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How to Use Crutches

What Are Crutches?

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.

Why Do I Need Crutches?

Patients may need to use crutches for different reasons. Crutches can help:

  • Give balance by spreading weight over a wider area
  • Limit the amount of weight put on your leg
  • Give support when muscles are weak

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.

Types of Crutches

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.

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.

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.

•	Underarm or axillary crutches extend up to the armpit area. When used properly, weight is placed in the handgrip and not in the armpit.

Benefits of Forearm Crutches

Forearm crutches have several benefits over underarm crutches, especially for children who need to use crutches for an extended time. Benefits include:

  • Better comfort
  • Easier to use
  • Better posture
  • Less risk of axillary nerve damage
  • More natural position of hand and wrist
  • Lighter and more compact
  • More stable and easier to use on stairs or uneven surfaces
  • Allow for different walking patterns and speeds

Do My Crutches Fit?

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.

Forearm Crutches

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.

Underarm Crutches

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).

Tips for Walking with Your Crutches

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.

  1. 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.

    1. Stand with all your weight on the strong or healthy leg.
    2. Move both crutches forward about a step’s distance (6-12 inches). If you prefer, you can move crutches one at a time, but this will reduce speed.
    3. Shift your weight onto the crutches, putting weight through the handgrips.
    4. Straighten your elbows.
    5. Use a swinging motion to lift your healthy leg and swing your body up to the crutches, landing back on the healthy leg. As you get stronger and more confident, you may be able to swing past the crutches.
    6. Repeat the cycle.
  2. 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.

    1. Move both crutches and your weak or injured leg forward about a step’s distance (6-12 inches).
    2. Shift most of your weight onto the crutches with just a little weight on the weak or injured leg. Support your body with your arms using the handgrips.
    3. Bring your other leg forward.
    4. Repeat the cycle.
  3. This pattern gives a stable gait and is used when balance or strength is affected.

    1. Stand with your weight equally on both legs and crutches.
    2. Move the left crutch forward.
    3. Move the right leg forward.
    4. Move the right crutch forward.
    5. Move the left leg forward.
    6. Repeat cycle of left crutch, right leg, right crutch, left leg.

Going Up and Down Stairs with Crutches

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.

  1. Get close to the step.
  2. Shift weight onto crutches and involved leg.
  3. Step up with your healthy leg.
  4. Follow with your weak or injured leg and then crutches.
  5. Repeat the cycle until you are at the top of the stairs.

Going down the stairs:

When going down stairs, place your crutches on the step below before stepping down with the weaker leg.

  1. Get close to the edge of the step.
  2. Put your crutches on the step below.
  3. Step down with you involved leg.
  4. Shift weight onto crutches.
  5. Follow with strong or healthy leg.
  6. Repeat the cycle until you are at the bottom of the stairs.

Using Crutches Safely

Some simple tips can help you be safe and prevent falls when using crutches:

  • Wear nonskid, supportive shoes.
  • Have good posture, and look forward with the head up.
  • Go slow, and stay in control. It takes some time to get used to the crutches.
  • Keep the tips of the crutches a few inches away from your feet to prevent tripping.
  • Support your weight through the handgrips.
  • Be careful of wet or uneven surfaces, and watch out for objects in your way.
  • Don’t hold a phone or other object in your hand while using crutches. Use a backpack to carry books or other items to keep hands free.
  • To sit down or stand up, put your crutches in one hand, and hold onto the arm of a chair or handrail to help you.
  • If your crutches do not feel right, ask your therapist to check the fit.
  • Do not use crutches that do not match or are too short. 
  • Use nonskid rubber tips to prevent slipping.
    • Change tips that look worn.
    • Use larger tips to increase stability and safety.

Talk to your doctor or therapist if you are unsure about any instructions or feel unsteady on crutches.


Reviewed: February 2020