Climbing or descending stairs with a cane takes practice. It is often safer (and more stable) to hold the banister with one hand, which may mean switching the cane to the other hand.
When using a cane, you should always lead with your strongest (or “good”) leg. This is especially true when using a cane on the stairs. To help you remember this, think about this saying: “up with the good, down with the bad.”
To go up a flight of stairs:
- Hold onto the railing
- Put your unaffected (or strongest) leg on the first stair step. For example, if your right leg is weak, use your strong left leg to take the first step.
- Next, step up with both the affected (weaker) leg and the cane at the same time until they meet your strong leg on the first stair step.
- Repeat until you reach the top of the stairs.
Reverse this pattern when coming down the stairs:
- Put your weight on your stronger (unaffected) leg (example: if your left leg is stronger, put your weight on that leg).
- Move the cane down to the next step below you.
- Then move the weaker leg down to the step the cane is now balancing on.
- Last, step down with your stronger (unaffected) leg. Both legs and the cane should now all be on the same stair step.
- Repeat, step by step until you reach the bottom.
*Sometimes it is recommended to move the cane and weak leg simultaneously while descending stairs, but I think this can make you too unstable in some cases. When I used my dad’s cane while I was weak from getting chemo, I was much more balanced when I used the method I detailed above.
Here’s a video with step-by-step instructions for using a cane to climb or go down stairs:
How To Use A Quad Cane On Stairs
Just like learning to walk with a quad cane takes practice, so does climbing or descending stairs with one. The procedure for going down the stairs with a quad cane is very similar to how you do it while using a traditional cane, HOWEVER, you must take the wider quad base into account. Be very certain that the entire base is on the stairs before you lean your weight on the cane!
- Use the unaffected (or strongest) leg to step up onto the first stair step. For example, if your left leg is weak, use your strong right leg to step up first.
- Next, simultaneously move the affected (weaker) leg and the quad cane to the same stair step you are standing on.
- Repeat this pattern for each stair step
When coming down the stairs, it is the reverse – lead with your weaker leg:
- Stand on the stronger (unaffected) leg. So, if your right leg is stronger, put your weight on that leg.
- Move the cane down to the next step below you
- Then move the affected leg down to the step the cane is now balancing on
- Last, step down with your stronger (unaffected) leg. Both legs and the cane should now all be on the same stair step
- Repeat, stair step by stair step until you reach the bottom.
EZ-Step Stair Climbing Cane
When my mom-in-law was alive, she had an awful time getting up and down stairs. She lived in a single level apartment because of this. It got to be so bad that she couldn’t even join the family at her nephew’s home (where most family gatherings were held) because she simply could not get up the five steps necessary to get into his home, which kept her more isolated.
I wish I had know back then that there was a product that would have made it easier for someone like her who couldn’t climb stairs, period. I’m talking about the EZ- Step Stair Climbing Cane.
The idea is that it gives the user another, smaller platform to step up onto if they are unable to lift their leg high enough to get it up on a traditional riser / stair step. In other words, the EZ-Step platform cuts the height of a stair riser in half, so the person only has to raise their leg about 3.5 inches per step, instead of the standard 7 inches. You essentially double the number of stairs but cut the height of each step in half.
This cane is also very helpful for those who can raise their leg just fine, but can’t flex their knee enough to get up onto a traditional step (example: while healing after knee replacement surgery).
The cane is lightweight (weighs less than 2 pounds) and adjustable from 29” to 39”. It also has an offset ergonomic handle and a non-skid surface. It’s base can be adjusted for right-handed or left-handed users.
It also can double as a quad cane and can support up to 350 pounds.
Going Up A Curb With A Cane
As long as we are discussing using a cane on the stairs, I should also address how to tackle curbs with a cane. As you might imagine, it is similar to how you use a cane on the stairs.
The following instructions were obtained from the MedlinePlus website (from the U. S> National Library Of Medicine).
To go up one step or a curb:
- Step up with your stronger leg first.
- Place your weight on your stronger leg and bring your cane and weaker leg up to meet the stronger leg.
- Use the cane to help your balance.
To go down one step or a curb:
- Set your cane down below the step.
- Bring your weaker leg down. Use the cane for balance and support.
- Bring your stronger leg down next to your weaker leg.
If you had surgery on both legs, still lead with your strong leg when going up and your weak leg when going down. Remember, “up with the good, down with the bad.”