Choosing the Right Mobility Device (part 2)

By Sandy Daughen

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Canes and Crutches

Mobility devices are one way that seniors can keep active. Using the appropriate mobility device can allow one to continue to be mobile, both in the community, safely complete the activities they need to do, and maintain their leisure and fitness.

Canes, crutches and walkers are the three main types of walking aids on the market that provide the proper support for safe, independent walking.  This issue, we will focus on canes and crutches.


A cane provides the least stability of all the walking aids.  Its main use is to provide assistance with balance and to decrease weight on an injured or weak leg.

The correct height for any cane is level with your wrist when you are standing tall, arms hanging at your side.

A standard or straight cane is the most commonly used type of cane, and the adjustable height version will provide you with the most options.  This cane is best if you need firm support and assistance getting up and down from a chair.

Although the unique hand-crafted walking stick may be a cherished favorite, it belongs best as a display piece, rather than used as a cane!

You can also consider trying a cane with an offset handle, which centers the line of force through the shaft to the tip, and can provide better stability.  You can even choose an adjustable height folding cane, which is designed for travel and storage, and will fit in your suitcase. 

A “quad” or 4-piont cane is similar to a straight cane, but has four feet at the base of the cane.  People who need maximum weight bearing and support often choose this cane.

The quad base offers extra stability with a balanced, lower center of gravity, and an offset handle.  The base comes in three sizes; small medium and large.

A smaller base allows for more clearance of your feet, while a larger base offers extra stability.  This type of cane tends to be used by seniors during and after recovery from a stroke.  Although they provide more stability than a standard cane, if you need a significant amount of support, you might be safer with a walker. 

Some general points to remember when using a cane:

            *As a general rule, hold the cane in your hand opposite to your affected leg and cane, then move the good leg forward one step length.  This is the safest way to walk with your cane.

            *When negotiating a set of stairs, go up the stairs by leading with your bad leg.  I teach my clients to remember this rule with the saying, “good legs go to heaven, bad legs go to hell.” And always remember to use the hand rail!

            *When getting out of a chair, slide the foot of your bad leg forward a little, push out of the chair using the bad leg forward a little, push out of the chair using the hand on your weight on the good leg.  Use the cane to support your weight over the bad leg.


Crutches are designed to be used to completely or partially take your weight off one leg.  Crutches come in two styles –axilla (armpit) or forearm.  Crutches are not often recommended for seniors, as they require good balance and strength.

Sandy Daughen is a registered Occupational Therapist.

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