Mobility aids: Walking sticks

A four-legged (quad) walking stick

Walking sticks or canes are a very common mobility aid used by those recovering from a stroke – not by all. Obviously, canes can give only support; that means the recovering individuals should be able to stand and walk with support. A physiotherapist should decide this. Research has shown that canes improve walking ability further. Not only that, but it also boosts self-confidence and social interactions. Other than its use as a walking aid, canes have several other practical applications such as using it as a tool to turn a switch on and off, to reach small utensils.


Moblity aids (canes, walkers) should be promoted to improve gait and balance.

Guidelines for adult stroke rehab and recovery, American Heart/Stroke Associations,
Winstein et al. (2016), page e132.

Walking sticks vary depending on the different characteristics of their handle, adjustability, and base. This post details these features; however, those who are planning to buy one should ideally consult a physiotherapist /physical therapist to decide the specific type of mobility aid they need.

Parts of a walking stick

A cane consists of three parts: handle, stick, and base.

  • Handle: The handle can be either curved, inverted U-shaped, or T-shaped. The latter seems to be more suitable for those having a stroke because of a weaker grip they might have.
  • Stick: The walking sticks are typically made up of either wood, acrylic, or aluminium. The aluminium walking sticks are more advantageous because their length can be adjusted with a push-button mechanism.
  • Base (ferrule): The stick’s tip or base can be either a single-point, three-legged (tripod) or four-legged (quad). Those who are having a one-sided weakness use either the tripod or the quad ones because they cannot use a walker and single-point canes do not provide much support.
A single point cane
A single point cane
A four-legged cane

A three or four-legged canes provide more stability than a single-point ones.

Guidelines for adult stroke rehab and recovery, American Heart/Stroke Associations,
Winstein et al. (2016), page e131.

How to choose the correct walking stick?

It seems that most who need a mobility aid do not consult a health professional. Moreover, those who sell products also seem to be not well trained to assist their clients with selecting the correct one.

There are several guidelines and support articles published by researchers and practitioners about how to choose the correct walking aid. I included links to a few resources in this post. If you are aware of better information pieces, you are welcome to post them in the comment section.

Selected resources

  • Robert Lam explains what factors anyone should consider before choosing the correct cane in an article to the Canadian Family Physician. You can access the article through this link.
  • I found another useful article about walking aids written by Stowe, Hopes, and Mulley in the European Geriatric Medicine Journal published by ScienceDirect; you can access it through this link.
  • Cheryl A Sadowski, BSc(Pharm), PharmD, FCSHP and C. Allyson Jones, PT, Ph. , clinical pharmacists, has published a book for practising pharmacists. Apart from basic information about canes, crutches, and walkers, they also provide useful screening questions that sellers can ask their clients in order to assist them in choosing the correct one; you can reach the relevant piece of information through this link.
  • Assistive devices training: https://elsevier.health/en-US/preview/assistance-device-training-canes.

Author: Prasantha De Silva

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