Harvard Women's Health Watch

Ask the doctor: How do I use a cane?

Q. I recently had a right hip replacement and my doctor says I'm now ready to use a cane. Do you have any recommendations about the best way to use it?

A. Congratulations on your progress! A proper cane can be very helpful. It will reduce pain by taking some of your body's weight off the hip. It can also improve your stability and balance and reduce the demand on muscles and tendons that might still be inflamed or weak after surgery. A cane will get you on your feet and allow you to be more active, helping you strengthen your body and giving you some independence while your hip heals.

To avoid instability and falls, it's important that you select the right cane and use it properly. There are several types: standard, offset, and multi-leg (sometimes called a quad cane). The standard cane has a curved handle (shaped like the letter C) or a T-shaped handle (known as a functional grip cane). A standard cane is good if you need help with balance but the cane doesn't have to bear a lot of weight. An offset cane (the upper part of the shaft bends outward) can bear more weight than a standard cane. An offset cane's handle is usually flat, which makes it a good choice for people whose hands are weak. Multi-leg canes, which have three or four short legs branching from the main shaft, offer the most support. However, all the legs must be solidly planted on the ground with each step, which can slow your pace. One helpful feature of a multi-leg cane is that it can stand on its own when not in use.

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