10 Tips for the Proper Use of Crutches

When you break your leg or injure your knee, you can end up coming home with a pair of crutches. If you've never used crutches before, you need to know some key tricks to using them correctly. Many people don't get the right instruction before attempting to use them.

Using crutches requires good upper-body strength and flexibility. It also requires the injury to be isolated to a single leg; patients with an injured arm or two injured legs will usually need another type of support.

Man in a hospital gown with a bandaged leg using crutches
ERproductions Ltd / Getty Images

Crutches may seem simple if you've never had to use them, but a lot goes into safe and proper use.

Size the Crutches

Your crutches should be properly sized so you can use them appropriately and don't have problems.

You shouldn't assume the crutches you have at home are the right ones for you: they may need adjusting, or you may need a pair of a different size.

Crutches should hit about one to two inches below the armpit when you're standing straight and have the handles at wrist height, so that your elbows are slightly bent when you grasp them.

Check the Padding and Grips

Check the crutches to ensure they have ample cushion on the armpit, grips, and especially on the base that contacts the floor.

These parts of crutches can be replaced at a medical supply store if they become worn. You will soon feel the pain if they don't have enough padding.

To Get Up From a Chair

To stand up from a seated position:

  • Place both crutches in the hand on the affected side (i.e., if your right leg is hurt, hold them in your right hand).
  • With your other hand, grasp the armrest of your chair.
  • Place your weight on your uninjured leg and push up with your arms.

Click Play to Learn How to Use Crutches

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

Walking With Crutches

To walk with crutches:

  • Move both crutches together a short distance in front of you (about 18 inches). Always take short steps when on crutches.
  • While supporting yourself with your hands, allow your body to swing forward as if you were going to step on the injured leg.
  • Instead of placing weight on the injured leg, rest your weight on the crutch handles.
  • Do not allow the crutch top to touch your armpit; keep your body supported with your hands.

There are some things that you should also keep in mind. For instance, your crutches take up more room on the sides and can easily get caught on things, so keep a wide area around you. In addition, consider these tips on crutch form to prevent other injuries from occurring:

  • Look ahead to where you are walking and don't look at your feet.
  • Take short steps and rest often.
  • Keep the top of the crutches tightly against your sides and use your hands to absorb the weight.

Going Up Stairs

When going up and down stairs, go one step at a time, and rest at each step.

You have a couple of options for using crutches on the stairs. You can:

  • Stand close to the step and place the crutches on ground level.
  • With your weight on the crutches, bring the uninjured foot up to the step.
  • Then bring the crutches up to the step level.
  • Repeat this for each step.

If there's a handrail, you can use this alternative method:

  • Hold both crutches under one arm.
  • Grab the handrail with the other hand.
  • Lead with the uninjured leg.

Going Down Stairs

How you go down the stairs on crutches depends on whether you can or can't bear some weight on your injured leg.

If you're not putting weight on it:

  • Hold the foot of the injured leg up in front.
  • Hop down each step on your good leg.
  • Be sure to support yourself with the crutches held in front of you on the next lower step or use the handrail on one side while holding the crutches in the other hand.
  • It may be smart to have someone assist you at first, especially if you don't have good upper-body strength.

If your healthcare provider says you can briefly bear weight on the injured leg:

  • Place the crutches on the next lower step.
  • Step down with the injured leg.
  • Then quickly bring down the good leg.
  • Take it one step at a time.

Warning: Armpit Danger

It's important that you don't let your armpits rest on the crutches, even when you're resting. Allowing your weight to rest on your armpits can cause serious damage to the nerves and muscles of your underarms.

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

By Jonathan Cluett, MD
Jonathan Cluett, MD, is board-certified in orthopedic surgery. He served as assistant team physician to Chivas USA (Major League Soccer) and the United States men's and women's national soccer teams.