How to Adjust Crutches

Choose the right size, then make sure they are the right height

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Crutches come in various sizes, each of which are adjustable so you can get a just-right fit. Learning how to measure for crutches and adjust them properly for your height can make them easier, more comfortable, and safer to use.

A physical therapist can help you pick the right crutches and fit them appropriately. If you find you need to do this yourself, read on. This article reviews crutch sizes, how to adjust your crutches, and how crutch training can help you use these assistive devices.

Caregiver helping a man with crutches
Jose Luis Pelaez Inc ./ Getty Images

How to Measure For Crutches

Buying crutches online can be a little complicated. Crutches are sometimes sold by the length of the crutch, while others go by the height of the person.

While it varies among manufacturers, crutches typically come in the following sizes:

  • Child
  • Youth
  • Adult
  • Tall adult

To make sure you're choosing the right one, all you will need is your height. Most manufacturers have size chart on their website that you can reference.

The size choice may be obvious (e.g., child size for a seven-year-old) or it may not. For example, a short adult may need a youth-sized crutch, while a tall teen may need an adult-sized crutch.

You can also measure for crutches using a cloth tape measure. With the person standing upright, measure from the armpit to the floor. Subtract 2 inches from the measurement to get the ideal crutch length.

(If you're the one who needs the crutches, ask someone to help you with this so you get an accurate measurement.)

Why Proper-Fitting Crutches Matter

If your crutches are too high, it may be difficult to walk; you'll feel like you are pole-vaulting over the crutches with every step you take. If your crutches are too short, it may cause you to lean forward too far, leading to back pain, shoulder pain, or neck pain.

Adjusting Crutches to the Right Size 

Once you determine the appropriate size crutch, you will likely need to adjust them so the handgrip is in the appropriate location. Most underarm crutches are adjustable with a range of 6 to 8 inches.

Here are some basic guidelines to follow when adjusting your crutches:

  • The top of your crutches should be between 1 1/2 inches to 2 inches below your armpits while standing up straight.
  • The handgrips of the crutches should be even with the top of your hips.
  • There should be a slight bend in your elbows when you use the handgrips.
  • Hold the top of the crutches against your sides and use your hands to absorb the weight. Do not press the top of the crutches into your armpits. This could result in damage to the nerves that run under your arms.

Start adjusting the crutch by height. Metal crutches are usually adjusted by pressing the buttons on both sides of the crutch.

Traditional wooden crutches use screw bolts and wing nuts or swivel nuts. To adjust these, first remove the nut then take the bolt out of the hole. There are typically two sets of bolts you will need to remove on each crutch. Adjust it to the proper height, then reinsert both sets of bolts and secure the nuts on.

Your physical therapist can help you make sure your crutches are the proper height and that you are using them correctly for your condition.

Crutch Training Is Helpful

Before using crutches, it is important to be instructed by a healthcare professional as to how to properly use them. This should include proper crutch positioning and sizing. Being adequately fitted with a pair of crutches is important for safe crutch use as well as to prevent possible nerve damage in your arms or hands.

A solid crutch training session will focus on proper walking and weight bearing, practicing walking up and down stairs and walking up and over curbs and obstacles. Your physical therapist can ensure that you are safe while training on your crutches. Some doctors recommend you learn to walk on crutches before an elective lower extremity surgery.

Remember, there are different levels of weight bearing and different types of gait patterns that may be used with your crutches. By learning these types of crutch walking patterns, you can be sure to remain safe while walking with your crutches.


Click Play to Learn How to Use Crutches

This video has been medically reviewed by Laura Campedelli, PT, DPT

When You Only Need One Crutch

When walking with only one crutch, you should not need to make any changes to the crutch size or position. Typical progression from walking with crutches would be to walk with two crutches, one crutch, and then progress to walking with a cane.

When using one crutch or a cane, it is often used on the opposite side of your injury or weakness. You move it forward with your weak or injured leg, then follow with your good leg.

3 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. American College of Foot and Ankle Surgeons. Instructions for using crutches.

  2. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. How to use crutches, canes, and walkers.

  3. Children's Hospital of Wisconsin. Crutch and cane walking: Single crutch or cane.

By Laura Inverarity, DO
 Laura Inverarity, PT, DO, is a current board-certified anesthesiologist and former physical therapist.