A young man on crutches sprang past me at the dog park the other day. He was practically sprinting and it was a sight to see. He really knew how to use those things.
But sprinting on crutches is not only a bad idea for most of us, but it’s also a very dangerous idea. It is also rather difficult. This man was confident of his balance and the grip of the crutches and he was, well, in excellent shape – except for the fact that one knee was bandaged. Otherwise, he was iron-man fit. For most of us who aren’t track and field stars, crutches will get us places, but steadily, not at a sprint.
Even crutches at a reasonable pace require a bit of patience before you get the proper rhythm to make your way forward. But it all starts with the right fit for the crutches.
Fit the crutches properly
With very few exceptions, there is a standard way to fit crutches so that you can walk a modest amount without causing yourself further injury. The fitting standards are these:
- Height of crutches should be two inches below your armpit
- Height of the grips should be level with your hips.
- You shoulders should lean forward when you are walking
- The crutches should be close to your body to provide balance, but not splay out so much they slip as you move forward. Also, it’s more convenient to present a narrow profile while you use the crutches, so you don’t knock into people or things
- Your elbows should be bent comfortably
Make sure you check the armpit padding, the grips, the rubber stoppers on the bottom that prevent slipping. All of these get worn out over time, especially the rubber stoppers. These can be easily replaced and they aren’t expensive. In contrast, using crutches that slip can be very dangerous, so check these items at least daily. Sometimes gum gets stuck on the bottom of your crutches and hardens there. The following day, the crutches start sliding on hard surfaces – so check the bottom of your crutches frequently.
Crutches also have adjustable features that change the height and the distance to the grips. Make sure all these items are secure. Check daily.
Crutches are designed for you to take small steps. The further out you reach with the crutches, the higher the chance they will slip.
Small steps also allow you to put your weight on your hands as you walk. You should not be using your armpits to hold you up. Doing this quickly becomes quite painful from abrasion and from putting that much weight on your armpits. Your arms and hands, not your armpits, should be holding you up while you walk.
Crutches can be quite tiring. If crutches were an efficient way to walk, everyone would be using them. But, they are not. They will tire you out pretty quickly. When you get tired, stop and rest. Don’t overdo it, as this leads to another injury.
Getting in and out of a chair can be tricky. It is not recommended that you use the crutches to pull yourself up. That puts too much weight on one small spot, which could lead to a crutch going out from under you. Instead, use the chair or the table to pull yourself up. Then use the crutches to walk.
If the stairs have secure enough handrails, it is highly recommended that you use these to help you climb stairs with the crutches as added support. It is also highly recommended that you have a “spotter” climb stairs with you – someone who can stay close to you and correct your balance if you start to fall.
Climbing downstairs is also tricky. Again, use the handrails, rather than your crutches. For going downstairs safely, it is recommended that you hold yourself upright and hop on the healthy leg down one stair at a time while holding the handrail. It is very dangerous to lean forward over a set of crutches while going down a set of stairs. If your balance goes past the tipping point, your crutches will pole-vault you forward in a very dangerous fashion.
It is also highly recommended that you use a spotter to get downstairs when you are relying on crutches to keep weight off one of your legs.
Finally, you can save yourself many hassles and headaches if you prepare your home for someone using crutches Clear out the center of each room to provide a clear path for someone on crutches. Move items to the walls or put them in storage temporarily.
Staff at FXRX Orthopaedics and Bracing have lots of expertise in the use of crutches. Call 480-449-3979 to make an appointment.