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How To Use Crutches: A Guide to Walk On Crutches

How To Use Crutches: A Guide to Walk On Crutches

Apria Editorial |

Your doctor or physical therapist may prescribe a walking aid if you have recently had a leg or foot fracture, had surgery on your knee or lower leg, or have recently suffered a stroke.

Crutches provide reliable support when you can't put all your weight on one leg or if you're having trouble keeping your balance. Most people prefer to use non-weight-bearing crutches to keep weight off an injured leg. They play an important role in maintaining independence and stability when needed.

Whether you're looking for long-term or temporary support from crutches, this handy guide from ApriaHome will cover everything you need to know. Including how to use crutches properly and instructions for fitting, walking, using one crutch, and using crutches on stairs.

What Are Crutches?

Crutches are a kind of walking aid intended to broaden a person's base of support. They transfer weight from the legs to the upper torso and arms. Crutches are often used by those unable to use their legs to maintain their weight, whether from short-term injuries or lifelong disabilities. Most crutches fall into three categories: axilla, forearm, and platform.

Common materials used for manufacturing crutches include:

  • Wood
  • Metal alloys, e.g. steel, aluminum alloys, titanium alloys
  • Thermoplastic
  • Carbon or glass fiber reinforced composites.
  • Carbon fiber reinforced polymer

Home Safety Tips For Using Crutches

Before we begin, you can start by making these safety modifications to your home to help prevent slips and falls.

  • Remove any throw rugs, electrical wires, or anything that might cause you to trip.
  • Arrange your furniture such that there are clear, sufficient passageways between rooms.
  • Keep boxes and debris away from stairways. Consider adding treads to the stairways to improve grip.
  • Only walk in well-lit areas, and place a nightlight between bedrooms and bathrooms.
  • Introduce nonslip bath mats, hand bars, an elevated toilet seat, and a shower seat in the bathroom.
  • Organize your home to keep what you need close at hand and everything else out of the way.

Weight Distribution And Walking With Crutches

Before you select the crutches that will work best for you, you will need to determine how much weight distribution your injury permits.

  • Non-Weight-Bearing: Injured leg must not touch the floor at all.
  • Touch-Down Weight-Bearing: Light touchdowns to maintain balance is permitted, but weight should be kept off the injured leg for the majority of the time.
  • Partial Weight-Bearing: The prescribing physician will advise how much weight can be put on the injured leg, as well as the duration of weight-bearing.
  • Weight-Bearing As Tolerated: The injured leg can bear more than half the body weight as long as it does not cause strain or discomfort.

Depending on how much your injured leg can bear, you can choose one of the following stances for mobility.

One Crutch

Place the singular crutch on the side of the unaffected leg or use it to support the weight distribution of the affected leg.

Two-Point Stride

The two-point stride (right crutch with left leg, left crutch with right leg) is ideal for persons who require less assistance and can withstand partial weight bearing on both legs.

Three-Point Stride

The three-point stride is ideal for persons who cannot bear weight on just one leg. In this stride, both crutches advance while the unaffected leg bears the weight.

Four-Point Stride

The four-point stride sequence (right crutch, left leg, left crutch, right leg) is often used by persons who can withstand weight bearing on both legs. It’s the slowest but safest stride since three points make contact with the ground at all times.

Swing-To Stride

A swing-to stride involves raising the damaged leg, advancing both crutches, and then swinging the unaffected leg to join the crutches ahead.

What Are The Different Types Of Crutches?

Considering these guidelines, you can now select the best set of crutches for you.

Traditional/Classic Design Axillary Crutches

The traditional design is referred to as axillary crutches. These are the crutches that most people envision when they think of crutches — often constructed of wood or aluminum. Axillary crutches get you from point A to point B, but for longer distances or long-term use, they may be uncomfortable and have even been linked to nerve damage in the underarm region, known as crutch paralysis.

Axillary crutches work by pressing the padding against the ribs under the armpit and holding the grip below and parallel to the pad. They are often used to assist patients with temporary mobility restrictions.

Pros:

  • Easily accessible
  • Easy to use
  • Can be easily adjusted
  • Lower cost

Cons:

  • Known to induce nerve damage
  • Can only support minor adjustments
  • Not recommended for long-term use

Forearm Crutches

Forearm crutches, also known as Canadian crutches, Lofstram crutches, or elbow crutches, work differently than axillary crutches. They allow the forearms, wrists, and shoulders to support the patient's body weight rather than the underarms.

Forearm crutches feature a top cuff that wraps around the forearm. It is applied by placing the arm inside the cuff and holding on to the grip. The hinged cuff, often constructed of plastic or metal, may be half-circular or full-circular in shape, with a V-type opening at the front that allows the forearm to slide out easily in the event of a fall.

Forearm crutches are more often used by patients with long-term injuries or disabilities, whereas axillary crutches are more commonly utilized for short-term usage.

Pros:

  • Does not exert pressure on the underarm region, which prevents nerve damage
  • Usually lightweight and strong, with the ability to sustain a higher weight
  • Easy to use

Cons:

  • Minimal adjustments
  • Substantial upper body strength required
  • Longer distances can become tiring
  • While more comfortable than axillary crutches, they can transfer suffering and pain to a separate muscle group

Platform Crutches

These are used by patients with weaker grip strength owing to arthritis, cerebral palsy, or other chronic physical conditions. The forearm is typically held in place with velcro-type straps that enable the platform or trough to release in the event of a fall. The crutches feature an angled grip that allows for length and side-to-side sway adjustment, depending on the user's impairment.

They relieve a lot of strain on the body and provide mobility for patients with long-term chronic conditions. These crutches are designed for patients who can only bear partial weight and are particularly helpful for long-term use.

Ensuring Optimum Health And Recovery With Proper Crutch Fitment

Proper crutch fitting is essential for reducing pressure and weight on an injured limb. A healthcare professional or physical therapist can assist in correctly sizing and fitting your crutches.

Proper positioning, adjustment, and sizing are essential to ensure effective relief and prevent nerve damage and strain.

Axillary Crutches

  • Wearing your everyday shoes, stand up straight with your arms relaxed at your sides.
  • The top of your crutches should sit around 1-2 inches (2-to-3 finger widths) below your armpits while standing up straight.
  • The crutch handgrips should be parallel to the top of your hip line.
  • When holding the hand grips, keep your elbows slightly bent (approximately 30 degrees)
  • To prevent nerve damage, place your weight on your hands rather than on the underarm supports.

Forearm Crutches

  • Wearing your everyday shoes, stand up straight with your arms relaxed at your sides. The crutch handgrip should be aligned with your wrist joint.
  • When holding the handgrips, your elbow should be slightly bent (approximately 30 degrees).
  • The crutch cuff should sit about 1-2 inches below the elbow bend.

Crutch Adjustments

  • Loosen the collar underneath the adjustment slots to adjust the height.
  • Depress the crutch's spring buttons to extend or shorten it.
  • Tighten the collar to keep the adjustment in place.

Instructions For Everyday Use

Once your crutches are properly adjusted and fitted, their efficacy also depends on proper usage. Your prescribing physician or physical therapist will instruct you on proper usage according to your needs, but in the meantime, these basic instructions can get you started.

Standing With Crutches

  • Stand upright with your crutches positioned slightly in front of you and slightly apart on each side.
  • Do not place your weight on the underarm supports.
  • Support your weight instead, using the handgrips.

Why?

Resting your weight on your armpits can impair your stability and cause damage to your shoulder joints as well as the nerves and blood vessels in your armpit. Placing weight on your shoulders can also cause muscle fatigue and strain.

Sitting Down And Standing Up With Crutches

Sitting down on a chair is easier than many other crutch-related movements. Ensure you don't lean back into your seat too quickly. Move in slow and controlled motions to prevent falling.

  • Back up to the seat until you can feel the edge against your leg.
  • Remove your crutches from under your arms and balance on your strong leg.
  • Hold both crutches at the handgrip in one hand. Use the other hand to hold onto the seat.
  • Slowly lower yourself back into the seat.

Getting up from a sitting posture requires balance and controlled momentum.

  • Move forward, towards the edge of your seat.
  • Hold both crutches in the opposite hand to your affected leg.
  • Push yourself to a standing posture with one hand on a crutch handgrip and the other on your seat. Place most of your weight on your strong leg.
  • Remember, don't put more strain on your affected leg than your weight-bearing capacity allows.
  • Take a moment to establish your balance and posture before you walk again.

Walking With One Crutch

Following certain injuries or procedures, your healthcare provider might advise that only one crutch is needed. To walk properly using one crutch:

  • Hold your crutch on the opposite side of your affected leg and step forward with your stronger leg.
  • Use your crutch to help you move forward, but don't exert any more pressure on your recuperating leg than your healthcare provider has advised.

How To Use Crutches On Stairs

Climbing staircases on crutches can be hazardous if you attempt fast movements. Always ensure you take a moment to establish balance before proceeding to the next step. It might also be a good idea to ask a friend or family member for assistance the first few times you attempt the stairs.

  • If the stairwell has a railing, use it to support yourself.
  • Place your foot a shoe's length away from the lowest step.
  • Hold the handrail for support and balance on your strong leg.
  • Tuck your crutches under your arm that isn't holding the rails.
  • Step forward with your strong leg. Keep your affected leg raised and positioned slightly behind you as you stand.

For staircases without railing:

  • Place your foot a shoe length away from the lowest step.
  • Hold your crutches on the same side as your affected leg.
  • Lift your strong leg first.
  • Keep crutches and the affected leg together on the step below.
  • Then, bring the crutches and affected leg up to the next step to meet your strong leg.

Descending stairways stairs can be slightly trickier, particularly if you're still getting used to your crutches. Remember that before you shift your weight and descend, your strong leg needs to be set firmly on the step below.

If the stairwell has a railing, use it to support yourself as you descend:

  • Before you start moving, stand at the top of the steps and establish your balance.
  • Place crutches in one hand.
  • With the other hand, hold the handrail for support while maintaining balance on your strong leg.
  • Step down, using crutches and the affected leg.
  • Lower your strong leg to meet your affected leg.
  • Regain balance before descending.

For staircases without a railing, ensure you take a moment to establish your balance.

  • Maintain your balance using your strong leg.
  • Move your crutches to the next step down.
  • Step down to meet your crutches with your affected leg. Apply equal pressure on the handgrips of your crutches for support, then lower your strong leg to meet the affected leg.
  • Take a moment to establish your balance again before descending.

Final Tips For Using Crutches

  • Choose low-set, supportive shoes to reduce stumbling. Avoid wearing high heels or slippers. Stick to sneakers or flats.
  • Walk carefully and slowly when walking on slippery or smooth surfaces,
  • Avoid carrying anything in your hands. Personal items should be carried in a pocket or backpack.
  • Consider adding more padding to arm supports to help reduce pain beneath your arms.
  • Always ensure your crutches are correctly adjusted to your height and preferences.
  • Clean crutches with antibacterial wipes regularly.

Your One-Stop Mobility Aid Solution

ApriaHome believes in accessible mobility solutions for all. Whether you've just been prescribed a new set of crutches or require alternative mobility aids such as canes, walkers, and wheelchairs, ApriaHome has got you covered.

We supply a wide range of mobility aids and accessories, all from the convenience of our secure online platform. Looking for something specific? Get in touch with one of our friendly consultants on 888-932-0418, available 8:00 am - 10:00 pm EST daily.

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