Most people who hear the word ‘cane’ picture an elderly person using it as a ‘walking stick’ for balance or as an adjunct to injury or surgical repair of hip or knee. If we are lucky, that is if we get to live a long life, most of us will need to use a cane for one reason or another. Sometimes when our joints are damaged we take pain medication to try to avoid surgery but the damage to our joints continues. Using a cane can take the stress from the inflamed joint, thereby avoiding the side effects of medication and perhaps delaying the need for surgery.
What is most important is that we know how to use the cane properly. We need instruction before we venture out with our new helper because constant walking with a cane, if used incorrectly, can injure rather than heal. Repetitive stress injuries can occur in the wrist and shoulders. Improper posture can heighten problems with the core of the body. To avoid this:
- Use a cane that is the right height for your body size
- Hold the cane with a straight wrist, as if it is an extension of your arm
- Place the cane parallel to the heel opposite to the injured leg. If there is no injury the same thing applies. This will help the cane wobble less and provide more support.
- Slowly move back and forth from one leg to the other to feel the support of the cane.
- Take slow rhythmical steps and feel how the cane acts as a cooperative third leg.
Outside its use for support for balance or injury, few of us know that a cane can be so much more. For instance, many martial arts studios give instruction in the use of canes for defense or attack. And, too, senior citizen workshops make use of canes to teach self-defense.
But beyond the use of a cane for aggression or defense lies another reason to buy a cane: It is a useful tool to benefit the health of your entire body. The following paragraphs detail some of the ways you can help improve your body by using a cane.
Upper body, wrists and fingers
- Grab the cane with both hands and hold it horizontally in front of you, arms extended. Swing it from side to side; this movement helps your elbows and shoulders to remain loose.
- Rotate your wrists towards the ground (as if you are knocking in a downward direction). This encourages their strength and flexibility.
- While you’re at it, try letting go of the cane with one hand. Then crawl with your fingers horizontally across the cane. Rotate the cane so that it is parallel to your body and repeat the finger exercise, this time crawling vertically up and down the cane. Repeat with both hands.
- Balance the cane’s tip in the center of your palm. The taller you stand, the easier it is to balance the cane. Once you’ve mastered balancing the cane on the palm, try balancing it on one finger. If you get tired from such tricks, simply place the cane behind your back under your armpits; this position automatically forces your spine into straighter alignment.
After standing for so long trying to improve your posture, you may want to stretch your body.
- Sit down on a chair and cross your legs so that the ankle of one leg lies on the knee of the other. Put the handle of the cane around the raised knee and pull it towards your body, stretching the hip muscle.
- Then put both feet on the floor and grab one foot with the handle of the cane. Gently pull your foot up with the cane, keeping your knees straight and your body upright. This provides a nice stretch to the calf muscles without the rest of your body having to compensate.
- To stretch your back, place the cane vertically in front of you with both hands on top. This is the way elegant gentlemen of the 18th and 19th centuries sat with their canes which were a symbol of their station in life. Move the cane forward, your body stretching toward your hands. This relieves tension in your back. The cane acts as a point of balance allowing for a good stretch.
- With the tip of your cane you can massage the bottom of the foot. Then, with its handle, tap your heel and shins—gently.
Stimulation of the circulatory system
- Eastern medicine practices often include slapping the body to stimulate the blood. You can do the same thing with your cane by thumping the body gently with the handle of the cane.
- Place the cane across the rear of your neck with one hand on each end. Press your head against the cane. Repeat several times. Then move your head from side to side for mobility.
- For traction: In the same position, gently use the cane to pull your neck up. This relieves tension and stress on your spine.
- If you want to work out your quadriceps. Sit down in a chair and holding the handle of the cane under your knee, lift your leg slightly. With your leg up, raise and lower your ankle several times. Repeat with the other leg.
Acupressure and the cane
- Just as acupuncture or acupressure would do, you can learn to find the proper points on the body and tap them with your cane to stimulate them for various body conditions.
The cane can be used for so many positive things. Fred Astaire knew it. And who can imagine Charlie Chaplin without his cane? If you are so inclined, you can even use it to gently poke the person in front of you in the movie theater who is talking too much.
If you think of the cane, or walking stick, as a positive instrument that can provide you with increased good health, perhaps you will be stimulated to buy one. If you do, keep it in your sight so it will remind you that you have some fun ‘stick-cersises’ to do before the day ends. See if you can discover more of them and how much better your body feels after using your cane. And then, spread the word.