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Crutches are walking aids used to reduce weight placed on the lower body and provide support and balance. Special pediatric crutches are available that are sized to fit smaller children. A physical therapist can make sure that crutches fit properly and help patients learn to use crutches safely.
Patients may need to use crutches for different reasons. Crutches can help:
Using crutches can reduce pain and help healing. Crutches can also help patients be more independent and do daily activities. A doctor or therapist will give instructions for the specific type of crutch and how to use them.
The most common types of crutches are forearm crutches and underarm crutches.
Forearm crutches, sometimes known as elbow crutches, are usually the best choice for children. Forearm crutches have a flexible cuff that goes around the arm just below the elbow. This design prevents damage to nerves and blood vessels under the arm.
Underarm or axillary crutches extend up to the armpit area. When used properly, weight is placed in the handgrip and not in the armpit. It is important to avoid pressure under the arm, as this can decrease blood flow or cause nerve damage.
Forearm crutches have several benefits over underarm crutches, especially for children who need to use crutches for an extended time. Benefits include:
Crutches are adjusted to the patient’s height and arm length. When checking for fit, patients should wear the shoes they wear most often, stand up straight, and relax the shoulders.
When using forearm crutches, arms should bend slightly at the elbow (about 15 to 30 degrees) when hands are on the handgrips. Adjust the height of the handgrip so that it is even with the wrist when the arm is relaxed at the side of body. The cuff should be 1 to 1.5 inches below the back of the elbow and faces out from the body.
Place the bottom tip of the crutch about 2 inches in front of the toes. Adjust the height so that the top of the crutch is 1 to 2 inches below the armpit. The handgrips should be adjusted to allow a slight bend in the elbows (about 15 degrees).
To use crutches effectively, you need to learn a new way to walk. Your doctor or therapist will tell you how much weight you can put on your leg. Balance, coordination, strength and pain will also be factors in choosing the best walking pattern.
This pattern is recommended if one of your legs should not touch the floor. Remember to keep the foot of your weak or injured leg off the ground at all times.
Your therapist will be able to educate and answer all questions regarding the amount of weight that is appropriate based on the doctor’s instructions. Keep your feet flat, and do not walk on your toes.
This pattern gives a stable gait and is used when balance or strength is affected.
The following guidelines are for partial or full weightbearing. Your therapist will teach you about proper weightbearing and technique.
If you cannot put weight through your weak or injured leg (non-weightbearing), follow the guidelines for going up and down stairs, but DO NOT place any weight on your involved leg. Use the crutches and your strong or healthy leg to move up or down each step.
If possible, have someone help you when using crutches on stairs. You may also put crutches on one side and use the handrail. Always follow instructions from your doctor or therapist.
Going up the stairs:
When going up stairs on crutches, step up with the strong or healthy leg first.
Going down the stairs:
When going down stairs, place your crutches on the step below before stepping down with the weaker leg.
Some simple tips can help you be safe and prevent falls when using crutches:
Talk to your doctor or therapist if you are unsure about any instructions or feel unsteady on crutches.
Reviewed: February 2020