No matter how long crutches have been around, when you get an injury that needs crutches, everything may feel completely new to you.
You may feel awkward with crutches and wonder just how long you have to go through this. Carl Hartmann is an orthopedic technologist for Scott & White Department of Orthopedics and offers a few tips.
“My role as an orthopedic technologist is to assist the surgeon in direct patient care, both in the clinic and operating room setting,” says Hartmann. Hartmann works with a number of patients who need crutches.
If you’ve had an injury, you may see an orthopedic tech to help with the following:
- Splint application
- Cast application
- Changing your dressings
- Educating you regarding your injury
- Suggest exercises or precautions to take moving forward
- Distributing items such as boots, wheelchairs or crutches
Function of Crutches
If you’ve had an injury to one of your lower limbs, chances are you’ll need crutches.
These injuries commonly include:
- Broken leg
- Sprained or broken ankle
- Knee problems
- Any surgery to a lower extremity
“We have a large patient population that is required to be non-weight-bearing for a period of time,” says Hartmann.
There are many people who many need to be on crutches from anywhere to a few weeks to months. You may have to use a crutch to keep the weight off of your limb, or perhaps you need assistance walking.
If you walk with extreme difficulty, crutches can help. People with leg or foot pain or injury, weak muscles, or an unstable gait can use crutches to get around. Regaining upright body movement aids circulation, assists kidney and lung functions, and helps prevent calcium loss from your bones.
Taking the Weight Off
The function of crutches is to help take any weight off of the injury, so it can heal appropriately.
A crutch will do two things:
- Reduce weight load on one of your legs
- Broaden your support base to improve your balance and stability
“When a patient is asked to remain non-weight-bearing they assume that they cannot let their foot touch the ground,” says Hartmann. “We let them know that is ok to set their foot on the ground to help them keep their balance. Losing your balance can lead to putting all you weight on your extremity.”
Hartmann says this knowledge is of great relief, since most people want to have a good outcome.
Getting the Right Fit
If you’re on crutches, you may hear horror stories of bruised armpits or terrible falls. One of the key things to remember when you get crutches is to make sure they fit properly. The top of the crutch should rest about four fingers under the armpit, not above. You should also allow your hand to rest as you flex your elbow. Hartmanns says to check that the handle setting is set to have the elbow flexed about 30 degrees. If the elbow is not at 30 degrees, adjust the handles up or down till the elbow appears to be flexed at 30 degrees.
“When the crutches are adjusted correctly you should be able to bear your weight through your hands,” says Hartmann.
When you’re using crutches, make sure you never support yourself with your armpits, but instead use the handgrips for support. If you are struggling with how to make crutches more comfortable, you can purchase cushioned covers. Or, you may consider an alternative like a wheelchair, walker or even a knee walker.
Most of all, remember to take it one day at a time. When walking, don’t try to move too quickly and listen to your body when it may need to rest. Don’t get too heavy-hearted because crutches are usually a short-term treatment, and you’ll be back on both feet in no time.
“I try to encourage patients that it’s only for a short period of time, relatively speaking, and we want the best outcomes,” says Hartmann.