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Patient education: How to use crutches (The Basics)

Patient education: How to use crutches (The Basics)

Why do I need crutches? — Crutches help you get around when you can't fully use 1 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 injuries or surgeries, 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 crutches? — It depends on why you are using them. 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 the crutches. It can take some practice, so go slowly and be patient.

Some general tips to help you use crutches safely:

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

Make sure that the crutches are the right height – You can adjust the height if needed. 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 should be 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 walking with the 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.

Look where you are going – When walking with crutches, look forward, not down at your feet. This will help you see things in your path so you are less likely to trip.

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 the crutches for balance.

When going down the stairs, put the crutches 1 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 1 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 might be easier for children.

Be careful getting in and out of cars – Open the car door all of the way when you need to get in or out. Do not hold on to the door for support, since it could move and cause you to fall. Take your time, and have someone help you if possible. It might help to adjust the position of the seat to give you more space.

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 use the crutches. Use a small backpack or shoulder bag to carry things you need, like your wallet and phone.

What should 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. 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 the 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 need to show that you can use the 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. Only use these aids if your doctor recommends them. You will also need to be trained on how to use them safely.

When should I call the doctor? — Call your doctor or nurse for advice if:

You are having a lot of trouble getting around.

The crutches get damaged or broken.

You hurt yourself while using the crutches.

More on this topic

Patient education: Ankle sprain (The Basics)
Patient education: Ankle fracture (The Basics)
Patient education: Lower leg fracture (The Basics)
Patient education: Pelvic fracture (The Basics)
Patient education: Meniscal tear (The Basics)
Patient education: Hip fracture (The Basics)
Patient education: Toe fracture (The Basics)
Patient education: Knee sprain (The Basics)
Patient education: Foot sprain (The Basics)
Patient education: Deciding to have a knee replacement (The Basics)
Patient education: Deciding to have a hip replacement (The Basics)
Patient education: How to use a walker (The Basics)
Patient education: Heel or foot fracture (The Basics)
Patient education: Patella fracture (The Basics)

Patient education: Anterior cruciate ligament injury (Beyond the Basics)
Patient education: Knee pain (Beyond the Basics)
Patient education: Total knee replacement (Beyond the Basics)
Patient education: Total hip replacement (Beyond the Basics)

This topic retrieved from UpToDate on: Feb 02, 2024.
Disclaimer: This generalized information is a limited summary of diagnosis, treatment, and/or medication information. It is not meant to be comprehensive and should be used as a tool to help the user understand and/or assess potential diagnostic and treatment options. It does NOT include all information about conditions, treatments, medications, side effects, or risks that may apply to a specific patient. It is not intended to be medical advice or a substitute for the medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment of a health care provider based on the health care provider's examination and assessment of a patient's specific and unique circumstances. Patients must speak with a health care provider for complete information about their health, medical questions, and treatment options, including any risks or benefits regarding use of medications. This information does not endorse any treatments or medications as safe, effective, or approved for treating a specific patient. UpToDate, Inc. and its affiliates disclaim any warranty or liability relating to this information or the use thereof. The use of this information is governed by the Terms of Use, available at https://www.wolterskluwer.com/en/know/clinical-effectiveness-terms. 2024© UpToDate, Inc. and its affiliates and/or licensors. All rights reserved.
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