After your hip replacement, you may be anxious to return to your normal daily activities. Using a cane will allow you to walk more safely and reduce your risk of falls. See a physical therapist to ensure proper technique before you attempt to walk with a cane after surgery.
The purpose of a cane is to provide support to the healing muscles and soft tissues around the artificial hip, alleviate discomfort, and improve stability. After hip replacement surgery, the progression from a walker to a cane takes several weeks. You will typically advance to a cane when you can put full weight on the operated leg and stand without the support of a walker. Unless balance problems exist because of an underlying medical condition, you can expect to eventually walk with a normal gait without a cane after hip replacement surgery.
The height of a cane is important to ensure that support to the artificial hip is optimal and that the natural alignment of the body is maintained. A cane that is too high will prevent you from pushing down effectively enough to support the new hip. A cane that is too low pulls the body off balance. In either case, using a cane that has not been measured properly results in an abnormal gait and will eventually result in unnecessary strain to muscles and joints.
Most people will use a straight cane after hip replacement surgery. Whether it is an adjustable, metal cane or a wooden cane is usually a personal preference. An advantage of the adjustable cane is that you can alter the height in the future if necessary or eventually pass it on to someone else. A variety of handle grips are also available. Your physical therapist can recommend the best type for you. The standard, curved handle, for example, may be adequate for a people who has strong wrists and who will only use a cane temporarily. But, a cane with a more ergonomically designed handle may be a better alternative for people who have pain or weakness in the hands or wrists, and who may require a cane long term.
Your physical therapist will ensure that you progress from a walker to a cane safely. To provide adequate support to the artificial hip, you must walk with the cane in the opposite hand. For some people, this may seem counterintuitive. In a normal gait, however, your opposite arm and leg swing forward together. If you require increased stability, your therapist may recommend the use of two canes and will demonstrate the method for using them.
Stairs can be daunting on the first attempt, but your physical therapist will provide instructions on how to manage them safely. The rule is that a cane always stays with the operated leg whether you is ascending or descending a staircase. The strong leg goes up first when climbing stairs, and the operated leg goes down first when descending. Stay focused on the task when approaching stairs, especially if there are no handrails. At home, ensure that lighting on the stairs is ample indoors and out. Highlight the edge of the step with anti-slip tape that can be purchased from a medical equipment supplier or hardware store.
- American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons: Total Hip Replacement Exercise Guide
- National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Disease: Hip Replacement
- Mercer County Community College: Gait with Assistive Devices
- Spokane Joint Replacement Center: Total Hip Joint Replacement Gait Instructions