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Using crutches

It is important to start walking as soon as you can after your surgery. But you will need support for walking while your leg heals. Crutches may be a good choice after a leg injury or surgery if you only need a little help with balance and stability. Crutches are also useful when your leg is only a little weak or painful.

Talk to your health care provider. If you are having a lot of pain, weakness, or problems with balance. A walker may be a better option for you than crutches.

Crutch Basics

While you are moving around with crutches:

  • Let your hands carry your weight, not your armpits.
  • Look forward when you are walking, not down at your feet.
  • Use a chair with armrests to make sitting and standing easier.
  • Make sure your crutches have been adjusted to your height. The top should be 1 to 1 1/2 inches below your armpit. The handles should be at hip level.
  • Your elbows should be slightly bent when you hold the handles.
  • Keep the tips of your crutches about 3 inches away from your feet so that you do not trip.

Rest your crutches upside down when you are not using them so that they do not fall down.

Walking and Turning

When you walk using crutches, you will move your crutches forward ahead of your weak leg.

  1. Place your crutches about 1 foot in front of you, slightly wider apart than your body.
  2. Lean on the handles of your crutches and move your body forward. Use the crutches for support. Do NOT step forward on your weak leg.
  3. Finish the step by swinging your strong leg forward.
  4. Repeat steps 1 through 3 to move forward.
  5. Turn by pivoting on your strong leg, not your weak leg.

Go slowly. It may take a while to get used to this movement.Your health care provider will talk to you about how much weight you should put on your weak leg. Options include:

  • Non weight-bearing. This means keep your weak leg off the ground when you walk.
  • Touch-down weight-bearing. You may touch the ground with your toes to help with balance. Do NOT bear weight on your weak leg.
  • Partial weight-bearing. You may put less than half of your body weight on your weak leg.
  • Weight-bearing as tolerated. You may put more than half of your body weight on your weak leg as long as it is not painful.

Sitting and Standing

To sit down:

  • Back up to a chair, bed, or toilet until the seat touches the back of your legs.
  • Move your weak leg forward, and balance on your strong leg.
  • Hold both crutches in your hand on the same side as your weak leg.
  • Using your free hand, grab the armrest, the seat of the chair, or the bed or toilet.
  • Slowly sit down.

To stand up:

  • Move to the front of your seat and move your weak leg forward.
  • Hold both crutches in your hand on the same side as your weak leg.
  • Use your free hand to help you push up from your seat to stand up.
  • Balance on your strong leg while you place a crutch in each hand.

Stairs

Avoid stairs until you are ready to use them. Before you can go up and down them on your feet, you can sit down and scoot up or down, one step at a time.

When you are ready to go up and down stairs on your feet, follow these steps. At first, be sure to practice them with help from someone to support you.

To go up stairs:

  1. Step up with your strong leg first.
  2. Bring the crutches up, one in each arm.
  3. Place your weight on the strong leg and then bring your weak leg up.

To go down stairs:

  1. Put your crutches on the step below first, one in each arm.
  2. Move your weak leg forward and down. Follow with your strong leg.
  3. If there is a handrail, you can hold onto it and hold both crutches on your other side in one hand. This may feel awkward. So be sure to go slowly until you are comfortable.

Safety Tips

Make changes around you house to prevent falls .

  • Make sure any loose rugs, rug corners that stick up, or cords are secured to the ground so you do not trip or get tangled in them.
  • Remove clutter and keep your floors clean and dry.
  • Wear shoes or slippers with rubber or non-skid soles. Do NOT wear shoes with heels or leather soles.

Check the tip or tips of your crutches daily and replace them if they are worn. You can get replacement tips at your medical supply store or local drugstore.

Use a small backpack, fanny pack, or shoulder bag to hold items that you need with you (such as your phone). This will keep your hands free while you are walking.

Updated: 4/14/2013

Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Medical Director and Director of Didactic Curriculum, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, Department of Family Medicine, UW Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Washington. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Bethanne Black, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.


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