A broken bone, sprain, torn ligament, or knee replacement surgery all may require crutches to aid recovery. Learn these tips for picking the right pair of crutches for patients with varying needs.
Types of Crutches
Underarm crutches are probably the most familiar type of rehabilitation therapy equipment for Americans. Forearm or “elbow” crutches are more common in Canada, UK, and Europe. Both types of crutches require upper body strength and can put a lot of strain on hands and wrists. Patients who are challenged with upper body weakness or joint pain may require a different type of mobility aid, such as a knee scooter or wheelchair.
Underarm crutches should fit 1 to 1.5 inches below the underarm, and patients should be discouraged from slumping or slouching their armpits on top of the crutches, as this can cause painful irritation and damage to the axillary nerve. The handgrips should be even with the top of the hips so the elbow bends about 15-30˚ when the hands grip the crutches. Underarm crutches are adjustable, so the top and the handgrips can be made to fit patients of different heights. These crutches have two supports that extend down from the underarm and meet on the lower part of the crutch to form a pillar that contacts the ground.
Elbow crutches have cuffs that go around the forearm and have a single shaft throughout the length of the crutch. These crutches can be more comfortable, but they also require more upper body strength and practice to learn to use them. The good news is that they encourage better posture, they’re better for navigating uneven ground, and they permit a broader range of gaits than do underarm crutches. More active or longer-term crutch users may benefit from using elbow/forearm crutches.
Tips and Ergonomic Handles
Crutches will be fitted with rubber nonskid tips. It’s important to replace worn crutch tips for safety. For icy weather, spiky cleat attachments provide additional traction. Some crutches feature a spring-assisted tip that acts as a kind of shock absorber, accommodating the patient’s gait and assisting with forward movement.
Crutch manufacturers have been paying more attention to ergonomics and have taken steps to address the stress on hands and wrists that crutches can cause. Check to see if the crutches you’re considering are available with ergonomic handles.
Traditional underarm crutches are made of wood, but are also available in higher-tech metals. Elbow crutches are metal. Metals used to make crutches may include aluminum, steel reinforced aluminum, or titanium.
One of our most important tips for choosing the right pair of crutches is to check the adjustable height range and the weight limits the crutches can support. Children will need crutches specifically sized for kids, while very tall adults may need tall or extra-tall crutches, and obese patients may require specialized bariatric crutches capable of supporting extra weight.
This blog is intended solely for educational purposes. Any information related to medical supplies and personal healthcare should be viewed as general information and not as professional medical advice. American Hospital Supply recommends consulting your doctor regarding any medical treatments or therapies referenced. American Hospital Supply does not make representations or warranties regarding the information relating to products or healthcare decisions referenced within this blog.