I often use a hiking stick in the woods. I search for a branch that is relatively straight, about four feet long, smooth where my hand will rest, and withstands a fair amount of pressure. I can attest to its value to relieve the pressure on my back and legs during long hikes, especially going up and down hills. Whether using a hiking stick, walking poles, a cane or any other mobility device, choosing the right one can make your treks more safe and enjoyable.
There are literally thousands of cane styles, materials, shapes, colors and sizes. Add the diversity of grips and tips, and you can have a real project in selecting a cane that works best for you.
The good folks at the Mayo Clinic have provided a simple guide for choosing and using a cane. As they suggest, ask your doctor or physical therapist for suggestions on the kind of cane to choose. You may have to try a few before finding the right one. And you may need more than one for different uses.
Tips. Most people do well with a cane that has a single tip. A quad cane, which has four tips, can provide a broader base of support but is often more awkward to use.
Grips. Consider a foam grip or a grip that's shaped to fit your hand. Choose a larger grip if you have trouble grasping with your fingers because of arthritis or other joint pains. If your hand or fingers get numb or are in pain when using a cane, then choose a grip that is a better fit for your hand.
Height. With the cane in your hand, your elbow should bend at a comfortable angle, about 15 degrees. You might bend your elbow slightly more if you're primarily using the cane for balance. With your arm hanging straight down at your side, the top of your cane should line up with the crease in your wrist.
Walking with your cane. Your cane should be held in the hand opposite your weak or painful leg. Move the cane in unison with the affected leg. Each time you step with the affected leg, move the cane, too — to give you support as you walk. When you step forward with the unaffected leg, keep the cane in place.
Using a cane on steps. Be careful when using steps with a cane. If you have an injury or disability affecting one leg, grasp the railing — if possible — and step up with your unaffected leg first. Then step up with your other leg as you move the cane. To move down steps, put your cane on the lower step first, then your affected leg and then your other leg — which carries your body weight.
Check the tip. Make sure the rubber tip is supple and the tread is in good shape. If the tip looks worn, buy a replacement.
Whether you are walking in the woods or the city, in your house or on the lawn, a properly selected and used cane can make your journey more comfortable, enjoyable and safe.
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