Although some people think about using a cane and scoff, they can be a super effective tool for off-loading a painful leg (e.g. osteoarthritis of the knee/hip, post-operation, fracture). In fact, a cane can reduce the compression forces at the affected limb, as well as the exertion required from the associated muscles.
There’s a couple things to keep in mind when using your standard single point cane or single crutch that we often correct and those are: which hand do you hold it in, and how tall does it need to be?
A lot of people we see coming through the clinic assume that they must use their cane or crutch in the same hand as their painful leg, but often complain that they don’t find it very helpful and can often exacerbate their symptoms. Well in fact they’re right, holding a cane on the same side while walking can actually increase joint forces which in turn may result in further discomfort. The answer is to hold the cane or crutch in the opposite hand, and plant the crutch along with your painful leg to offload the affected structure. Some people think of it as quite unnatural, however they often find their walking pattern actually feels more normal than before. This is because you are actually leaning away from the painful leg when used properly and supporting as much as 20% of your body weight with the cane.
Next, how tall should your cane be? Put it too low and you’ll have to hunch over to meet it, too high and it won’t be an effective weight bearing tool. The rule of thumb is that when your arm is hanging by your side and you’re standing up tall, the handle of the cane or crutch should be approximately at wrist height so that as you’re walking with it you have a slight bend in your elbow. Most modern canes and crutches are easily adjustable, however keep an eye out for fixed height or wooden canes as one size does not fit all.
Hopefully that helps provide a better understanding of canes and single crutch use, whether it’s for yourself, a friend, or family member. If you’re still unsure and would like further input, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or come by the clinic with your questions. Happy trails!