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Assistive canes, walking sticks, and ambulation aids are used in many capacities but generally provide support and stability to the user during gait or while standing. Used for centuries the beauty of this device is in its simplicity never straying wayward from its principal design. Different from the crutch or walker the cane has roots in fashion and self defense but some recent modifications have made the cane clinically relevant in new ways.



Canes were first used during nomadic times by shepherds and travelers and slowly adopted by rulers, religious authorities, and the opulent to distinguish themselves amongst the community. Certain materials such as ivory, whalebone, and ebony were used to distinguish the most elite. In the 17th century Puritans made oak walking sticks a signature mark of their own. Famous cane toters include Marie Antoinette whose cane was fashioned with a Shepherds Crook and Benjamin Franklin whose cane was given to him as a gift by George Washington. During the 1920s the white cane [1] was first used by James Biggs, a blind man from Bristol, to make himself more visible to the unwieldy traffic which he felt threatened by. This was adopted nationally in France by Guilly d'Herbemont in 1931.

Parts of a Cane


A cane has four basic parts: the handle, the collar, the shaft, and the ferrule. The handle comes in three primary forms: the Tourist or Crook, the Fritz, and the Derby Handle. Ergonomically shaped handles, which make minor changes to the three customary handles to better fit the user’s grasp, are becoming more popular as well as the forearm cane which is similar in design to the lofstrand crutch [2]. image:caneErgo.jpg

The collar is usually metal and used for attaching the handle to the shaft. The shaft of a contemporary cane is often aluminum and can be telescoping for height adjustability. They can also contain multiple joints for folding into shorter length and easier portability. The ferrule or end cap provides friction to the cane and allows the user the most adjustability. By choosing a wide, rubber stopper the user will get more friction than if he/she had chosen a small plastic tip. Some canes use tripod, a quad-tip (commonly called a quad cane), or have supplementary tips which can be folded out.

Special accessories which do not fall into the four nominal part categories include wrist bands, fold out chairs and hooks which slide onto the neck for easy storage. Sometimes when the user is accustomed to walking in icy conditions a metallic cleat will be fastened to the end of the cane. In such cases it is important to design the cleat so that it can be flipped to the side preventing damage to indoor flooring. image:caneHolder.jpg image:canechair.jpg

Measurement for Fitting

The cane measurement should be done with the person wearing their typical walking shoes. Ideally cane fitting requires only two measurements: one of the user in a relaxed standing posture and another of the cane. Proper fitting assures that the lowest point of the top of the cane handle sits at the same height as the anatomical wrist joint (distal skin crease at the wrist).

Other Uses

Canes provide assistance in many less typical ways as well. Some canes are equipped with compartments meant for holding a pool cue, an umbrella, or acting as a flask. Famous violinist Jascha Heifitz would carry a violin bow in his. In the realm of self defense ‘Cane Fu’ has emerged as a professionally taught form of protecting one’s self. 63 year old owner of Cane Masters [3], Mark Shuey (also an expert in tae kwon do and hapkido) has been training the elderly for over 12 years in the art of self defense using their cane as a weapon.