Walking Canes Vs Walking Sticks is there a difference and are they good for the elderly.

Walking Canes Vs Walking Sticks is there a difference and are they good for the elderly.

Some time ago I wrote about the benefits of walking sticks and trekking poles. It seems that there was a huge amount of interest on the topic. So I decided to further the conversation although in a slightly different tack. Are they appropriate for the elderly versus the basic cane?

Walking canes tend to be more medical and oriented with handles that are more supportive. Walking sticks are usually more recreational and used on a part-time basis.

After we get to a certain age, or perhaps after an unfortunate accident, walking without assistance becomes difficult. Often, elderly people notice that, after walking for a while, they feel a bit weak or insecure. They find themselves needing something to rest on. It looks like it is time to get a walking aid such as a walking cane or a walking stick. But, do you really know the difference between the two? Well, follow me on this.

The walking cane or stick is the most basic form of a walking aid. But, if you do a bit of research on the different options available, you will soon realize there are a few differences. Despite several similarities, walking canes and walking sticks vary in terms of shapes, features, and costs. And, they also offer different benefits from each other. One of the walking sticks that I use is the Lucky Dragon. It fits the hand well and if there were to be a dangerous encounter, would make a good defensive piece.

The Basics of Walking Canes and Walking Sticks

To most of us, the words “walking cane” and “walking stick” mean the same thing. In some ways we are right. But there are differences between the two. Most of these differences are because of their functionality. Canes are intended for support and are built to take on more body weight. However, walking sticks are used for keeping good balance while walking or hiking.

Some people use these words to mean two different things. Some believe they mean the same thing. But, it is more important that you know that there are different types of canes and sticks. You also need to know which type is right for you, if you do need one.

The Purpose of Using a Cane (or a Stick…)

 The cane is a basic walking aid and if used properly, can significantly reduce pain and discomfort faced by elderly or injured people while walking. The main purpose for using any kind of walking aid is to ensure that the injured or the elderly become as independent as possible, in the shortest amount of time. A walking cane or a walking stick helps with any of the following functions:

  • Restoring confidence to the elderly person who often feels frustrated when they lose their ability to walk unassisted.
  • Reducing pain in the back, joints, muscles, and ligaments by improving body posture and redistributing body weight correctly.
  • Reducing the risk of falls and slips by providing a wider support base, by acting as a third leg and offering better stability.

 Types of Canes & Sticks Available

 Walking canes or sticks come in different types with different options. It’s easy for a first time user to be confused as to which type of walking cane is best for his or her needs. It is important to learn as much about them before choosing the walking cane for your needs.

 To make finding the right cane easier for you, consider these features and how they will affect you before you decide which is best for you.

The Tip

The tip at the end of the cane is generally made of rubber and will see the maximum wear and tear over the years. A good tip grips the flooring very well and absorbs the weight of the user, without losing its own shape. For use on rough terrain, look for tips made from reinforced plastic. The two most popular tips available are the Standard Tip and the Quad Cane Tip. A description of each follows:

  • Standard Tip: This is the most commonly found tip on most canes/sticks, the single tip is perfect for those who only need a little help with balance while walking. It is quite easy to use in most narrow places.
  •  Quad Cane Tip: The Quad Cane comes with four tips at the end of the cane, allowing it to bear more weight while offering greater stability than the standard tip. They are usually more expensive and heavier to handle than standard canes but are worth the extra weight for elderly users who have severe joint pain and may need to put more body weight on their cane due to their limited mobility.

Some tips flex and swivel for additional stability, while others use sand and water vents to stabilize the tip in order to make it easier to walk on sand.


The height of the cane is critical to choosing the correct one. A cane set at the wrong height can cause falls or result in aches and pains from bad posture. You will want a cane that is adjustable in height. To find the right height, stand up straight and measure the distance from the wrist to the ground in a straight line. Then set the cane to match that height. Women need a cane that is a little shorter.


The most common types are wooden, metal and carbon fiber. Wooden canes are the most affordable, but are more likely to splinter over time and will not last as long. These are good for maintaining balance but not for supporting a large amount of weight. Carbon Fiber canes are probably the lightest and the sturdiest but are also the most expensive. Metal canes are usually made of aluminum. In most cases, they are a good combination of being lightweight, adjustable to fit the user’s height and providing the right support. For canes that need to support the user’s body weight while walking, carbon fiber or metal are the best options. Men usually need a cane that will support more weight.

Normally, the choice of the handle or the grip is based on user preference. People suffering from arthritis or joint pains in their fingers may find choosing a bigger handle easier to use. Some of the most common handle styles are listed below:

  • The round curved handle is commonly found on most walking sticks. But, it is not suitable for all seniors because it is uncomfortable to hold for a long time.
  • The knob handle canes look elegant but offer very little support and grip for the elderly. This style is used frequently with walking sticks that are used more for style or hiking.
  • Palm-shaped handles are quite comfortable for the elderly. These handles are wider and designed to fit the space of a closed hand. They basically conform to the natural shape of the hand.
  • Canes with the Derby handles have thick handles with a slight wave that fits the natural shape of the palm. This makes them easier to handle and is a favorite of people with arthritis. The Fritz handle is similar to a Derby but the handle is slightly thinner.
  • The offset handle curves back around to the shaft and more evenly distribute the weight of the user along the length of the cane. This helps reduce strain on the wrists and improves balance.

 While walking canes and sticks have all of the above in common, there are a few differences to know as well:

    1. Walking canes are more medical in nature and walking sticks more recreational or even fashionable.
    2. Walking canes are more supportive on a full-time basis and walking sticks are used part-time to prevent tripping in uneven terrain like hiking.
    3. Walking canes are usually held in the hand to the side of the body but walking sticks are usually held in front of the person using them.
    4. Walking canes are often covered by insurance while walking sticks are not.
    5. Walking canes are available with replaceable handles but walking sticks do not.

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