What is the Difference Between a Walking Stick and Cane?

Should I use a walking stick instead of a cane? Actually what is the difference between a walking stick and a cane and how long should my walking cane be? These important questions are best answered prior to purchase otherwise you could be putting yourself at risk of falls, strains, aches and pains.

Many people who use canes or walkers are using them incorrectly or are using the wrong cane or cane size. Transfer of pressure from a incorrectly sized cane can lead to neck and shoulder muscle tension and headaches.

Canes and Walking Sticks: Is There A Difference?walking sticks and canes

These terms are often used inter-changeably but essentially walking canes are for support and balance whereas walking sticks are mainly for balance.

Both are mobility devices and used in activities of daily living with increasing popularity in exercise walking activities and can be found in the article, walking sticks for hiking.

Here we look at the various styles of a walking stick and cane, when they are used and how long should a walking cane be.

Getting a Handle on Canes and Sticks

Canes and walking sticks are also often distinguished by the shape of the handle. Choices made on the type and shape of handle of the stick or cane will be for comfort for use or about style for a particular look or feel.

  • The handle can be J-shaped (commonly referred to as a tourist walking stick) or T-shaped (called a Derby or Melbourne cane).
  • A cane with a Fritz handle is especially suitable for people with arthritis due to its uneven T-shaped handle that provides a better grip.Walking canes
  • The Fischer cane has a molded grip that follows the contour of the palm and is comfortable for sufferers of carpal tunnel syndrome and arthritis.
  • Canes with ornamental knob handles or metallic cap-stick handles are less function, more fashion, often featuring elaborate designs and fine craftsmanship.
  • Thumb-stick canes with Y-shaped grooved handles are popular with hikers.

Purpose of Walking Canes and Sticks

A cane or walking stick is the least cumbersome of all mobility aids. It provides support and improves balance, but its weight-bearing capacity is limited. A quad cane has four small legs and offers the most stability. Collapsible canes are sturdy enough for daily use, but fold quickly for easy transportation and storage.

Understanding the function of a walking stick or cane and using it correctly will help you derive maximum benefit.

mens walking canes

Choosing the Right Cane and Walking Stick

1. Canes for balance

Selecting a cane based solely on your height is not sufficient. Many other factors should influence your decision, including your body weight, your arm and torso size, and the reason why you need the cane – support versus balance.

2. Cane for Support

If you are going to use a cane for balance, you will probably not require a heavy duty one as it does not need to support your entire body weight. On the other hand, if you have suffered an injury or disability that requires you to keep the weight off a limb, then the cane’s weight guidelines (petite, regular, or extra strength) should direct your choice.

The weight-bearing capacity of the cane is typically indicated on the product in pounds (lbs). To help with balance, single-point canes work well. To support weight, quad-tip canes are more appropriate.

3. Cane for Comfort of Use

Many people find they have to experiment with the grip of a cane before finding the right fit.

walking stick height

With experience, you may find that the most popular Derby handle offers you the maximum comfort.

As discussed above, the Fritz handle is designed for arthritis sufferers who find they can hold it with the least amount of pain in the hand and fingers.

Ergonomic handles are contoured for people with arthritis or carpal tunnel syndrome.

Palm grip handles for the left or right hand offer a comfortable fit by conforming to the natural shape of the hand. Offset handles are used following injuries.

The tourist handle or shepherd’s hook style offers convenience in that the cane can be rested on the arm when not in use.

How Long Should a Walking Cane Be?

The correct length is easily measured in 5 easy steps:

  1. Find someone to help you with the measurements.
  2. Wear the footwear you most commonly use.
  3. Stand upright with a relaxed stance on a hard surface.
  4. Slightly bend the elbow of the hand in which you’ll hold the cane at a 15-20 degree angle.
  5. Find the base of your wrist where it joins your hand (just below the bony prominence on the outer aspect of your wrist), have someone measure from there to the floor.

A cane that is too long can be awkward and may place a strain on your muscles. A cane that is too short may have you listing to one side, putting you at risk for a fall. It is a good idea to order a cane that is 1-2 inches longer than your measured length to allow some adjustment leeway.

If you’re walking cane is a non-adjustable or a fixed length and the vendor does not offer customization, then you will need to cut the cane yourself remembering that canes can be shortened but not lengthened. It is wise to cut about 1/2 an inch longer than your measured length, check for comfort, and then make the final cut.

The other way around this is to purchase an adjustable cane, that is one where the length of the cane that can be lengthened or shortened without loss at any time. There are there many canes today that offer this option in one form or another.

Walking Correctly with a Walking stick or Cane

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Consult your health care provider or physiotherapist to evaluate your individual situation and give you specific instructions on the correct way to hold and walk with a cane.

As a general guideline, however, a cane is held in the hand opposite to the injured side. This helps to reduce weight on the injured knee or hip, for example, while still exercising the recovering limb. To optimize your walking, ensure that the cane touches the ground at the same time as the foot of the injured side.

A cane can be held in either hand (typically the dominant hand) of an individual using it for balance. For best results, you should practice walking so that the cane and the opposite foot hit the ground together.

Professional Help Using Canes for Support

Consult your health care provider or physiotherapist to evaluate your individual situation and give you specific instructions on the correct way to hold and walk with a cane. Some conditions associated with nerve and muscle dysfunction, such as multiple sclerosis (MS), are examples when it is appropriate to hold the cane on the same side as the weakness. In these situations, the cane prevents falls by catching the person mid-step but here it is recommended to seek professional help and guidance in correct walking cane type and use. When the cane is held on the weaker side, it is essential to avoid hobbling in order to prevent undue stress on the shoulders and lower back.

What is the Difference Between a Walking Stick and Cane?

A walking aid increases independence, improves mobility, enhances safety, and strengthens stability, but only when it is sized, fitted, and used correctly. Understanding the purpose of the walking stick or cane and knowing what is the difference between a walking stick and cane, will help find the right one for you.