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Using a cane - knee


It is important to start walking soon after your knee injury or surgery, but you will need support while your knee is healing. A cane can be used for support if you need only a little help with balance and stability and if your knee is only a little weak or painful.

The two main types of canes are those with a single tip and those with 4 prongs on the bottom. Your surgeon or physical therapist will help you decide which type of cane is best for you, depending on how much support you need.

If you find you are having a lot of pain, weakness, or balance problems, talk with your health care provider to see if crutches or a walker would be better for you.

Cane basics

  • The most common question about canes is, "Which hand should I hold it in?" You should hold the cane in the hand opposite the weak knee. So, if your right knee is weak, you should hold your cane in your left hand.
  • The tip or all 4 prongs of the cane need to be on the ground before you put your weight on the cane.
  • Look ahead when you walk, not down at your feet.
  • Choose a cane with a comfortable handle.
  • Using a chair with armrests can make sitting and standing easier.

Also, make sure your cane has been adjusted to your height:

  • Your elbow should be slightly bent when you hold the handle.
  • The handle should be at the level of your wrist when your elbow is slightly bent.

Walking and turning with a cane

Follow these steps when you walk with a cane:

  1. Stand with a firm grip on your cane.
  2. At the same time that you step forward with the weak leg, swing the cane the same distance in front of you. The tip of the cane and your forward foot should be even.
  3. Place pressure on the cane to take some of the pressure off the weak leg.
  4. Step past the cane with your strong leg.
  5. Repeat. Go slowly -- it may take a while to get used to walking with a cane.
  6. Turn by pivoting on your strong leg, not your weak leg.

Stepping up or down a step or curb

Follow these steps when you go up or down one step or a curb:

To go up:

  • Step up with your strong leg first.
  • Place your weight on the strong leg and bring your cane and the weak leg up to meet the strong leg.
  • Use the cane to help your balance.

To go down:

  • You can go down with your weak leg first if you need to go down stairs one at a time.
  • Set your cane down below the step.
  • Bring down your weak leg. Use the cane for balance and support.
  • Step your strong leg down next to your weak leg.

If you had surgery on or injured both knees, still lead with your strong leg when going up and your weak leg when going down. Remember, "up with the good, down with the bad."

Going up or down a set of stairs

  • If there is a handrail, hold onto it and use your cane in the other hand. Use the same method for a set of stairs that you do for single steps.
  • Go up the stairs with your stronger leg first, then your weaker leg, and then the cane.
  • If you are going down the stairs, start with your cane, then your weak leg, and then your strong leg.
  • Take the steps one at a time.
  • When you reach the top, stop for a moment to regain your balance and strength before moving on.
  • If you had surgery on or injured both knees, lead with your stronger leg when going up and your weaker leg when going down.

Safety tips

  • Make sure any loose rugs, rug corners that stick up, or cords are secured to the ground, so you do not trip or get tangled in them.
  • Remove clutter and keep your floors clean and dry.
  • Check the tip or tips of your cane daily and replace them if they are worn. You can get replacement tips at your medical supply store or local drugstore.
  • To prevent falls, wear shoes or slippers with rubber or other non-skid or soles. DO NOT wear shoes with heels or leather soles.
  • As you are learning to use your cane, have someone close by to give you extra support if you need it.
  • If you need to carry small items with you, use a small backpack, fanny pack, or a shoulder bag to keep your hands free while you are walking. Don't try to use the cane and hold things in the same hand.
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Review Date: 8/9/2018

Reviewed By: C. Benjamin Ma, MD, Professor, Chief, Sports Medicine and Shoulder Service, UCSF Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, San Francisco, CA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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