How To Walk with a Cane (Part 1)

How to walk with a cane when you have osteoarthritis.

Someone asked me today “How do you walk with a cane properly” and I didn’t have a clue so I did a bit of research on how to walk with a cane! I have been helping this lady with her physical therapy for osteoarthritis in her right knee. Quite rightly she uses a walking stick or cane when out and about to help with her balance, to take the pressure off her severely degenerated knee and as she put it “To give people a good poke with when they got in her way!”

How to walk with a cane

Research has been done on how to walk with a cane correctly.

She then asked which side she should use her walking stick: on her bad side (i.e. her right side) or on her good side or in other words how to walk with a cane.

I found this well done piece of research (bit of a small sample though) about how to walk with a cane. It is rather excitingly called “Changes in knee moments with contralateral versus ipsilateral cane usage in females with knee osteoarthritis”. To put that in plain English “How using a cane affects your knee depending on which side you use the cane.”

The background is not too full  with ‘medical jargonise’ as long as you know contralateral means the opposite side and ipsilateral means the same side and that moments of force is how much pressure is going through the worn joint (more pressure = more pain).

Research into how to walk with a cane.

Background. Conservative treatment for osteoarthritis often involves educating the patient in methods of decreasing the load transmitted through the diseased joint. The use of a cane is one such method and the correct placement of the cane with respect to an abnormal knee joint is crucial. The purpose of this study was to compare effects on knee moments of force of contralateral versus ipsilateral cane usage in female subjects with osteoarthritic knees.

They tested each subject without a cane, with a cane on their good side and with a cane on their bad side. They measured how this affected the movement in the hip and in the knee as well as the length of the stride, the rhythm (they refer to as cadence) and speed of walking.

They found that using a stick shortened the stride, reduced the speed and affected the rhythm. No surprises there- that’s all common sense. What did surprise me was the effect using a cane had on both the hip and knee movement. This is what they say:

Interpretation. The results suggest that as is the case for the hip contralateral cane placement is the most efficacious for persons with knee osteoarthritis. In fact, no cane use may be preferable to ipsilateral cane usage as the latter resulted in the highest knee moments of force, a situation which may exacerbate pain and deformity.

In other words using the cane benefited both the hip and knee movement when used on the opposite side. But when placed on the same side actually INCREASED the forces through the knee because it  adversely altered the hip and knee movement.

So if you use a walking stick or cane use it on the SAME side as your bad knee or hip you might be causing your pain to increase and actually increase the rate of osteoarthritis progression.

I hope that answers your question on How to Walk with a Cane. You must use it on the opposite side i.e. on your good side. I have added more information on how to walk with a cane here.

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10 Responses to How To Walk with a Cane (Part 1)

  1. Jon Parker says:

    Ok so we use it on the opposite side but where do we place the cane, especaially when doing difficult stuff like going up and down stairs. Not enough info!

  2. Dr. Sophie says:

    How to walk with your cane part 2 now posted. I hope it helps!

  3. Dan P. says:

    Excellent article on walking with a cane. We get this question all the time from visitors to our site. I’ve always assumed that you use a cane on your good side, reasoning that while you are moving your good leg, the body’s weight is temporarily supported by a “wide stance” with the cane on one side and the bad leg on the other. This wide stance gives you much better stability and more leverage in moving the good leg while supporting the bodies weight equally over the cane and the bad leg. Thus making it easier to walk. Thanks for sharing your research.
    Carved Wood Canes at http://www.CarvedWalkingSticks.com

  4. Dr. Sophie says:

    Cool walking stick! I like the fox one so I will be on to you guys when I get to that stage!

  5. gail says:

    hi I found I could not walk or put weight on my right leg quite suddenly. I have to use a cane and Iam afraid that I may not be able to work much longer. Any hints on dulling the pain. thank you gail

    • sophie says:

      Hi Gail,

      That doesn’t sound like OA. OA does not have an acute onset so I suggest you go to your Doctor to get properly diagnosed.

      I hope that helps.

      Dr. Sophie

  6. Gayle says:

    “So if you use a walking stick or cane use it on the SAME side as your bad knee or hip you might be causing your pain to increase and actually increase the rate of osteoarthritis progression.”

    Is “use it” in the first line a typo? The sentence is confusing otherwise.

    • Dr. Sophie says:

      Sorry- I was always better at science than English! Your statement is correct. Use your cane on the opposite side.

  7. Derek says:

    I have been diagnosed with osteoarthritis in the back my pain is unbearable and am now waiting for nerve block injections but will a cane help with the walking untill the injections or possibly surgery the consultant said may have to have if injections don’t work the dr says I may need some screws in my back if this does not work as I have had these nerve block injections before any help would be much appreciated
    Thank you

    • Dr. Sophie says:

      I am happy to help in any way I can. I have sent you an email as I am sure you don’t want your medical history aired publically!

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