How to adjust your cane

Walk cautiously in the snow! An even better idea: Stay indoors.

The Senior Times welcomes guest writer Marla Nayer, PhD. Nayer is a physical therapist.

One of my pet peeves is watching people use canes that are adjusted incorrectly.

On many occasions I have gone up to people on the street, introduced myself, and offered to adjust their cane to the correct height. They find the adjustment makes using their cane more comfortable.

When a cane is too short, you lean to the side, which could strain your back. When a cane is too high, your elbows are bent too much, making the arm work harder from a disadvantaged position.

Using the cane on the wrong side is the second-most-common issue I see. A cane is held in the hand opposite the injured limb. If your right leg is injured, the cane goes in the left hand. Why? So that you lean away from the injured leg. This minimizes the limp and decreases the strain on your back.

With the arm hanging down at your side (NOT holding the cane), the top of the cane should be even with your wrist. Then, once you take hold of the cane, your elbow will be bent just a touch—enough to give optimum pressure through your hand as you use the cane.

When adjusting the cane, wear the shoes you will be wearing most often. This way, the cane will be adjusted most accurately.

If it is Great Uncle Henry’s cane and Great Uncle Henry was five inches taller than you, please go buy another. Wooden canes must be cut to size, while metal ones are easily adjustable. If you have any questions, consult with a physical therapist.

Crutches, anyone?

Wear the shoes you will be wearing most often so the crutches are accurately adjusted.

Crutches come in pairs; they are meant to be used that way. If you are good enough to manage with a single walking aide, get a cane. (If you insist on using a single crutch, put it on the opposite side to the injury, as you would with a cane.)

Crutches generally come as large, medium and small. A pair that is large, perhaps for a gentleman who is 6’2”, is not going to be adjustable for a woman who is 5’2”. Metal crutches are easier to adjust than wooden ones, but there is no difference in how they function.

With arms hanging down at your side and the crutch under the arm, there should be room for two or three fingers (held vertically) between the top of the crutch and the bottom of the armpit. If there is too much room, lengthen the crutch; too little room, lower the crutch. Remember, you don’t want pressure on the armpit (you could put your whole arm to sleep) and you don’t want to be leaning over forward to be able to reach the hand grips.

With your arm hanging down at your side (not holding the crutch) the handgrip for the crutches should be even with your wrist.

Increase comfort by using pads at the top of the crutch and the handgrip. If you have pads, they must be in place when you adjust the crutches. If you put them on later, recheck the adjustment.

Don’t assume that just because you were given the crutches or cane at a hospital emergency room or clinic that they are adjusted correctly. Take responsibility for understanding how to adjust them. The first day you use the crutches you might be in pain and walking hunched over. The next day, when you are feeling better, you will walk more upright and the crutches might be too short.

Finally, if the doctor says the injured leg must not bear weight, then no weight is allowed on that leg. If he says “weight bearing as tolerated,” that means you may put as much weight on that leg as you are comfortable with.

“Partial weight bearing” means some weight. “Feather weight bearing” means that if there is a feather under your foot, someone should be able to pull it out—you can touch your foot down gently for balance, but do not put weight on it.


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