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How to use your cane
Now that you know how to choose a cane and how to get one that fits, what's next? You just grab the cane and walk, right? What's so hard about that? Well, it's not that simple. Cir used his cane incorrectly for several years, before his physical therapist told him he was doing it wrong.
- Walking: When walking you hold the cane in the hand opposite your weakest leg. For example, if your right leg is your weakest leg, hold the cane in your left hand. Your elbow should be close to your body. Your hand should be close to your hip.
Don't move your hand forward or out to the side. Pivot your wrist and move the cane forward as you step forward with your weak leg. When you place your weight on your weak leg, the cane will give support on the opposite side. Step past the cane with your good leg. And repeat!
- Stairs: A little rule to keep in mind and help you remember which foot to start with is "Up with the good, down with the bad". When going up the stairs, lead with your good leg. In other words, step up on the step with your good leg first. Next bring your weak (or bad) leg up with the cane. Take one step at a time.
When going down stairs, do the opposite. Start with your bad leg. The cane and bad leg go down the first step, then step down to the same step with the good leg last. Again, take one step at a time.
It may take a bit getting used to. The best thing to do is to take it slow. Safety is key. Even if you feel funny using a mobility aid, just realize that taking this step will help keep you from falling. It will provide the right amount of support and stability when you feel off balance.
When Cir finally decided to choose a cane, getting used to using it was another story. This was especially true after learning that he had been doing it wrong all along. He still sometimes goes back and forth from one hand to the other. I guess it was because he was so used to doing it the one way, even though it was wrong, it still felt comfortable.
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I'm not sure how much safer it was, but his physical therapist said that as long as he felt comfortable, it was okay. I could tell she wasn't very comfortable watching him, though. She looked pretty nervous and always stuck very close to him during his evaluations.
A few other things to keep in mind are:
- Wear sturdy, low-healed shoes. Typically you would also want non-stick soles, but if you also have foot-drop, this may present a problem. Cir's orthopedic doctor added a smooth piece of material on the bottom of the toe of his right shoe to help his foot slide through more easily.
- Keep your free hand on the railing when you are going up or down the stairs. This gives you extra stability and support.
- Avoid wet floors or icy sidewalks. Slippery is always bad. If you will be walking during winter conditions, you may want to consider getting a cane for this purpose. Or you can ask about an ice gripping device. These are called an "ice-grip" or "ice pick" and they are attached to the bottom of your cane and can be flipped down when you need them. You might even consider using two canes during the winter.
- Escalators and revolving doors are not a good idea either. I don't even like escalators and I don't have MS.
- Remove throw rugs, electrical cords, toys, and other things that may cause you to fall. You will need help from everyone to make this happen. I had a hard time getting rid of my throw rugs when Cir began having balance problems. But it's a small price to pay for the safety of someone you love. We all try to keep a clear path for him. This is just good practice for everyone.
Hopefully you now know how to choose a cane and use it properly. Another very important point I want to bring up again is to slow down and take your time. Do this especially if you are just learning to use a cane. Most people with MS have lived active lives, participating in sports and other activities. It can be hard to slow down when you are so used to moving quickly.
Slowing down and taking your time will keep you on your feet longer, literally. If you fall and break your leg, a hip, or even an arm, this will slow you down even more. And not in a way that you will feel very good.
So even if you choose a cane that fits you, one that helps you keep your balance, and supports your weight, it won't do any good if you leave it at home. A cane or any other mobility aid can't help you if you don't use it.
Make this one of your mottos, "Choose a Cane and Use it!"
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