You may use a cane because you struggle with everyday mobility or need a cane while recovering from a hip or knee replacement or an injured leg.
Sometimes, however, walking with a cane causes its own unique pain. You may notice arm pain when you use the cane and sometimes afterward, too.
Why does this happen, and what can you do about it?
Walking with a cane can strain your wrist and hand, even causing weakness. The pain could be from muscle or joint issues or from median or ulnar compression. The latter leads to symptoms like numbness and tingling.
It is well documented that chronic cane or crutch use leads toJournal of Rehabilitation Research & Development (Veteran’s Affairs)
repetitive stress disorders such as tendinitis, carpal tunnel syndrome, and osteoarthritis.
Does this mean you have to stop using any type of cane or walking stick? Not necessarily, no.
This guide will help you better understand why using a cane has become so painful for your upper body and what to do about it.
Can Using A Cane Cause Arm Pain?
Canes are assistive devices that are designed to aid those with mobility issues in walking – sort of like having a third leg.
You can purchase them from a medical supply store, online, or sometimes at a drug store or grocery store.
These mobility aids benefit your lower body by helping you walk, but also can lead to a painful joint or pain in the upper half of your body, namely, in your shoulders, arms, and hands.
Per the intro, here are the issues you can experience through prolonged cane use.
The first thing that can happen with use of a cane is that it can sometimes put a large amount of strain the wrist and hand, especially if the cane isn’t the right height for you.
Improper or excessive usage can also lead to strain, even if you do buy a cane that is a good fit.
You might notice your hands feel stiff and sore after a day of walking around or doing your daily activities with a cane.
Prolonged arm strain from cane usage can contribute to loss of muscle strength in your arm and hand.
You might notice that you get sorer faster from using a cane, and you can’t even cross distances without the pain getting in the way.
Overloaded muscles will feel tender, stiff, and sore. You can treat them with ice, heat, and even NSAIDs, but the pain will recur if you continue to use a cane.
The last issue that can result from using a cane for a long time is possibly the most serious. Prolonged use can damage the median or ulnar nerves in severe cases.
The median nerve is connected to your brachial plexus. It’s one nerve branch of five.
The brachial plexus generates sensory information and controls movement in the hands, arms, and shoulders.
Therefore, if you damage your brachial plexus, you might lose sensation or control, both of which make it difficult to use a cane.
The ulnar nerve provides sensory nerve information to some of the digits, medial wrist, and medial forearm.
If you damage this nerve, you will experience a lack of finger coordination, pain, tingling, and weakness.
Does Walking With A Cane Cause Shoulder Pain?
The pain you’ve experienced lately affects your shoulders instead of your wrists or arms. Could this still be caused by walking with a cane?
Yes, it can. More so than only shoulder pain, you could also have back pain from using a walking device. Back pain can emerge from two different cane settings.
For example, if the cane height is lower than you need, you’ll slump over as you walk. This can lead to aches in your middle and lower back and possibly your hips.
However, if the cane height is higher than it should be, your body weight will shift and you’ll crunch your shoulders as you walk. This will affect your shoulders, back, neck, and collarbone.
The pain can radiate to the joints, possibly leading to tingling and numbness.
Can You Get Tendonitis From Using A Cane?
A classic study published by Baylor College of Medicine’s Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation and the Division of Bioengineering states, “It is well documented that chronic cane or crutch use leads to repetitive stress disorders such as tendinitis, carpal tunnel syndrome, and osteoarthritis.”
Tendonitis occurs when tendons between the bone and muscle become inflamed. Despite the size and thickness of the tendons, they’re not impervious to tenderness and pain.
While tendonitis can occur throughout the body, it happens the most frequently in the heels, knees, wrists, elbows, and shoulders.
Mild tendonitis is treatable at home with over-the-counter remedies such as NSAIDs, ice and heat, and rest. Working with a physical therapist can also help.
However, repeated behaviors that cause tendonitis–walking with a cane, in your case–will cause it to come back.
The tendonitis can become more severe with time, possibly leading to a tendon tear. You’d likely need surgery to repair the damaged tendon at that point.
How do you know if you have tendonitis? You will experience symptoms such as swelling, tenderness, and dull pain.
How Do You Make A Cane Not Hurt?
A properly sized cane is just the beginning if you want to reduce chronic pain in your arm, hand, shoulder, or joint pain.
Here are some other tips and tactics that will allow you to walk with a cane without aches.
Consider Wearing Gloves
You don’t have to suffer in silence if your hands hurt from using a cane, especially during prolonged use.
Instead, invest in a pair of soft gloves and walk when wearing them. Other forms of hand padding will also make a difference.
However, the gloves shouldn’t be so thick that you can’t feel the cane. This can cause you to lose your grip and can increase your risk of falls.
Learn How To Hold The Cane Handle
Although holding a cane handle might sound self-explanatory, that’s not entirely the case.
You should hold the top of your cane in the hand on the opposite side of your body that needs walking support.
In other words, if your right side hurts, you should hold the cane in your left hand, and vice-versa if it’s the left side.
When holding a cane, bend your arm slightly and crease your wrist to grip it correctly.
Maintain A Straight Wrist
A bend at the wrist is okay when walking with a cane but keep it slight. If you allow your wrists to move too much, you will put pressure on them, which will lead to pain.
Switch Hands If Possible
As we mentioned, you should position your cane in the hand opposite the weaker leg that you need support.
However, some seniors rely on a cane more for a balance problem than for pain mitigation.
In that case, you can switch to the opposite side (hold the handle of the cane in the opposite hand – meaning the hand on the side of the stronger leg).
In fact, we strongly encourage you to use the cane in both hands at varying points. You’ll reduce the wear on just one hand.
Consider The Grip Material And Shape
Cane handles come in many materials, including plastic, polished wood, Lucite, and metal covered in foam. Some materials are easier to grip than others.
You must also consider the shape and style of the handle, such as these options:
- Offset handles: These canes have a question-mark-shaped handle, traditionally built from aluminum or another metal, with a foam gripper at the top.
- Contour handles: Contour handles produce an ambidextrous fit, nestling easily in your palm. The weight distribution when in use makes them a wise choice for older adults.
- Fritz handles: A Fritz handle is designed for arthritis sufferers. The T-shaped handle is easy to grip and walk with.
- Tourist handle: This rounded cane is the most traditional example of a walking instrument and is shaped like a candy cane.
Each cane shape has its pros and cons, so it’s a matter of weighing them carefully to make a good choice.
How Can You Tell If A Cane Is The Right Size?
Considering that cane height can play a role in shoulder health, you’ll only want to use a cane at an optimal size moving forward. How do you know which cane size is the correct height for you?
Well, if you purchase your cane from a medical supply store, they can give you a little help by showing you different types of canes and helping you find the right walking aid for your needs.
If you purchase one on your own from a drug store, however, you can measure your own height or the cane’s height and go from there.
Let’s elaborate on both methods.
Measuring Your Height
To properly measure your own height, wear shoes – particularly the ones you typically would wear when using a cane.
They should be supportive shoes that have non-slip soles. Keep in mind that if the shoes have a slight heel, that will influence your height measurement.
Stand upright, but don’t strain or stretch. You want a measure of your natural height. Keep your arms to your side but bend them a little as though you were using your cane.
Ask a second person with a yardstick or flexible tape measure to measure from the level of your wrist joint to the floor. After taking that measurement, round it up to half an inch.
Measuring The Cane’s Height
If you don’t have a second person around to help you, you can always measure the height of the cane to ensure a proper fit. This is a lot quicker and easier to do.
Grab your favorite walking cane and a flexible measuring tape. Extend the tape from the lower part of the handle to the bottom of the cane. Increase the measurement by half an inch.
If your arm hurts when walking with a cane, it could be that your cane is too long or short for you. You might also not be holding the cane properly.
No matter the cause, it’s worth addressing.
A cane that causes pain now can eventually lead to weakened muscles, an increased risk of falling, and joint strain with symptoms such as tingling and numbness.