Using a cane

It is important to start walking soon after a leg injury surgery, but you will need support while your leg is healing. A cane can be used for support if you need only a little help with balance and stability and if your leg is only a little weak or painful.

The 2 main types of canes are those with a single tip and those with four prongs on the bottom. Your surgeon or physical therapist will help you decide which type of cane is best for you, depending on how much support you need.

If you find you are having a lot of pain, weakness, or balance problems talk with your health care provider to see if crutches or a walker would be better for you.

Cane Basics

The most common question about canes is, "Which hand should I hold it in?" The answer is the hand opposite the leg that had surgery.

The tip or all four prongs need to be on the ground before you put your weight on the cane.

Look forward when you walk, not down at your feet.

Make sure your cane has been adjusted to your height:

The handle should be at the level of your wrist.

Your elbow should be slightly bent when you hold the handle.

Choose a cane with a comfortable handle.

Using a chair with armrests can make sitting and standing easier.

Walking and Turning with a Cane

Follow these steps when you walk with a cane:

Stand with a firm grip on your cane.

At the same time that you step forward with your weaker leg, swing the cane the same distance in front of you. The tip of the cane and your forward foot should be even.

Take some of the pressure off your weaker leg by placing pressure on the cane.

Step past the cane with your strong leg.

Repeat. Go slowly -- it may take a while to get used to walking with a cane.

Turn by pivoting on your strong leg, not the weaker leg.

Stepping Up or Down a Step or Curb

Follow these steps when you go up or down one step or a curb:

To go up:

  • Step up with your strong leg first.
  • Place your weight on the strong leg and bring your cane and weaker leg up to meet the strong leg.
  • Use the cane to help your balance.

To go down:

  • Set your cane down below the step.
  • Bring down your operated leg. Use the cane for balance and support.
  • Step your strong leg down next to your operated leg.

If you had surgery on both legs, still lead with your strong leg when going up and your weak leg when going down. Remember, "up with the good, down with the bad."

Going Up or Down a Set of Stairs

If there is a handrail, hold onto it and use your cane in the other hand. Use the same method for a set of stairs that you do for single steps.

Go up the stairs with your stronger leg first, then your weaker leg, and then the cane.

If you are going down the stairs, start with your cane, then your weaker leg, and then your strong leg.

Take the steps one at a time.

When you reach the top, stop for a moment to regain your balance and strength before moving on.

If you had surgery on both legs, lead with your stronger leg when going up and your weaker leg when going down.

Safety tips

Make sure any loose rugs, rug corners that stick up, or cords are secured to the ground so you do not trip or get tangled in them.

Remove clutter and keep your floors clean and dry.

Check the tip or tips of your cane daily and replace them if they are worn. You can get replacement tips at your medical supply store or local drug store.

To prevent falls, wear shoes or slippers with rubber or other non-skid or soles. Do not wear shoes with heels or leather soles.

As you are learning to use your cane, have someone close by to give you extra support if needed.

If you need to carry small items with you, use a small backpack, fanny pack or shoulder bag to keep your hands free while you are walking.

Update Date: 3/8/2011

Updated by: David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.


Notice: The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed physician should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. Copyright 1997-2012, A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.