Crutches and you: The Long Arm of the Crutch

At some point in your life, you may need crutches.  Most of the time, they are used to help with your walking.  Crutches are a simple tool, but there are some tips and tricks for them.

Tips and Tricks for the Casual to Intermediate User

Crutches become a challenging necessity for people at the most inopportune of times. Take an injury or surgery for example. After my knee surgery, I was medicated, tired and in a fair amount of pain. Crutches were not instantly easy to use, but I needed them. I by no means looked like a coordinated person gracefully moving around. Doors instantly seemed to get narrow as I would bang into them, it took twice as long to get places and simple tasks like going to the bathroom were a whole new challenge.

So, now that I’m a week post-op and a week more experienced on crutches, I’m writing this to help my crutch bearing colleagues. Crutches are a bit awkward, but with some practice and possible a few modifications, they aren’t too bad. I get them for 6 weeks and I am not allowed to put any weight on my healing leg. Unless you have a similar surgical requirement, do your best to get off of them and start using your leg again.

Some of the Challenges

  • Getting around
  • Simple tasks
  • Carrying things

The Ground Rules

First, make sure they crutches fit right. Do not have them press into your arm pits. That really is bad for you.  They should press into your ribs below your arm pits.  Your doctor should help fit you.

Tips and Tricks

Getting Around:

Practice moving around before you actually need them. For an unexpected injury, or where insurance only gives them to you right after the procedure, you don’t have much you can do. If you can spend a little time on them, you will get an idea of what it will be like. Your arms do a lot of work, so it is good to wake up those muscles, or even build them a little if you need to.

Check Your Environment

Do you have loose chords or rugs where you will be everyday? Trust me, slipping or tripping on crutches is not a good thing. At best, you will have to get up again. Worse, you might hurt yourself worse. My personal example is a bathroom mat. Picture a smooth bathroom floor with a nice bath mat. Now picture one crutch and the good leg on that smooth floor with the other crutch on the bath mat. Start putting some weight on the crutches and the bath mat starts to slide… in the wrong direction. Think about things like stairs, space between cars in the garage, space between the bed and the wall, the height of the bed, places to assist with balance while using the bathroom and other things which may be special to your circumstances. Picture yourself off-balance and in some pain. What will help you? Walking around and thinking about this will help a lot when you are.

Simple Tasks

Practice Changing Clothes. Guess what, it is hard to put on pants/shorts/underware with one leg for balance. Will you have a big leg brace on? I am lucky in that I am flexible to start with. I can put the clothing on my good leg, bend the healing one just enough to get it in, then lean back and inch them on. I do all of the while lying on the floor. See the next point. If you need help at first, don’t let your pride get in the way. You will figure it out soon.

Practice Getting up from the Floor. Don’t laugh. If you can’t do a one legged squat, this might be a little tricky. I put the crutch so that it is vertical with the bottom by my hip. I hold the handle like I am going to do a pull up. The bend the good leg, pull with the arms and you start to go up. Easy, right? For the most part, it is, but doing it with some balance may take time.

The Bathroom

First, bathrooms are notorious for having water on the floor.  Water on the floor can make things very slippery.

Similar to standing up from the ground, going into a sitting position adds a new twist. Particularly when that seat has a hole in the middle and limited place to put your hands for balance. Even when standing, you may need a hand that would otherwise be holding the crutch for balance. In this case, I think it is find to use the crutch in your armpit, the “free” hand on something for balance and the business hand for finishing the task at hand.

The shower is a tricky place too. It may be a bath for you. No matter what, you will have to figure out your environment and be very careful not to get any stitches or sutures wet. An infection would not do you much good. For me, I got a shower in the second day and it felt great. Our shower had a little built in bench and we have a hand held shower head. Those both made it possible. A chair might help you too. If you are really lucky, you might have your significant other bathe you…

Sleeping

Do you only sleep on your back? With your leg elevated? In a CPM machine? I don’t have a lot of advice for this one. When you are tired, you will sleep. Pain medications may make you very tired. Sleeping with the CPM machine on isn’t too bad. Getting out of it to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night is tricky.

I have two suggestions for sleeping. First, have a night light. When you are trying to unhook from machines or find your crutches, it really helps to see. Waking your spouse won’t be good. Let them sleep so they can help you later. Second, wear your brace at night. It protects you from doing bad things to yourself while you are sleeping.

Carrying Things

When your hands are on the crutches, how do you carry something like an apple, a book, some water or other little item? I do recommend letting someone else do the big heavy things, but you will want to move the little things both for convenience and your own sanity.

My first suggestion is a simple modification to the crutches. I got a bicycle water bottle holder and attached it to my crutch. I used plastic zip-ties and I placed it about 16″ below the handle. It is obviously great for bicycle water bottles, but if you get a cheap metal one, you can bend it a little. This opens up the possibilities to travel mugs, apples, books, ace bandages and may other things. Many things will fit fine without needing to bend it, but if you want to tweak it for other slightly off-sized cargo you can. It is an old mountain biker trick to bend the bottle cage (as they are known) in a little to hold you bottle tighter. Bottles falling off your bike on a bouncy section sucks. Chromoly, or steel, ones work best as they can be bent often. aluminum is ok, but will wear out faster if you bend it a lot. titanium ones would work great, but save your money for for something else. The one I got at REI was about $4.

Cargo shorts/pants are another great way to carry little things. Lots of pockets make it easy to carry little things around. Remember what pocket you put them in later…

Small bags with handles are nice too. The plastic ones you get at the grocery store are great (though bad for the environment). They fold up, into the pocket of your cargo shorts, can hold a fair amount and are easy to hold while holding onto the crutches.

The Long Arm

The crutch itself is a long arm. Be creative, but not at the cost of loosing your balance or hurting yourself. You can use the crutch to hit light switches far away, move things and many other things. Don’t forget what you can now do while sitting.

Conclusion

Good luck. If I think of more I’ll add it. I wish you the best in your time on crutches.

Note: Watch what you crutch in. I hit some tar the other day and left little black circles everywhere. You can take your shoes off at the door, but not your crutches.

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