HOWTO: Use crutches

I spent the best part of 2 years on crutches after a venom bite and an unrelated fall. Thankfully, I’ve made a full recovery. With all that time on crutches, I built up some tips/tricks. Since then, whenever I see someone on the street who is obviously new-to-crutches, I strike up a casual conversation about how long I spent on crutches, and if things feel ok, then I share the following suggestions. This happened recently with someone in the office, and afterwards, they encouraged me to blog this in case it is helpful to anyone reading who is also newly on crutches.

1) buy fingerless cycling gloves
Sore hands from pressure of the crutch handle is a problem. Some people prefer to pad/wrap the crutch handle, but I found this still left lots of friction / movement-under-pressure while using crutches. Over time this friction led to blisters in exactly the spot that you needed to press your weight on while using crutches. Painful.

Padded cycling gloves solved this problem. These are padded in exactly the right area… between the base-of-thumb and forefinger…and they’re cheap! Being fingerless, I could still type and answer my cellphone with them on. And the mesh backing kept my hands from getting too hot while wearing them indoors all the time, so I could just easily leave them on all day.

2) be aware of possible nerve damage to armpits
If you get sore hands (see above), its easy to then start resting your full weight on your armpits on the the top of the crutches. Every now and then is typically ok. However, its easy to get into the habit of resting your full weight on your armpits on the crutches. Dont. Leaning your weight on your armpits on your crutches can lead to nerve damage in your armpits, which will seriously limit future use of your arms and hands.

From wikipedia, “A condition known as crutch paralysis, or crutch palsy can arise from pressure on nerves in the armpit, or axilla.[2][3] Specifically, the brachial plexus in the axilla is often damaged from the pressure of a crutch…In these cases the radial is the nerve most frequently implicated; the ulnar nerve suffers next in frequency” and also http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Axillary_nerve

Use your arms to hold up your weight. As a fulcrum point, pin the top of the crutch between your upperarm and ribs – without contact to your armpit. Start with short distances. Over time, build up to longer sustained use of crutches as your arms build up strength.

Look on the bright side: when I finally came off crutches, my arms were in the best shape ever. And I had no nerve damage in my arms and hands!

3) buy a jogger fanny pack, specifically one that has holders for full-size water bottles.
One of my most frustrating episodes soon after being on crutches was my first attempt to “have a normal day at home”, by myself, making my own coffee and hoping to sit at the computer with my leg elevated. It was tricky to wrangle the machine/filter/coffee/water while on crutches, but the brew smelled great – and the first sip was wonderful.

Success! If I can make my own coffee, how bad can life be?! Then I realized I had no way of getting from the kitchen to the chair, on crutches, while holding my prized mug of coffee. Foiled!

Weeks later, I had a brainwave. The water bottle holders in fanny packs also fit most car coffee travel mugs. Coffee in a travel mug in a fanny pack doesnt spill while you are on crutches.

Make coffee. Pour into travel mug. Put travel mug into fanny-pack-bottle-holder. Rejoice.

ps: While you have this fanny pack, you might as well also pack it with:

  • house keys
  • powerbars
  • cellphone
  • tissues

Thats it. Hope those hints help someone out there… and of course, if you have other tips or hints, please email me or add them to comments below.

take care
John.

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10 Comments

  1. I was given crutches because I accidentally ran in to a table in an unlit corridor at night. (The table does not normally live in that corridor.) I failed to use them. Bad move. #LFMF (wait, different site.)

  2. Scary snakebite. Glad you’ve moved past it, and thanks for the tips.

    I was on crutches awhile recently. When getting back into traffic I noticed people would walk into them (really… serious inattention). I tried a little bicycle bell on the crutches. Didn’t work, least not as well as singing loudly in a made-up language did…. 😉

    Another crutch tip is using them for standing pushups… take them out of the armpit and put the tips three feet or so in front of you. Can also put the tips just behind you and crouch, to work the back muscles.

    If you’re coming off a long period of using crutches, have you looked into using a wooden cane for extended jaunts now? Can really help for areas of uncertain footing, and it’s also a gentle way to keep loose dogs at a distance.

  3. Thanks for the great info, that’s very helpful.

    Do you have any advice about crutch tips? I’ve been on crutches about a week, after an ankle injury, and I haven’t yet found a set of tips that last more than a couple days. I keep wearing all the way through the bottom. Did you ever upgrade yours? And did you ever change crutch models or trick out the crutches themselves?

    The tips that came with the crutches are great for indoor use, but I’ve been walking a couple miles a day for fitness since forever, and I hate to give that up, so if I have to do it on crutches then so be it. I can’t do the whole two miles, but I can manage a half-mile loop. I actually kind of like it, for the arm benefits like you mentioned, and because it seems to burn calories at about three times the rate of just walking. That just completely chews up the tips, though.

    I get the idea the manufacturer optimized for the indoor case, because the tips that came with the crutches were kind of soft and grippy. I’m sure they want to avoid indoor falls — and avoid being sued for indoor falls — and if they sell a bunch of replacement tips then that’s all the better for their business model.

    Glad to hear you’re recovered.

  4. Thanks! This is great information to have. I strained my hamstring while waterskiing. Mastering the crutches has been tricky for me. I was putting my weight on the armrests. Still trying to figure walking. Due.to my injury, I can’t move my injured leg forward with the crutches. It pulls my hamstring to move the injured.leg forward of my good leg. Trailing the injured leg feels awkward and out of sync.

  5. Thanks for the tips! looking to have crutches for a few months, and my hands already hurt on day 2! found your website when looking for crutch/cycling gloves!

    was just trying to work out carrying stuff earlier today! I’m all over the backpack/fanny pack idea.

  6. 2008 6 months on crutches, for shattered leg, back on them the last 2 days for torn Achilles’ tendon… Forgot how painful this is to my hands, I’ve had bilateral carpal tunnel surgeries and the pressure starts my hands flaring up. I ended up in 2008 wrappimg hand towels around the grips then duck tapeing the towels all around. For me this worked better than anything I tried, gloves, sheepskin, foam, even wearing 2 pairs of leather padded weight gloves. Sounds silly but for me it was the bomb….

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