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Cane vs Walker: A Comparison Guide

Cane vs Walker: A Comparison Guide

Apria Editorial |

As leading medical equipment suppliers, we have sourced the best assistive walking devices from around the world. In this helpful guide, we explore the difference between a cane vs. a walker and their functionalities, to help you make the best choice!

Those experiencing difficulty walking due to discomfort, weakness, or a lack of balance might benefit from using a cane or walker. Such devices may also assist some individuals in avoiding falls and injuries. Medicare and other insurance plans often cover canes and walkers.

There are numerous varieties of canes, walkers, and other assistive equipment available, so it's important to do your research to find the right one to suit your lifestyle requirements. Always consult a medical professional for guidance in selecting the best walking aid, having it properly sized, and learning how to use it effectively.

As leading medical equipment suppliers, we have sourced the best assistive walking devices from around the world. This helpful guide explores the difference between a cane vs. a walker and its functionalities to help you make the best choice!

What Are Walkers?

A walker, often called a walking frame, is an assistive device used by people who need help maintaining balance or stability when walking owing to age-related mobility limitations or frailty. This type of walking assistance features four points of ground contact. It usually has three sides, one of which is open to the patient. Because it has a larger support base than a walking stick, it is more often used to stabilize people with poor balance and movement or lower extremity disabilities.

As early as the 1950s, walkers were introduced worldwide. Today, modern walkers are designed to be height adjustable with a slight bend at the arm to allow for improved circulation.

The basic design includes a lightweight frame around waist height, with a 12-inch depth, and is built slightly wider than the user. Walkers come in various sizes, including pediatric, for children, and bariatric for obese patients.

How Do You Use A Walker?

Walking with the frame wrapped around their front and sides, the person's hands provide extra support by grasping the handles. Traditionally a walker is used by picking it up and setting it down a little distance in front of the user, allowing them to proceed forward and repeat the action. However, wheels and glides allow the user to push the walker forward rather than having to lift and carry it, making a wheeled walker a perfect option for someone with reduced arm strength.

When To Use A Walker?

The primary purpose of using a walker is to improve one's capacity to walk independently, enhance the amount and distance one can walk, and reduce pain and discomfort while walking.

One might consider the use of a walker for:

  • Improving balance that is often disrupted by vertigo or age-related postural sway.
  • Support mobility when upper or lower body strength has been lost.
  • Preserve energy for those who have trouble walking long distances.
  • Bearing weight for patients with injured, weakened, or recovering legs.
  • Supporting weight for those who are unable to carry loads, e.g., luggage or shopping bags.
  • Those who have been diagnosed with either arthritis, Parkinson's, osteoporosis, or multiple sclerosis.
  • Patients recovering from serious injury, stroke, surgery, or disease.

What Are Canes?

The term "assistive cane" refers to a walking stick designed to help those with mobility issues. A cane's three primary functions are to shift weight away from an injured or weak lower limb, increase one's base of support and increase one's awareness of the terrain, all of which contribute to better balance.

Canes are more convenient to carry than crutches. However, they are still limited in their ability to relieve pressure on the user's legs due to the weight being distributed disproportionately along the user's wrist.

A standard cane consists of four sections. Canes and their accessories are tailored to the specific requirements of their users; therefore, these components may take several forms.

  • Handle: The part of a cane that rests in the user's hand is essential. The Tourist/crook handle, the Fritz handle, and the Derby handle are three of the most popular traditional designs. The handles of medical canes are likely to be ergonomically shaped to improve the user's comfort when gripping the cane (especially useful for those with disabilities that also affect the hands or wrists) and to more efficiently transfer the weight of the user's arm and hand to the cane's shaft.
  • Collar: It's up to the discretion of the cane's designer whether the collar serves a purely aesthetic or a functional purpose as the connection point between the shaft and the handle.
  • Shaft: The cane's shaft connects and transfers weight from the handle to the ferrule and is often crafted from metal, composites, wood, or carbon fiber polymer.
  • Ferrule: The tip adds more grip and stability when a cane is used at an incline. There are several different ferrule designs, but the standard is a ridged rubber plug. A user can replace a ferrule with one that works better for them.

Sometimes the design of modern canes deviates from the more conventional models. For example, an adjustable cane features two shaft segments that glide within one another to accommodate a range of user heights. In contrast, a quad cane's base attaches to the shaft to give extra stability via four ferrules.

How Do You Use A Cane?

Typically, the injured or weaker side of the body will rely on the non-dominant opposite hand to hold the cane, allowing the user's weight to shift away from their less stable side and onto the cane, thereby improving their balance. This keeps the user's center of gravity from shifting when they walk.

When To Use A Cane?

For those experiencing slight issues with balance or stability, slight weakening in the leg or torso, an injury, or discomfort, a cane may be useful. Using a single-pointed cane may make it simpler for the elderly to maintain their independence by allowing them to walk more easily, comfortably, and confidently.

One might consider the use of a cane for:

  • Those who struggle to walk or maintain balance unassisted. (i.e., using walls or handrails for support)
  • Walking causes pain or discomfort in the lower limbs
  • Those who have difficulty walking up a flight of stairs or on uneven terrain
  • Those who become physically exerted and out of breath when walking faster than usual
  • Those who have difficulty getting up from seated positions

How To Choose Between A Cane Or Walker?

Before you begin feeling overwhelmed by the decision of whether a cane or walker is best suited to you, ask yourself the following.

Consider why you require the use of a walking aid. Mobility issues often fall into one of three categories:

  • Weight-bearing: Relating to weakness, injury, or discomfort
  • Balance: Relating to coordination or sensory impairment
  • Endurance: Relating to heart or lung problems

Consider:

  • What level of walking assistance do you need?
  • Do you need support for one leg or both?
  • Do you need walking assistance for long distances?

Walker or Cane?

  • A cane can provide one-sided support if you have mild limb weakness, such as a rheumatic knee, or are feeling slightly unsteady and off-balance. They work by reducing the weight on the joint. Walking canes are intended to help with minor sensory conditions, such as alterations in vision, hearing, or balance.
  • A walker can offer steady and continuous support for more serious sensory or balance-related conditions. A walker is helpful when you can no longer rely on one or both limbs for standing or walking. They provide full support and are better for weight bearing, allowing long-distance and long-term lower and upper body support.

Cane vs. Walker FAQ


When should you advance from a walker to a cane?

You will most likely need to use a walker for 2 - 4 weeks following major surgery, such as total hip replacement, or serious injury until you can walk without a major limp. After that, you can advance to a cane.

What are the different types of walkers?

The three main types of walkers are:

  • Standard walkers with 4 tipped points of ground contact
  • Two, three, and four-wheeled walkers offer various degrees of support and mobility
  • Knee walkers offer a raised platform to rest the knee while the other foot propels it forward

What are the different types of canes?

The three main types of canes are:

  • Standard canes offer one point of ground contact
  • Multi-legged canes provide multiple points of ground contact
  • Off-set canes feature a slightly curved, L-shaped handle

Mobility Aids And Related Products Delivered Straight To Your Doorstep

Walking aids such as walkers and canes are available in all forms, shapes, models, and sizes, each featuring accessories, technologies, and innovations designed for optimum support and walking assistance. Once you've established what your walking assistance requirements are, you'll be able to browse through our range of mobility aids to find the perfect one.

Overwhelmed by the number of walkers and canes available on the market? Here are our top recommendations in terms of affordability, functionality, and ease of use.

Don't let your mobility issues and impairments hold you back. Let us help you with your health and well-being every day, and browse our extensive range of mobility aids today.

Looking for something specific? Our helpful agents are on call at (800) 780-1508 between 8:00 am - 10:00 pm EST daily. Get in touch with us today.

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