How to Choose a Cane or Walker

Spine pain can make walking a challenge, but assistive devices can keep you moving.

If you have a spine condition that impacts your ability to walk or have recently undergone spine surgery, using a cane or walker may help you maintain your independence. Canes and walkers are simple in design, but they come with big benefits: They improve your balance, prevent falls, and take pressure off your back.

Many types of assistive walking devices are available today, and the tips below will help you select the best cane or walker for you.
Man walking with a caneWhich Should You Get: a Cane or a Walker?
When choosing a device to help you move better, you have options. But, knowing the best type for you can be challenging. You should talk with your health care provider (it could be your primary care physician, nurse, physical therapist, or other professional who is familiar with your care) to discuss what device you should get.

Canes and walkers have their own pros and cons. Here are some things to consider if you’re deciding between a cane and a walker:

  • Why are you getting the device in the first place? Canes are generally ideal for problems that occur on one side of the body (if you experience sciatica in one leg, for example), while walkers are better suited for pain that occurs on both sides (if you have weakness in both your legs, for instance).
  • How much of your weight must the device support? Canes can support up to 25 percent of your weight, while some walkers can support up to 50 percent of your weight.
  • How much stability do you need in a device? Walkers provide ultimate stability, but four-point canes also support healthy balance and spine safety.
  • How much flexibility do you need in a device? Walkers should not be used on stairs, so a cane may be a better choice if you want the flexibility to go up and down stairs.

Woman using a walkerTime to Buy: Key Considerations and Questions to Ask
When you’ve decided what type of walking device you’ll purchase, you’ll then have to decide which type to buy and make sure the fit is right for you. Don’t worry, you won’t have to make these decisions alone: Your health care provider will help you find the right product that fits correctly, and will show you how to properly use it.

Below are some things to think about when buying a cane or walker.

Canes

Generally, canes fall into one of three categories:

  1. Standard: This is the simplest type of cane and usually comes with a comfortable T-shaped handle. It can help with balance, but it won’t be able to bear much weight.
  2. Offset: If you need a cane that can support more of your weight than a standard cane—or if you have a weak grip—an offset cane may help. It features a flat grip, and the upper shaft of the cane can bend outward.
  3. Multiple-legged: As the name suggests, multiple-legged canes have more than one leg. These canes offer maximum stability, which is important if preventing falls and spinal fractures are your goals. However, more legs means this cane can be a bit awkward to use at first.

Questions to ask when purchasing and using a cane:

  • What should I know about choosing a grip? There’s no right or wrong grip—it’s really up to you what feels most comfortable. As a rule of thumb, though, larger grips are best suited for people who have joint problems, and foam grips or grips that mold to your hand tend to be widely popular.
  • How do I know if the grip I chose isn’t right? If you start feeling numbness, tingling, or pain in your hands, you should talk to your doctor or physical therapist.
  • Where can I purchase a cane? Canes are available at medical supply stores and pharmacies. You may also purchase a cane online.
  • How can I learn how to properly use my cane? Talk to your physical therapist or doctor when you’re thinking about purchasing a cane. They will help ensure the cane fits you correctly, and they will teach you how to use your cane. Working with a health care professional to achieve the right fit is extremely important—if your grip isn’t comfortable, or if your cane is too long or too short, the cane can end up doing more harm than good.

Walkers

Like canes, walkers generally fall into one of three models:

  1. Standard: Standard walkers have four rubber-tipped legs, and provide support and stability. But, because there are no wheels on this type of walker, you will need to pick the walker up to move forward.
  2. Front-wheeled walkers: This type of walker has two wheels in front and two non-wheel legs in back. You won’t need to pick up this walker to move, so you won’t use as much energy.
  3. Four-wheeled walkers: Walkers with four wheels move easiest, but it can be difficult to put your weight on that type of walker. Some models may come with breaks or a seat.

Questions to ask when purchasing and using a walker:

  • What should I know about choosing a grip? Walker grips are typically made of hard plastic, non-slip rubber, or flexible foam—so it’s really up to you to choose whatever is most comfortable. 
  • Do I need to prepare my home before I get a walker? Your walker may snag on rugs or bump into furniture, so it’s a good idea to ask someone to come to your home and move these objects to help accommodate your walker.
  • Where can I purchase a walker? Walkers are available at medical supply stores and pharmacies. You may also purchase a walker online.
  • How can I learn how to properly use my walker? Using your walker may not feel comfortable at first. Movements that were once easy, such as going from a sitting to standing position, may take some time to feel normal again. Talk to your doctor or physical therapist about the right way to use your walker and to help you develop strategies to comfortably improve your mobility.

Don’t Let Spine Pain Slow You Down
Walking assistive devices, such as canes and walkers, can help you move comfortably after spine surgery or allow you to maintain your independence if you’ve been living with a chronic spine condition.

Updated on: 06/28/17
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