Any injury that occurs from the hip down can affect one’s ability to walk. In general, a surgery/injury to the leg, foot, knee, or ankle will require additional support to walk until or unless the patient heals from it. Under extreme circumstances, wheelchair assistance is typically needed until the patient can either walk on their own, or on crutches. In some cases where one leg is affected and not the other, patients are advised to use crutches during the initial stages of their recovery.
While unforeseen circumstances are inevitable (in the case of accidents/mishaps), forthcoming surgeries give patients some amount of time to prepare for the recovery period. Regardless of the situation, however, being faced with the challenge of using crutches without any knowledge on the same only adds to the frustration and trauma of dealing with an injury or surgery.
Although some individuals get the hang of it pretty quickly, many others are faced with great difficulty when walking, climbing up/down stairs, and walking on uneven ground and slopes. To help you overcome these struggles, MSK Therapy is sharing some crucial tips on how to use crutches properly so that you are not risking another injury or mishap when walking on any type of ground.
Using Crutches on Flat Ground
To walk on flat ground with crutches means having to learn the basics of using these mobility aids. In fact, it is very important to learn the right way to use crutches before even attempting to walk on them because many individuals end up hurting their arms or worse, falling down due to improper use of the crutches.
Before we explain the correct way to use a pair of crutches, you need to understand whether you have a weight-bearing status or non-weight bearing status.
If you have a non-weight bearing leg, this means that you cannot or should not subject that leg to any weight.
Depending on the injury sustained, you may be able to put some amount of weight (maybe 10% or 50% of body weight) on the leg; however, you will still need to use both crutches.
The way in which you hold and manoeuvre the crutches does not change regardless of whether you have a weight bearing or non-weight bearing leg; however, the way your injured leg moves while walking will differ. We’ll explain what that means as we go, read on!
How to Use Crutches for the First Time on Flat Ground
- Get the height right. To do this, stand up straight (on your uninjured leg), and place the crutches under your arms. Adjust the height to allow at least 2-3 inches between your underarms and the top of the crutches. Always remember that your weight needs to be taken through your forearms and not your underarms. In fact, the top of the crutches should only touch your underarms but they should not bear any of the weight. In some cases, they may not touch at all! If you find that the crutches are pushing up against your underarms, you are doing it wrong.
- Hold them in place (under your arm), extend the crutches outward on either side so that they are slightly slanted and not parallel to your body. This is intended to improve your balance when walking.
- Hold the handles tightly and stand on your uninjured leg while slightly bending the injured leg backward. If you have a weight-bearing injured leg, place it on the ground very lightly without putting weight on it.
- Lift the crutches about an inch or so off the ground and move them forward. Don’t move them too far ahead; the distance should be just as much as a step you would normally take.
- Using the support of the crutches, bring your body forward by lifting your uninjured leg and taking a step in front. During this motion, your non-weight bearing leg should remain slightly bent and away from the ground.
- If you are able to put weight on the injured leg, take the first step with this leg instead. Do this very lightly while ensuring that the crutches are supporting most of your body weight.
How to Use Crutches on Stairs
Climbing up and down stairs on crutches is tricky and dangerous. It takes a bit of practice which is why we advise doing it with a spotter until you get the hang of it.
Here are the instructions on how to use crutches on a staircase:
Climbing Up Stairs with Crutches
- Place both your feet close to the bottom step.
- Steady your arms so that your weight is supported by the crutches.
- While your injured leg is slightly bent behind you (so that it doesn’t hit the stairs as you go up), place your good leg on the step above and then lift the crutches up onto the same step. Allow your bad leg to move with your body as it goes up the step.
- When you have balanced and adjusted yourself as needed, do the same thing to climb the rest of the steps.
Climbing Down Stairs with Crutches
- Raise your injured leg forward just enough to bend it so that it clears the step.
- Use your uninjured leg to support your body weight while you bend forward and simultaneously bring the crutches down to the step below.
- With your weight supported by the crutches as you lean forward, bring your good leg down to the step below. Your injured leg should remain forward and slightly bent each time you are climbing down stairs with your crutches.
- Make sure that you have restored complete balance before taking the next step.
When using crutches on slopes, make sure that your non-weight bearing leg is bent in the right direction so that it clears the ground when climbing up or down. If you are walking on uneven ground such as stony cement or gravel, be extra cautious by testing how firm the grips of the crutches are before walking. If your balance is shaky, ask one or more persons to assist you.
MSK Therapy is happy to help you recover from leg injuries or surgeries with personalised physiotherapy programs. We also offer chiropractic care for post-recovery treatment which can help relieve knee pain and low back pain among other body aches. For more information, feel free to contact us today!