As far as walking aids go, crutches are a great temporary solution. They may be used for people who have undergone surgery or who have sustained an injury and can improve mobility during the healing process.
However, it’s no secret that choosing the right type of crutches for your needs can be something of a challenge, what with the vast array to choose from. It is important that you select the right pair of crutches so that you can move around easily and comfortably.
In this guide, we will be explaining the reasons that crutches might benefit you and showing you how to choose the right pair.
What are Crutches?
Crutches are long, stick-like walking aids that are designed to help the user take the weight off their injured leg which will allow it to heal more easily whilst improving comfort.
Furthermore, crutches are used to give better balance to patients who have had surgery or have some sort of limb injury.
There are various types of crutches that can meet the needs of different patients and their situations, these might be crutches that are designed for those who are slightly heavier or crutches that do not require the use of the hands. It is important to remember that, despite common misconceptions, crutches are very diverse devices.
One of the most important things when looking at crutches is to obtain the advice of a physical therapist who will be able to point you in the right direction and fit you for a pair of suitable crutches.
What are the Benefits of Using Crutches?
There are a variety of benefits to using crutches as a walking aid, one of the most obvious is that they can provide you with improved balance. Not only is this essential when trying to get around when your mobility is limited but it will also prevent you from having unnecessary trips or falls.
Furthermore, using crutches will take the weight off the lower body and place it on the upper body. Putting your whole body weight on an injured leg, ankle or foot could cause the injury to take longer to heal.
What’s more, if you have weaker muscles in the lower body, a pair of crutches could give you additional support which, once again, improves your safety as well as your ability to move around.
If you have a temporary mobility problem such as an injury or surgical trauma, crutches provide a great solution. There is little point in investing in a wheelchair for such a short period of time but you will likely still want to be able to go about your business and crutches provide you with the opportunity to do this.
Who are Crutches Suitable for?
As we have already discovered, crutches are an ideal mobility solution for people with short-term needs. However, it is also important to think about other factors that may affect your ability to use crutches.
First and foremost, it is essential that when using crutches, you have a good amount of upper body strength, Some people are of the belief that it only takes the arm strength to operate the devices when in fact, all of your upper body will be put to work. In addition to good strength in this area, it is also important that patients using crutches have a good and free range of movement in their torso, shoulders, and back.
Furthermore, patients who struggle with balance may not be suitable candidates for crutches as there could be a risk of falling involved. This is true of patients who suffer from conditions such as dementia where their coordination could be impacted.
Types of Crutches
Upon deciding that crutches will be a suitable mobility aid for you, your choices do not end here. There are a variety of different types of crutches, each one has been specially designed to meet the unique needs of each type of patient.
Choosing the right ones will not only provide you with improved comfort and ease-of-use but will also ensure that no injury or damage occurs as a result of using them.
Forearm crutches are widely used throughout Europe and feature a cuff that goes around the lower part of the arm – you may also hear them being called elbow crutches, but they are one of the same.
If you are going to be using crutches for a longer period of time, these may be a better option since they offer greater movement control. It is, however, important to keep in mind that they do require more copious amounts of upper body strength than other types of crutches.
They can make doing other tasks a little more challenging since you need to be able to keep your hands on the crutches at all times. However, on the plus side, they are ideal for navigating uneven ground and can do so in a safer manner than underarm crutches.
Even for those with good upper body strength, the forearm crutch can be tiring.
Axillary Crutches/Underarm Crutches
In the USA, underarm crutches are more commonly used than any other type of crutch and this is mainly down to their ease-of-use. They are ideal for those who need to take the weight off an injured leg but they do require you to use both your hands and feet so can make doing other things a little more tricky.
One of the major downsides to these types of crutches is that they can cause your underarms to become sore from the constant pressure so it is important to keep this in mind when selecting a pair.
Furthermore, much like any other type of crutches, the underarm crutch will require you to exert your upper body so you must have a good amount of strength in this area.
For patients that have a heavier body weight, it is essential to use crutches that have been designed to handle this. Not doing so could result in the crutches giving way and further injuries being sustained.
Bariatric crutches are designed with the larger patient in mind and are often constructed of steel which offers greater strength and durability. Most options in this category are able to support people who weigh up to 550lb and usually have improved padding on the underarm rests.
You might call these gutter crutches or arthritic crutches but for the most part, they are not commonly used in modern-day therapy. However, they can be beneficial to people who need to take the weight off their injured limb but who also struggle with their grip.
These crutches feature forearm support which is padded and has a strap and an adjustable handgrip. It is thanks to this unique design that the patient can distribute their weight more evenly which means that they do not need to grip as firmly on the handle.
For anyone with a leg, ankle, or foot injury that still needs the use of their hands, more traditional crutch styles may not be suitable. However, thanks to the completely hands-free design of these crutches, users are able to go about their day without interference.
The leg is bent and the knee placed in a padded support, below this is a metal leg on which the user can put their weight.
Not only is this a good option for those who need to retain the use of their hands but it is also an ideal solution to avoid pain or fatigue from using the more traditional styles of crutches.
Crutches vs knee Scooter
When you have a temporary injury that has caused a loss of mobility, there are two main options – crutches or a knee scooter.
If you want to maintain strength in your upper body whilst recovering from an injury then crutches are a highly preferable option. However, if you are looking to go further distances a knee-scooter may be more suitable.
It is, however, important to keep in mind that a knee scooter could be a pricier option and if you only require your mobility aid for a short period of time, it may not be worth investing in something like this. Crutches provide a more affordable alternative. What’s more, crutches are nowhere near as bulky as knee scooters so will allow you to easily navigate tight spots and narrow doorways.
How to Use Underarm Crutches
If you have opted to take advantage of underarm crutches, it can take some getting used to before you are confident enough to use them steadily.
Most importantly, you should be sure that you have adjusted the crutches correctly so that they fit your frame. When measuring for your crutches, it is important to wear a pair of shoes that will be what you most frequently wear whilst you recover and the measurements should be taken from 2 inches in front of your foot to around an inch below your underarm – determining the right height will improve comfort and help you to retain a good posture.
When you are ready to use the crutches, you should place the bottoms a step in front of you and lean into the crutches to get going. As you lean into them, the crutches should take your weight and you will be able to propel yourself forwards. It may take a little bit of practice, but once you have it right, you should be free to move around confidently and with ease.
It is important to remember that whilst the crutches will sit under the arms, this is not where your weight should be placed. The majority of the weight should be in the hands and the handgrips
How to Use Forearm Crutches
As with underarm crutches, it is important to be sure that your forearm crutches are measured correctly. However, since the design of these is different, measuring is done in a different manner too. In this case, you will need to place your elbow at hip height and so that it is at a 30º angel to the ground. You will then need to measure from the floor to the largest part of the forearm. This will determine the height that the crutches need to be.
The cuff of the crutches usually sits just below the elbow with the open part facing away from your body. In a similar fashion to the underarm crutch, you should place the bottom one step in front of you and put your weight into the hand grips as you swing yourself forwards, whilst keeping the injured limb lifted off the ground.
Once again, this will take a few attempts to get right but most people find that they are able to master the technique pretty quickly.
How to Use Crutches Walking Up & Down Stairs
Using crutches on the stairs could potentially be extremely dangerous and when not done correctly, you are running the risk of causing further injury so it is important to learn how to do this properly.
When you are ascending the stairs, you should place your strong leg on the step before doing anything else. Next, move the injured leg upwards whilst you put all of your weight into the crutches. When you are stable and in position, you can bring the crutches up to the next step. When doing this, it pays to move more slowly and carefully, this may take a little longer but it is worth it when your wellbeing is at risk.
Coming down the stairs should be done in the opposite fashion. You should keep in mind that getting as close to the edge of the step as possible will give you the safest experience. This time, place the crutches on the lower step and put your weight into them. You should then move your weakest leg down, followed by your stronger leg. It may be intimidating descending the stairs without the control you are used to so do bear in mind that this may take some practice.
How to Use Crutches When Standing & Sitting
It’s easy to take standing and sitting for granted when you are able to do it without a problem but when you are using crutches, this can be a more challenging activity. However, there is a good technique that you can use which doesn’t take too much getting used to.
It is important to keep in mind that until your weight is on the crutches, there is a risk of losing your balance, so be careful to take it slowly. Additionally, there is a risk of hurting yourself further if you accidentally put the weight on your injured leg.
Take both of the crutches and hold them on the same side as the injured limb, be sure to grasp them by the handle. When you feel steady, use your free hand to help you rise from where you have been sitting and be sure to only stand on the uninjured leg. When you are on your feet, you can then take one of the crutches into your free hand and you are ready to start moving.
When you need to sit down, you should repeat this process in the opposite direction, beginning with swapping the crutches into one hand and using the free hand to guide yourself into the chair.
Why it is Important to Ensure Your Crutches Are at the Right Height
If the crutches are not at the correct height, this can be extremely uncomfortable so before you begin using them, it is vital that you measure yourself and adjust the crutches to suit you.
If you are using underarm crutches that are too high, this can decrease the level of mobility in your arms, as a result of this, the pressure on your armpits is increased, causing pain and discomfort. In contrast, low crutches could mean that you are not taking the weight of your feet enough which could hinder the healing process. Furthermore, if your crutches are not high enough, this could cause postural damage as a result of the spine curving to meet the crutches.
Whilst it is possible to measure yourself for crutches, it certainly pays to enlist the help of a friend or go to your doctor for assistance.
Tips on How to Use Crutches Safely
Crutches can be a great help when you are recovering from an injury or other temporary mobility problems, but if they are not used correctly, they could do more harm than good. With this in mind, here are our top tips for using crutches safely.
- Always be sure that the height of the crutches is measured to your unique body shape and height.
- Be sure to follow the weight bearing restrictions that will have been given to you by your doctor. This could be anything from no weight on the injured limb at all through to putting as much weight as you are able to tolerate on the foot. If your doctor’s advice is not followed, this could lead to complications or a lengthier healing time.
- Take it slowly and don’t try to do more than you can handle. Using crutches can be tiring work so it is important to take rest as and when you feel that it is needed.
- When you are moving, try to focus on what is ahead of you as opposed to looking at what your feet are doing.
- Be sure to allow the crutches to take your weight, this will prevent over-exerting yourself and putting unnecessary strain on your body.
For people who are in the healing stages of an injury, those who have recently undergone lower limb surgery or anyone who has temporary mobility issues, a set of crutches is an effective way to bring back mobility whilst not putting pressure on the injured limb.
There are a variety of types of crutches and it is important to think about which one will meet your needs best before committing to a choice.
Once you are on your crutches, it can feel a little alien but by following the correct techniques, you will be able to feel confident in moving around with them.