How to Use Crutches Safely

Using crutches isn't as easy as it appears. It actually takes some instruction, a bit of coordination and then practice. If you're dealing with a lower limb injury or fracture that requires you to use crutches during your recovery, these tips may help you use your crutches safely and with confidence.

Legs down view of person learning to use crutches in a hallway with two people behind
 ONOKY - Eric Herchaft/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images

How to Fit Your Crutches

Fitting your crutches is the first step to using them comfortably and safely. The first thing that you will want to do is ask your doctor, physical therapist, or casting professional to fit your crutches and provide you with one-on-one instruction.

Next, you will want to double check the fit with these points:

  • The top of your crutches should be about one to two inches below your armpits when you are standing upright.
  • The hand grips of the crutches should be even with your hip.
  • Your elbows should bend a bit when you use the hand grips.
  • Your shoulders should lean forward slightly while using the crutches.

Crutch Proofing Your Environment

Crutches add extra difficulty to your life. Things that you were once able to walk over, are now hazards. When you first get your crutches, ask a friend or family member to remove loose items on the floor such as rugs, electrical cords, toys or anything else that you could trip over. And then watch out! Because those items have a way of finding their way back to the floor—especially toys.

Also, ask for someone to simplify your household to keep the items you need handy. Put everything else out of the way. This applies to your daily bag or purse. While you're getting around via clutches, carry a backpack or sling-type messenger bag so you have a place to put things that are easy to reach and out of the way.

Walking with Crutches

Lengthening your appendages and basically learning how to walk with your arms is an exercise in coordination. Use these tips to make it a bit easier, which will also happen with practice.

  1. Start by standing. Lean forward slightly and move both crutches about one foot in front of you.
  2. Shift your weight to the crutches and sway forward with your hips.
  3. Swing your good leg forward between the crutches and place it in front of you on the ground.
  4. Shift your weight to your good leg and start your next step by moving the crutches about one foot in front of you.

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 most of your weight on your hands rather than on your armpits.
  • Keep the top of the crutches tightly against your sides and use your hands to absorb the weight.
  • Don't let your armpits rest on the top of the crutches; this can irritate the skin in your armpits.

How to Stand

Don't forget just standing up. You will need your clutches to help lift you from your chair. To do this, move to the front edge of the chair. Hold both crutches in the hand on your injured side, and then with your free hand, hold the arm of the chair that you are sitting in. Put your weight on your good leg, push yourself up with your arms and stand on the good leg.

Going Up Stairs

Stairs can be particularly tricky when using crutches because it requires a lot of upper body strength. 

  • If there is no handrail, use both crutches and lead with the good leg. Stand close to the step and with your weight on the crutches, lift the uninjured foot up to the first step. Once your weight is on the good leg, bring the crutches up to the same step. Repeat this process on each step.
  • If there is a handrail, use it. Hold both crutches in one hand, hold the handrail with the other, and with all your weight on your arms, bring the good leg up one step. Then bring the crutches up to that step and repeat for each step.

Going Down Stairs

Walking down stairs while on crutches is one of the most challenging and dangerous areas of mastering the use of crutches. In fact, you will want to ask someone to "spot" you the first time you try this. Be patient and deliberate while learning. 

Taking one step at a time, hold your injured foot out in front of you and hop down each stair on your good foot using the crutches or handrails as above.

If this is too difficult, try sitting on the stairs and inch yourself down each step.

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