“It’s in the way that you use it” sang Eric Clapton in his 1986 song of the same name. And when it comes to using a cane to stand up, truer words were never spoken. A recent study indicates that there is a best way to use a cane. The base should be parallel to your ankle. About 37% of stroke patient falls occur while standing up or sitting down. Practicing the method used in this study can reduce the chance that you will fall.
Studying the added value of a cane
This study by Taiwanese researchers involved 30 stroke patients. Researchers asked the patients to stand up from a seated position. There was a force plate under their feet and an electrical weight scale under the cane. These devices measured how much force the patient placed on their feet and how much of their weight they distributed to the cane. Patients began the activity seated on an adjustable wooden chair with no backrest or armrest. Researchers adjusted the chair to a stable, comfortable height for each patient.
Each participant stood up seven times under different conditions. One repetition was without any cane or other assistive device. Three repetitions were with a regular single point cane. First, the patients placed the base of the cane parallel to the ankle. Then, they placed it parallel to the little toe. Finally, they placed it 10cm in front of the little toe. Next, the patients repeated the same three tests they did with a single point cane, but with a quad cane (one with four base points). Patients performed these activities in a randomized order and the canes were adjusted to the patient’s preferred length before the tests.
Results with and without a cane
Using a cane to help stand up was found to reduce the strain on a patient’s legs and feet by three to nine percent of the patient’s body weight. Researchers found that this reduction could easily be the difference between falling and not falling. The type of cane used did not matter. But placement was important. Placing the cane near the ankle produced the best results, reducing stress on the patient’s legs and feet by approximately seven to nine percent of the patient’s body weight. Positioning the cane 10 cm in front of the little toe produced the worst results, only reducing the stress by approximately three percent of the patient’s body weight.
Use whatever cane makes you feel the safest, but place the end of the cane parallel to your ankle. Proper cane placement seems to be the key to reducing falls.
The first author of the original article was Tung-Chou Li, MD, MS, Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, Cathay General Hospital, Taipei, Taiwan, ROC.