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When Do You Know It is Time for a Walking Cane? 8 Signs You Need to Use a Cane

By jwilder

When Do You Know It is Time for a Walking Cane

Have you noticed that you are struggling to walk with proper mechanics, or feeling any lingering pain in your joints?

Does standing still cause sharp pains in your knees and hips?

These are just a few of the reasons you may need to start using a cane. Walking canes may not be groundbreaking technology, but they are dependable and helpful - more than 15% of all seniors use one. If you’ve been wondering “when do you know it is time for a walking cane?”, read our 8 helpful tips below!

Types of Walking Canes

“C” Canes

These canes are the least expensive and most common example of a cane. C canes were the most common type of cane around until very recently. The classic wooden cane with a “C”-shaped handle provides a decent amount of stability for a very low price. These canes also allow you to move faster than heavier quad canes and walkers.

Quad Walking Cane

Quad canes are known less for their grip/handle than they are for their base. At the bottom of the cane, four small legs with rubber feet spread out to provide excellent balance and stability. These canes are very popular with people who have light-moderate mobility and balance issues because they’re much harder to tip over.

Ergonomic Grip Cane

If you’re someone who needs their cane for balance to avoid a fall or puts a lot of weight on their cane, a product with an ergonomic grip is perfect for you. Ergonomic grips are softer, designed to fit the shape of your hand, and are easier to grab onto at a moment’s notice for balance. These canes may or may not have quad designs on the bottom, too, making them ideal choices for most seniors.

Signs You Need to Use a Walking Cane

1. You Have Abnormal Gait

If you have a limp or drag one of your feet, you need to consider getting a cane right away. When you develop an abnormal walking gait, it’s a sign that your body is trying to respond to an injury or problem area in your legs or spine. As a result of these adjustments, you can develop more problems such as back pain.

For example, a limp that arises from your left knee puts extra pressure on your right leg - in the hip, knee, and ankle. Over time, that small limp can develop into a major problem. Getting a cane to help fix your walking gait is a cheap and effective way to accommodate minor issues before they turn serious.

2. You Have Trouble Balancing

Canes are ideal for people with balance issues. No matter where those issues come from, whether it be a fall or injury, a medical condition, or a lack of muscular strength, a good cane will be there to keep you upright.

3. You Have Had a Stroke or Mini-Stroke

Strokes and mini-strokes cause numbness and weakness in your limbs, leading to poor balance and an increased risk of falls. If you or a loved one has recently had one of these medical events, getting a cane for balance and stability is an excellent and sometimes necessary step to take. They are recommended for stroke patients to safely achieve normal walking motions.

4. You Have an Overreliance on One Foot

Next time you’re standing still for more than a few minutes, pay attention to the way that you stand. Are you heavily relying on one foot to avoid pain in one of your joints? This is something many people do subconsciously, and it’s a sign that a cane might be a good idea. They can help you avoid overreliance on one foot and instead balance your weight when standing more appropriately.

5. You Have a Bad Back

Back pain can be caused by poor walking gait. If you’ve got sciatica or other lower back issues, the way you walk and stand may be to blame. Getting a cane takes the pressure off of your legs and your spine, preventing tightness and pain.

6. You Have Chronic Joint Pain

If you consistently experience pain in your knees and ankles while walking, you may benefit from some assistance in the form of a cane. The cane will reduce the load your joints are bearing, helping you walk further with less pain!

7. You Consistently Rely on Handrails/Supports

This is a tell-tale sign that you need support. The more you are leaning on furniture and railings, the more obvious your need for a cane is. If your leg/back issues make it hard to stand or walk without support, you are the exact type of person that canes are developed for!

8. You Have Arthritis in Your Legs or Back

Osteoarthritis, particularly in the knees, causes tremendous pain and stiffness. If you have this condition, a cane can keep your knees and joints feeling looser and more pain-free. Canes used by people with knee osteoarthritis can benefit greatly with improved gait and posture, as well as reduced disease progression.

Pros and Cons of Using a Walking Cane


  • Improved Balance: If you experience shaky or weak knees, vertigo, or any other balance issue, a cane is a great way to stay safe at all times. Whenever you feel yourself losing your balance, your cane will be there to prop you up!
  • Faster Walking: Believe it or not, canes can actually help you walk faster than you could without one! If you are struggling to walk under your own power, using a cane will help you move more quickly and safely than you have in a long time.
  • Reduced Pain: If you have osteoarthritis that causes chronic knee, hip, or ankle pain, using a cane to reduce the load they carry and keep the pain at bay.
  • Greater Freedom of Mobility: Canes and other mobility aids give seniors more freedom over their movements because they don’t have to rely on safety railings or furniture to get around. If you use a cane, you can also walk more confidently, with far less concern about falls.


  • Risk of Injury: Using a cane that is the wrong size can lead to further injury. In the same way, misusing a cane (leaning on it too much, using it on the wrong side, etc) can also contribute to pain/discomfort while walking.
  • Fall Risk: Canes that are the wrong height also contribute to poor balance and increase the risk of falls. If you cannot adjust the height of your cane and it doesn’t fit your body, you may be better off without using a cane at all.

Does Medicare Cover Walking Canes?

Medicare Part B covers items that fall into a category called “Durable Medical Equipment” (DME). Medicare will pay 80% of the cost of the item; the other 20% will be paid out of pocket or by supplemental coverage. In order to be classified as DME, an item must:

  • Be medically necessary,
  • Have an expected life of at least 5 years before needing to be replaced,
  • And be prescribed by a doctor.

In most cases, canes will qualify as DME- if you have a doctor’s prescription, that is. If you don’t have the prescription, you can either make an appointment to get one, or simply pay for the cane out of pocket. Because most canes are rather inexpensive, paying full price is typically doable (albeit not preferable).

Tips for Buying the Best Walking Cane for Your Needs

  • Height Matters: Getting a cane that fits you is crucial to getting all the benefits of using one. Make sure that the length of the cane is roughly equivalent to your inseam so that you won’t be stooping over when you lean on it.
  • Quad vs Single-Point Canes: Quad canes will cost a bit more, but they provide a lot more stability. Single-point canes (canes with a traditional rubber bottom) are less expensive and better suited to people who struggle less with balance issues and more with abnormal walking gait.


Using a cane may not be the most exciting prospect, but it can be very beneficial. If you identify with any of the seven signs that you need a walking cane, we recommend you start browsing for the cane that fits you sooner rather than later. Have any questions about knowing when it’s time to use a walking cane? Leave them in the comments section below!

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