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Patient education: Using crutches (The Basics)

Patient education: Using crutches (The Basics)

Why do I need crutches? — Crutches help you get around when you can't fully use one of your legs. You might need to use crutches after:

An injury, like a fracture or sprain, to part of your leg or foot

Surgery on your leg or foot

After these types of injury or surgery, walking normally might be difficult or impossible for some time. With crutches, you can move around while the injured part of your body rests and heals. They help keep you from making a fracture or sprain worse, or using your leg too much so it can't heal properly.

How should I use my crutches? — It depends on why you are using the crutches. In some situations, you can use them to help you walk, but still put some weight on the injured leg. In other situations, you need to completely avoid putting any weight on that leg while it heals. Your doctor, nurse, or physical therapist will help teach you how to walk with your crutches. It can take some practice, so try to take it slow and be patient.

These are some general tips that can help you use your crutches safely:

Make sure your crutches have all the parts – Crutches should have a soft pad over the arm rest and a non-skid pad at the tip (picture 1).

Make sure your crutches are the right height – The top of the crutches should be about the width of 2 fingers below your armpit when you are standing. When you hold the grips, your elbows should be partially bent, and your wrists straight.

Try to use your arms and hands, not your armpits, to hold your weight – Putting pressure on your armpits can lead to nerve damage over time.

Practice using your crutches – Moving the crutches together, place them both slightly in front of you. Using the crutches to support your weight and keep your balance, move your "good" foot even with the crutches (figure 1). Do not swing your good leg past the crutches.

Be extra careful on stairs – It might help to remember that the "good" goes up and the "bad" goes down:

When you are going up the stairs, step up with your "good" leg first, using your crutches for balance.

When going down the stairs, put your crutches one step below you. Then move your "bad" leg down, if you are able to put some weight on it. Next, step or hop down carefully with your "good" leg.

Another option is to hold both crutches in one hand, and use the handrail for support as you carefully hop up or down the stairs. Or you can sit on the stairs and push yourself up or down while seated. This approach may be easier for children.

Make your home safer – Remove things you could trip over, like loose rugs, electrical cords, and clutter.

Keep your hands free – Don't try to hold anything in your hands while you are using your crutches. Use a small backpack or shoulder bag to carry things you need, like your wallet and phone.

What can I do if my crutches are causing pain? — It's normal to have some amount of discomfort after using crutches for a while. Your body is getting used to a new way of moving, and your arms or hands might get tired. Try to take breaks and rest when you can.

If you are having a lot of pain, talk to your doctor or nurse. It's possible that the height of your crutches needs to be adjusted.

When can I stop using my crutches? — It depends on the injury or surgery you had, and how quickly your body heals. Your doctor or nurse will talk to you about how long you should keep using crutches. They might also do a follow-up exam, or imaging tests such as X-rays, to see how you are healing.

What if I can't use crutches? — In some cases, doctors do not recommend crutches. For example, if you have an injured arm in addition to a hurt leg, you won't be able to support yourself on crutches. If both of your legs are injured, crutches will also not work well.

Some people are not able to learn to use crutches. For this reason, you will need to show that you can use your crutches safely before your doctor will prescribe them. Children younger than 6 years do not typically get crutches after an injury, since it is harder for them to learn to get around safely.

If you can't use crutches, you might need to use a wheelchair while you heal. In some situations, a walker or special scooter might also be an option. You should only use these aids if your doctor recommends it. You will also need to be trained on how to use them safely.

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This topic retrieved from UpToDate on: Mar 03, 2022.
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