The long-time mobility helper enjoys a fresh wave of fashionability, thanks to innovative designs
For much of its history, the cane was meant to make a bold statement about one’s status or fashion sense. Ancient Egyptians from all social classes owned canes, but King Tut went to extremes, amassing 132 that were buried with him in his famous tomb. Meanwhile, King Louis XIV of France had his adorned with 24 diamonds, and England’s Henry VII used a gold cane loaded with features fit for royalty, such as a perfume dispenser, tweezers, two compasses, a file and a knife.
In the 1700s, British men required a permit to sport a cane. It was considered a privilege, and gentlemen were required to abide by basic rules, such as not tucking it under the arm or brandishing it in the air. Failure to comply meant revoking their licence to carry. Throughout the ages, women have also taken up carrying a cane purely as a fashion accessory. Marie Antoinette had a shepherd’s crook to complete a French milkmaid outfit, worn when she amused herself on her dairy farm near Versailles Palace.
Fresh designs for the modern age
Fast-forward to 2018 – and canes are making a statement once again, while also serving pragmatic purposes in helping men and women cope with mobility issues, sports injuries and health conditions such as arthritis. Contemporary versions span the gamut from canes with Swarovski crystal-embellished handles to intricately carved wooden ones featuring grips topped with mini busts of classical composers such as Bach and Chopin and those in a rainbow of trend-forward colours and patterns, mosaics and pretty florals.
A number of companies have been shaking up their offerings by introducing canes with personality. Fashionable Canes has one of the largest online selections, including traditional brass and wooden canes as well as newer ultra-light carbon-fibre models. There’s also Canes Canada, a site stocked with specialty types, including some suitable for hiking and fitness, foldable ones, luxurious models made from exotic woods and a 14-carat gold-plated walking stick. Available online and through Canadian pharmacies, the HurryCane takes a high-tech approach, incorporating a three-point foot at its base while allowing the cane to bend and pivot with movement. It comes in bold shades – red, blue, purple or black.
Raising cane with user basics
While the styles have evolved dramatically for the modern age and taken a bold turn, the importance of picking the right cane and using it correctly has not changed. Improper usage can create unnecessary pain and put strain on supporting muscles. “Canes are used primarily for two purposes,” says Julie Moylan, a physiotherapist with The Downtown Sports Clinics, Barclay Centre, in Calgary, “to aid with balance and offer support and to reduce load on a painful, weak or injured leg. Anyone who has trouble with balance and walking due to lower-limb pain, back pain, joint stiffness or a stroke should consider using a cane.”
For much of its history, the cane was meant to make a bold statement about one’s status or fashion sense
A physical therapist, doctor or pharmacist can help get accurate measurements about cane length. Or, users can opt to do it themselves by putting on their normal walking shoes, standing straight and having a friend measure the distance from wrist joint (taken with arms hanging naturally with a slight bend at the elbow, as if holding a cane) to the floor. Round up the measurement to the nearest inch to determine a suitable cane length.
While it may be tempting not to bother getting a cane, forgoing it has consequences if using one has been recommended by a healthcare professional. “Not using a cane could increase the risk of a trip or fall, as a cane gives more feedback on the walking surface,” she explains. “And you risk causing an increase in pain by not unloading the injured joint. As well, poor posture can result from not having the support of a cane when required.”
Pointers for great technique
It may take a bit of time to adjust incorporating a cane into walking. Practice does make perfect. Just keep these tips from Moylan in mind: A cane should be used in the opposite hand to the painful or injured leg to unload weight from the damaged side. Hold the cane close to the body so that the weight can be transferred to the shaft. Move the cane in unison with the affected leg. And finally, when going down steps, the damaged leg goes first, then move the cane. Then for going up, place the good leg first. Before you know it, you’ll get into the swing of it and grow more comfortable with cane use.
Get a grip! Avoid these common mistakes in choosing a cane
- Buying one that doesn’t suit your needs. Not all canes are created equal, offering a range of support for various mobility issues. While a standard crook design is fine for light support, a sturdier design, such as a quad cane (with a four-pronged base), is appropriate when a significant amount of body weight is being supported.
- Choosing a cane with the wrong kind of handle. Wrist issues or arthritis are better handled with canes featuring a contoured, orthopedic grip. The right diameter is key. It should fit into the hand securely.
- Ignoring the importance of the tip. A rubber tip keeps canes from slipping and sliding on smooth surfaces. Choose high-quality versions that provide enough traction to grip the floor. Inspect tips regularly for wear and replace them as needed.
- The long and the short of it: height matters. A cane that is too short will prevent the carrier from standing up straight, while one that is too long will not provide stability. Opt for an adjustable cane, or have a professional (such as a physiotherapist) take measurements to determine the appropriate length.
- Wrong material for the job. Wooden canes can be lovely and elegant looking, but they aren’t as durable as ones made of lightweight aluminum, which may be more suitable for daily use.
- Buying just one. Go ahead and build a cane “wardrobe” stocked with versions – an elegant cane in silver or brass for a night out, a compact foldable one suitable for travel, and perhaps a fun model with a funky pattern for everyday use.
canes are making a statement once again, while also serving pragmatic purposes in helping men and women cope with mobility issues, sports injuries and health conditions such as arthritis
Great star-struck moments in cane history
- Hugh Laurie’s portrayal of the cantankerous Dr. Gregory House on the TV show House M.D. saw him use 100 different canes over the course of production (2004–2012).
- Legendary dancer Fred Astaire danced with canes almost as often as he hit the dance floor with partner Ginger Rogers. Check out his smooth moves in the classic films Top Hat (1935) and Puttin’ On the Ritz (1930).
- Marlene Dietrich was one Hollywood star who didn’t mind pushing boundaries with her fashion choices. She embraced androgyny in her attire, opting for tailored men’s-style suits accessorized with a cane.
- Agatha Christie’s fictional detective, Hercule Poirot (played by David Suchet in the British TV series), carried a cane topped by an elegant sterling silver swan.
- Friends star Jennifer Aniston walked the red carpet at the People’s Choice Awards in 2003 with cane in hand after breaking her toe on a piece of furniture.
- Charlie Chaplin famously carried a bamboo whangee version – a key prop for his Little Tramp character, which debuted on film in Kid Auto Races at Venice (1914).
- Queen Victoria was an enthusiastic collector of canes, also known as a rabologist.