But, do canes actually help you walk, or are the benefits all in your head? Read on to find out what scientific studies have to say about the benefits of using a walking cane!
Types of Walking Canes
Single-Point Walking Canes
Think of the most traditional wooden cane with a “C”-shaped handle- that is a single-point cane. These canes are still sometimes made from wood, though aluminum, carbon fiber, and plastic are more common. Inexpensive and effective, single-point canes are most often used by seniors who have trouble with their walking gait. People with balance issues also use them, but single-point canes aren’t the best walking cane in terms of balance.
Studies of different types of canes found that single-point canes were the least helpful in terms of balance but were the most efficient for walking at normal speeds. If posture and walking motion are your chief concern, a single-point cane is likely the best choice for you.
Quad Walking Canes
Anyone who struggles with balance will be best served by a quad walking cane. Instead of the single rubber point at the bottom, these canes branch out and have 4 different feet. Quad canes provide excellent stability that helps seniors stay upright no matter where they are.
A quad cane is the best for people who have balance issues; they provide the most stability of any type of cane. The trade-off is that quad canes aren’t going to help you move quickly because they are heavier and bulkier than other walking canes. If slow and steady is more your style, a quad cane is perfect for you.
These canes are similar to quad canes, but they only have 3 points at the bottom instead of four. Tripod canes, in clinical studies, were found to achieve an ideal balance between balance/stability and walking speed. They provide more stability than single-point canes but they aren’t as heavy or bulky as quad canes; tripod canes are almost like a “hybrid” cane that is a jack of all trades and master of none. They’re less stable than quad canes, but they’re still much better than single-point canes for balance and stability purposes.
Ergonomic Grip Walking Canes
These canes have handles designed to fit perfectly in your hand, making them easier to grip tightly and rest on. If you put a lot of pressure on your cane, you may want to find a model with an ergonomic grip to avoid slipping or soreness.
You can get an ergonomic handle with any type of cane (tripod, quad, or single-point). In this way, ergonomic canes are more of a subcategory than a standalone category of walking cane.
Benefits of Walking Canes, According to Scientific Research
If you have pain resulting from knee osteoarthritis, a cane can reduce your pain according to a study from 2012. Subjects in that study used a cane daily for two months and experienced decreased pain and improved walking motion.
Another study confirmed this positive relationship between cane use and pain reduction. The results were the same for people with knee osteoarthritis regardless of which type of cane (single-point or quad) that they used.
If you experience any kind of chronic pain in your legs, using a walking cane may be able to help. They reduce the amount of weight your joints are carrying and help keep them from getting stiff and sore.
In patients with hemiparesis (partial paralysis), the use of a cane has been shown to significantly increase stability and balance. Canes provide what can essentially be thought of as a third leg, increasing your ability to balance yourself without the same amount of muscle control. Think of it like bicycles and tricycles; one of them can stand upright without assistance, the other cannot.
Cane use improves your “postural sway”, something that is important when it comes to your body’s natural sense of balance. If you are finding it harder to balance yourself in normal situations like walking and standing, a cane may be able to help you regain that balance and move about like you used to.
Quad canes are also proven to be the most effective at helping people achieve better balance and stability. The stability they provide makes them valuable for all seniors, especially stroke patients and people with partial paralysis or who suffer from limited motor function.
Gait/Walking Pattern Correction
There are many things that can cause your natural gait to become abnormal and unhealthy. Injuries, arthritis, strokes, sciatica, and certain diseases make it harder to walk in a pattern that is ergonomically correct.
A 2005 study found that stroke patients who used canes were able to achieve normal walking patterns when patients who did not use a walking cane could not. A similar study conducted by Arthritis Care and Research found that the benefits of using a cane for correcting walking patterns were noticed immediately- it took no time at all for the positive effects to be noticed.
Canes take the pressure off of your joints and help ease the load that they are carrying. If you have had a hip replacement, this load reduction is crucial. Patients of hip replacements are encouraged to use a cane any time they are carrying any load other than their own bodyweight.
Using a cane decreases the load on your hip abductor muscles, allowing them to be used more efficiently and safely. This is true for people who have had hip replacements but also for anyone who has ever dealt with chronic hip pain.
If you have osteoarthritis in your knees, using a cane has a similar effect. Canes reduce the load placed on your knees, helping to relieve stiffness, swelling, and pain. If you have chronic knee pain as a result of osteoarthritis, getting a cane might be one of the smartest treatment options available to you!
Canes are more than just a perceived benefit; they are scientifically proven to make walking independently safer and more efficient. Have you used a cane in the past? Considering getting a cane for yourself or a loved one? Leave your questions and thoughts below, and, as always, thanks for reading!