When my usually active elderly dad spent some time in the hospital, he was weak and unsteady when he came home. I worried that he would fall, which could result in broken bones or worse. So I got him a cane – but not just any old standard cane. Instead, I got him a quad cane because this type of cane is less wobbly than a regular one.
Who should use a quad cane? Quad canes should be used by anyone needing more balance stability than a standard cane provides. The elderly and those affected by stroke, hemiplegia, partial paralysis, or vertigo should use a quad cane. Also, people recovering from hip or knee replacement surgery often benefit from a quad cane.
A quad cane is similar to a standard cane except it has a metal, 4-legged base. This kind of base means you have more points touching the floor than you do with a traditional, single-point cane.
Generally, the feet (or tips) on a quad cane base extend out in an X-pattern to give the user more stability, however, there are some quad canes that have feet in a K-shaped pattern. In my opinion, the K-shape is close, but not quite as stable as the X-pattern.
If you are weakened from illness or injury like my dad was, you may have changes in your balance when you walk. Because of their widened base, quad canes provide more support than a traditional cane.
In general, the height of a quad cane can be adjusted to fit the user’s requirements. These canes are usually made of aluminum, which makes them light weight.
An additional advantage of quad canes is that the cane stands up next to you when you aren’t using it. This reduces the need to prop up the cane to keep it from falling. It also keeps an unsteady person from having to reach down or squat to retrieve one that slipped to the floor.
Quad Cane: Small Base Vs Large Base
Quad canes come with different sized bases – small, large, and what I call “mini”, which is actually a quad tip (as opposed to a 4-legged base). While large base quad canes are the most stable, they do have some drawbacks as you’ll see below.
Mini Base (Quad Tip):
My dad used an offset quad tip cane (Amazon link). That’s his cane in the image to the right. He thought it was easy to maneuver and it wasn’t too heavy for him.
I still have his cane and I used it myself when I went through treatment for breast cancer. My leg muscles were weak and frequently gave out on me from the chemo side effects, and for a while I wasn’t very steady when I walked
The thing I really liked about the quad tipped cane was that it kept me stable, but didn’t get in the way when I walked. It had the added benefit of fitting on my stair treads so it wasn’t a problem to go up and down stairs with it.
Canes with offset handles like this one help you center your weight over the cane’s shaft. This distribution of weight gives you better balance.
Small base quad canes are more maneuverable than the large base canes. They fit better on stair steps and aren’t as cumbersome if you are trying to get through a narrow hallway.
Also, there is less user fatigue with a small base quad cane because it is lighter.
- The large base can be a tripping hazard because it’s easier to get it tangled up with your feet, which can result in a fall.
- Because of the wide base, you can’t walk as fast when using a large-base cane.
- The large base won’t fit on stair treads which makes this type of cane unusable if you need to use stairs. For stairs, the cane’s base should measure no more than about 6” x 8” inches to fit on the steps. Measure your stairs before you buy a wide based cane, to ensure the cane will work for you!
- A large base quad cane is generally heavier than other canes.
Quad Cane User Tips
- Work with your doctor or a physical therapist to determine which type of cane is best for your needs.
- When you stand up from a sitting position, don’t try to use a quad cane for support. Instead, stand first, then take hold of the cane.
- Have your doctor or physical therapist watch you walk with your cane to be sure you are using it correctly. In my dad’s case, he thought it was perfectly okay to carry his cane over his arm like a purse if he wasn’t using it. A doctor or PT would have taught him the proper way to use his cane.
- Eventually the tips of the cane will wear out and need to be replaced. Because they fit snugly, you sometimes need to use a blow dryer to heat the tip where it meets the cane, in order to loosen it. Try working a bobby pin between the tip and the cane handle to break the suction first.
How To Choose A Quad Cane
If possible, don’t do what I did (grab a cane from the nearest drug store). At the time, I did it because Dad was coming out of the hospital and I didn’t have time to consult with his doctor about what type of cane was best for him. I just wanted to be sure he wouldn’t fall.
In reality, if you or your senior loved one are transitioning to a cane, you hopefully have the time to go to the physician or work with a physical therapist to decide what type of cane is best.
- Balance and strength are the major factors in choosing the right cane, with weight and size of the person adding into the decision. People with significant balance issues will most likely do best with a wide base quad cane. A frailer senior will probably need a quad cane with the small base or the one with the mini (compact) 4-legged tip.
- Be sure whichever cane you get has rubber tips or some type of non-slip tips on the end.
- Unlike standard canes, quad canes can be purchased to be used with either your right hand or your left. Some models can also be adjusted to fit either hand. If this is something you desire, it’s important to be sure your cane has this feature before you make your purchase.
- Be sure to choose a cane that will support your weight. Bariatric canes (Amazon link) are perfect for someone with a bigger frame. They can support up to 500 pounds. If you need a bariatric cane, look for the weight capacity in the product description.
How To Adjust A Quad Cane
Improperly fitted canes can cause back, should, and arm pain, so it’s important to make sure the cane is the correct height for the person using it. Most quad canes have push-button height settings so they can easily be adjusted for the user’s height.
The best way to choose the right height for a cane is to:
- Have someone measure you while you are wearing your regular shoes.
- Stand up straight
- Let your arms fall at your side in a natural position
- The correct cane height is the setting that puts the cane grip at your wrist level.
Does Medicare pay for a quad cane? Medicare Part B does cover canes as DMEs (Durable Medical Equipment). To be covered, you need a prescription for the cane and must rent or purchase it from a Medicare-certified medical equipment supplier. Also, Medicare only covers a cane if your doctor and DME supplier are enrolled in Medicare.
How much does a cane weigh? It depends on the cane. Aluminum canes weigh about two pounds, but wooden canes weigh around 1.5 to 2.0 pounds. Quad canes with a large base weigh 2.5 to 3.0 pounds, while a small base quad cane weighs about 2.0 – 2.5 pounds. There are even carbon fiber quad canes that weigh only 8.5 oz!