or illness that restricts their mobility, but it does happen. Thankfully, there are walking aids that make it easier to get through these difficult times like canes, crutches, and walkers.

There are all kinds of reasons people need walking aids. Surgical recovery, a broken bone, nerve damage, back pain, sprains, and arthritis are just some of the reasons people use walking aids.

Walking aids are generally affordable and readily available at just about every drug store across America, but the people who need them don’t always know how to use them.

It’s important to use the right size walking aid, or use an adjustable aid on the correct setting. It’s equally as important to have the knowledge of how to properly walk with it.

Here are some tips for properly using crutches, canes, and walkers so you can speed up your recovery time, and avoid further injury:

1. Using a Cane Correctly

How to properly use a cane

Canes are a great way to relieve pressure on your knees and hips if you suffer from arthritis, and they can also provide the stability needed to improve your balance. When used properly, canes decrease the load placed on the joints in your lower body and can prevent unnecessary falls.

If you’ve seen the TV series House, you may have noticed that Dr. House used his cane on the same side as his injury. You’d think that’s the proper way to use a cane since the objective is to relieve as much pressure from the injury as possible. However, using a cane on your weak side doesn’t help as much as you might think.

In order to be properly supported by a cane, you should be using it on the side of your body opposite from your injury or weakness. For example, if your right leg is injured then you want to use the cane on the left side of your body. Using a cane in the hand opposite from your injury is what shifts your weight to your stronger side.

Walking Correctly with a Cane

Walking with a cane is slightly different from walking normally because you need to coordinate your movements to maximize the relief of pressure from your injured side. Your cane should move a couple inches out in front of you at the same time as your injured leg so they both share the balance of the weight. In other words, when you step out with your injured leg, your cane should be “stepping out” as well.

When walking with a cane, your steps should be short and slow, so as not to increase the amount of distance you need to step with the leg on your injured side.

If you;ve been using your cane on your weak side, experiment and switch to the other side to see how much of a difference it makes.

Choosing the Right Type of Cane

Canes come in a variety of shapes, sizes, materials, tips, and handles. Selecting the one that’s right for your needs is important. Single point canes are most common, but they don’t always provide enough support. Depending on how well you can balance or how much weight you need to put on your cane, you might be better off with a quad point or tri point cane for more stability.

The height of the cane matters, too. When you’re choosing a cane, stand up straight with your normal walking shoes on and your arms down by your sides. The top part of the cane should come up to your wrist. Canes that are too high won’t provide enough support because you can’t lean down on them. Canes that are too short will cause you to hunch over and potentially develop an additional problem with your back.

2. Using Crutches Correctly

Crutches can be dangerous when used incorrectly; unfortunately, many people don’t get the proper instruction and experience pain in their armpits or a sore back.

Crutches are, first and foremost, only a safe option if you have adequate upper body strength and the flexibility to maneuver them. They’re also only a good option if your injury is on one leg because you’ll need to use the other leg while getting around.

Selecting Your Crutch Size

How to get the right size crutches

Most drug store crutches are adjustable and will tell you on the label what height range they can be adjusted for. When using crutches, the padding at the top should be about an inch or two below your armpit when you’re standing up straight. The handles you grab should be at your hip so that when you grab onto them, your elbows become slightly bent.

Walking With Crutches

Walking with crutches requires moving both crutches out in front of you about a foot. Grabbing onto the handles and supporting yourself with your hands (not your armpits), keep your injured leg off the floor and with your weight resting on your hands, move yourself forward, landing on your good leg. Even though it’s padded, your armpit should never touch the top of the crutch.

3. Using a Walker Correctly

Walkers come with or without wheels, and while it may seem like wheels would be the best option, sometimes stationary walkers can be the better option, depending on your personal needs.

Just like canes and crutches, walkers need to be the right height or you could risk injuring your spine. When holding onto your walker, your elbows should bend in a comfortable position. With your arms at your sides, the top of your walker’s handles should be at the same height as your wrists. You don’t want to stoop over or reach too high. Most wheeled walkers have both adjustable handles and legs so you can get the right height.

Walking Correctly with a Walker

How to set your walker to the right height

When using a stationary walker, place the walker slightly ahead of you, and then step into it. Repeat this pattern of walking slowly and keeping your eyes looking ahead until you reach your destination. Remember not to put the walker too far out ahead so you don’t have to lean forward too much.

When using a wheeled walker (also called a rollator), the same height requirements apply. Just make sure the brakes are engaged before you use it to stand up and before you sit down.

If you’re using a walking aid to improve your mobility, custom orthotics can also be a great additional support for your back and your feet.

Contact us today for a consultation to see how custom orthotics can help you maintain proper posture and preserve the health of your spine and feet.