Walking canes come in even more varieties than candy canes. Materials, colors and handle styles are a matter of preference. With cane type and size, however, there are options that affect function and safety.

When used correctly, the right cane improves balance and reduces the risk of falling by widening the base of support, as well as decreasing weight on lower-body joints, says Lori Ramage, a physical therapist and the Joint Club Coordinator at Banner Boswell Medical Center in Sun City, Ariz.

Choosing Type and Fit

The most common styles of canes are single point, and quad or three-point canes. Ramage says most people with arthritis need only single-point canes, and those with a neurological impairment are best suited to quad canes, because they can put more weight on them.

When being fitted, wear your walking shoes and stand tall with your arms at your sides. The top or curve of the cane should hit at the crease in your wrist. “If the cane is too high, you won’t get the support you need,” says Ramage. “When the cane is too low, you slump.”

Correct Use When Walking

People often try to use a cane on their weak side. In fact, it goes on the strong side, but moves with the weak side.

“Using the cane in the hand opposite your weakness shifts your body weight to the stronger side,” says Brian Benjamin, a physical therapist and owner of ProActive Physical Therapy and Exercise Center in Fort Collins, Colo.

When walking, he says, place it about 2 inches in front or to the side of you, not way out in front. Move the affected leg and the cane together, so that each side shares the load.

Correct Use on Stairs

To climb stairs, move your good leg first. Follow with your affected leg and cane simultaneously. When going down stairs, put your weak leg forward first, and then follow with the cane and your good leg. “Up with the good, down with the bad” makes this easy to remember, says Ramage.