Crutches Resource Center

History, Types, Uses and Alternatives

A crutch is a device a person needing assistance with walking often uses. When a person is unable to support weight, a crutch can be used to transfer the person’s weight from his or her legs to the upper body. It is a mobility aid that is needed to help with walking after short-term injuries or life-long disabilities.

Walking or mobility aids are needed by people severely disabled or for long journeys which would otherwise be undertaken on foot.

If you have decided to buy crutches, the following information about the types available today, how they are used and help with support of the injured or disabled, and when they are the best alternative for the support you need should help you to make a decision of the best to buy crutches.


The First Crutches

Drawings from Ancient Egypt depicted the first crutches known as “walking sticks”. These were patented by Emile Schlick in October of 1917.


The first walking sticks were most likely used to help a person stand. Over time, however, they became both weapons and symbols of authority. The size of the walking stick was determined by the size of the man using the walking stick. The tribe chiefs carried the most elaborate sticks. Elaborate carvings of the tribe’s emblems adorned these walking sticks.


The sticks of ancient Egypt were objects of prime importance depicting the occupation of a person. For instance, the staff of a shepherds was quite different from the stick of a merchant. A priest’s stick or that of a Pharaoh were also different. The people of ancient times also believed a mummy would need his stick during his travels after death. Therefore, the walking stick was placed next to the mummy in his coffin.


The design of the walking sticks during the middle ages showed the domination of the church at that time. Crosses and bishop’s crosiers adorned the walking sticks. Some walking sticks even had hiding places for precious stones, money and secret weapons.


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The Development of the Crutch

The basic design of the crutch hasn’t changed since ancient times. However, A. R. Lofstrand, Jr. developed and patented the first height-adjustable crutch November 9, 1948.  Because of the polio epidemic, Thomas Fetterman developed the forearm crutch in the 1950’s that were first produced in 1988.

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Crutch Types

A person suffering from an injury below the waist would most likely use a crutch for support and would seek to buy crutches suited to adding that support. The injuries include pulled muscles, bone fractures, broken bones, strains and sprains. They also provide support for people with mobility affecting disabilities. The specific type of crutch used by a person is based on the size and range of the injury, the support type needed and the person’s overall physical condition.


Forearm Crutches

The forearm crutches are mobility aids usually made of plastic or metal. The weight of the body is shifted by the forearm crutch from an injured foot or leg to the upper body. The forearm crutch has a cuff that the user slips their forearm into with a hand grip grasp. This reduces the pressure on the wrist and improves control of mobility as well as maintains better posture.

The Underarm


People with disabilities or temporary injuries in the United States usually use the underarm type of crutch for support. When the pads of these crutches are placed beneath the armpits and the grips are held, less upper arm strength and training are required.


Be aware of the fact that to buy crutches of this type requires being properly fitted to the patient to avoid problems. The overall height of this type of crutch as well as the distance between the underarm supports to each handgrip are the two most important adjustments.


The cost of this type of crutch is less than other types.

The Platform

If a person cannot bear weight on his or her wrist, the platform crutch would offer the support needed. This type crutch would be used by a person with cerebral palsy or arthritis. Padding of platforms provides comfort of a person’s upper extremities. This type of crutch is usually used by people needing a crutch over a long-term according to the Caylor School of Nursing at Lincoln Memorial University.

Leg Support Crutch

The design of this type of crutch is based on the need of a patient to help support a person with injuries or disabilities that affect only one leg’s lower portion. The injured leg is strapped to a support frame. The person’s weight load is transferred to the knee or thigh by the support frame. The arms or hands are not used when this type of crutch is used eliminating complications caused by other types. Leg support crutches cannot be used by a person with a hip, thigh or pelvis injury.

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Problems of underarm crutches brought about the invention of the Easy Strutter Functional Orthosis System. The strutters eliminated problems such as blood clots, axillary artery stenosis and aneurysms.


Extensive use of the underarm crutch has been the cause of some nerve damage cases. The user’s weight is supported by strutters without nerves and blood vessels in the axillary area being injured. The axillary area is the region of the body where the shoulder is connected under the arm.


Lower Leg Injuries Needing Support

Rupture of Achilles Tendon

One of the longest tendons of your body is the Achilles tendon. Its basic function is to connect your calf muscles to your heel bone. It, therefore, is used by you every time you take a step. Every time you step, walk, jump, run, dance or basically use your legs, your Achilles tendon is engaged.


It is no wonder it is so often injured. When too much force is applied to the tendon, the result can be severe injuries to the Achilles tendon or a partial tear of the tendon. The worst injuries of the tendon are the total tearing of the tendon or a complete rupture.

Symptoms of a ruptured Achilles tendon include:
  • A snap, popping or crack sound when you push off with your leg. A sharp pain in the back or your ankle or leg will accompany the sound.
  • Moving your foot, walking or going upstairs is difficult. Standing on your toes is utterly impossible.
  • There is swelling and bruising at the back or your heel or leg accompanied with pain.


Any of the above symptoms indicates the need for you to seek immediate medical attention. Just how severe your injury is can be diagnosed by a medical professional.

Treatment of Achilles tendon injuries includes:
  • Ice application
  • Over the counter medications for pain relief and/or inflammation reduction
  • Casting of foot with toes pointed down
  • Weekly recasting of foot with toes pointing down
  • Surgery

Adjustments are then gradually made to put the person’s foot into a neutral position. During this part of the healing process, the patient must not walk on the foot and must stay off the leg for the period recommended by his or her doctor.


During this period of time, the foot must be totally non-weight bearing.

Treatment of Achilles tendon injuries includes:

If surgery is the necessary treatment, the patient must wear a cast or walking boot for at least six to twelve weeks. The purpose of the cast or boot is to keep the patient’s toes pointed downward during the first part of the healing process.

The best crutches to use during the non-weight bearing period:

Traditional – This type allows for walking without weight on the patient’s injured leg. Although these are inexpensive and available for purchase, they have many disadvantages:

  • Patients suffer from underarm, hand, wrist, and elbow pain.
  • Many common activities are either difficult or impossible. This causes the patient to cheat resulting in a longer recovery time or re-injury.

Knee walkers or scooters – The popularity of these has grown over recent years. The user of a knee scooter bends his or her injured leg about 90 degrees at the knee. At the same time, the patient kneels onto a platform attached to a four-wheel frame.


The scooter is steered by the user with the handlebars of the scooter in much the same way a person steers a bicycle. The fact that both hands are needed to steer the scooter makes this scooter too restricting for performing daily activities. The scooter is both bulky and heavy and must be stored in the back seat or trunk of a car. The scooter’s turn radius is limited. Knee scooters are not suited to be used in small areas, on stairs, on slopes or uneven terrain.

iWALK2.0 (hands free) – The iWALK2.0 is both pain and hands free and the most recent mobility device added to today’s market. Using this scooter requires the patient to kneel on a platform in much the same way knee walkers do. However, straps secure the device to your natural leg allowing it to function like the patient’s own leg would.


This device allows your arms and hands to be free to perform daily tasks. It is also a device that is easy to use during normal walking and can also be used in the shower. You can easily navigate stairs and hold onto their rails since your hands are free.


Hands free devices have been found to result in faster healing of lower leg injuries. The feeling of well-being is a significant benefit of the iWALK2.0.

Below Knee Amputees

A patient’s mobility will eventually return after surgery through the use of a prosthetic. To receive this mobility, it is essential that a patient prepare for the benefits of the artificial limb.


When relaxing at home, showering or doing something that may strain or damage your prosthetic, you may prefer one of the following alternatives to wearing your prosthetic:

Wheel chair – If your home is large and/or single story, you may prefer to use a wheelchair. Ramps can be used in a home with minimal stairs.

Knee Scooter – A knee scooter, described above, can enable an amputee to be mobile throughout the home.

Traditional Crutches – Amputees use these when navigating at home. The pros and cons of these are described above and tips on using them follow.

iWALK2.0 – The iWALK2.0 is currently the only hands-free device on the market today.

Broken Ankle

One of the most common joint or bone injuries is a broken ankle or ankle fracture.


  • Pain in your ankle is immediate and severe.
  • Ankle joint swelling
  • Ankle is tender to your touch or when moving or bending.
  • Redness, bruising and discolorations are seen on any part of the lower leg.
  • You are unable to put any weight on either the foot or injured ankle.
  • Your foot hangs in a position that is unnatural or twists to one side.
  • The best crutches to use for ankle injuries:
  • Traditional Crutches
  • Knee Scooter or Walker
  • iWALK2.0

Foot Fracture

Chronic overuse or sudden trauma to a foot may cause a fracture or break to a foot’s bone.

Most cases of foot fractures or breaks in a bone of the foot do not require surgery. When surgery is not required, the patient should use the following suggestions for relief:

  • Rest the foot.
  • Keep weight off of the foot by becoming non-weight bearing.
  • Elevate the foot to a height above the heart.
  • rIce
  • Protective footwear or casts for at least 6 to 12 weeks
  • Best crutches for non-weight bearing periods:
  • Knee scooters
  • 0
  • Knee Scooter or Walker
  • iWALK2.0

Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy

Patients with CRPS also known as Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy suffer from an inflammatory disorder. This disorder usually affects one or more limb although it can affect any body part. Damage to tissues is caused by injury or trauma. This damage causes a person’s nerves to misfire resulting in the malfunction of the immune system and the nervous system. Because of this connection being continuously faulty, the person suffers with constant pain. The affected injury is magnified with an abnormal response and the pain becomes more severe.

Symptoms of CRPS

The intensity of these symptoms can vary. Emotions have been found to affect levels of pain. Anger and/or stress may significantly increase these symptoms causing each case to dramatically differ from others.

  • Deep, cold, aching and burning pain
  • Affected joints are both stiff and swollen.
  • Area is discolored.
  • Motor function decreased in injured area.
  • Sweating patterns are abnormal.
  • Skin is sensitive.
  • Hair and nail growth changes.
  • Pain lasts longer than average of recovery period.
  • Pain is more severe of the injury than normal.
Mobility Options for Lower Leg or Foot Damage of CRPS

The person suffering from CRPS must walk with the least weight on affected area. The following devices can help with recovery:

  • iWALK2.0 hands free crutch
  • Wheelchair
  • Cane
  • Knee Scooter

Stress Fractures

Repeated force on a bone can cause stress fractures or breaks in bones. A period of non-weight bearing is recommended by physicians for severe stress fractures. The physician will usually recommend no weight be put on the injured limb for one to three weeks. With physician consultation, the patient should decide on the best crutch option.

The best crutch options include:

  • Knee Scooter
  • iWALK2.0 – The only hands-free crutch currently on the market.

Tibia Fracture

The most common long bone often fractured is the tibia.

Symptoms of a Fractured Tibia
  • Leg pain
  • Difficulty with putting weight on the injured leg
  • Injured leg is unstable and/or deformed.
  • Bone appears to protrude through the skin.
  • Feeling lost in the affected leg’s foot

Recovery usually requires a non-weight being period. During this period, the best crutches for the patient may include the knee scooter or the iWALK2.0 that is a hands-free crutch.

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How to Use Crutches

The Basics

Tips on how to use crutches:

  • Don’t look down when walking. Look straight ahead.
  • Your hands should carry your weight and not your armpits.
  • If you use a chair with armrests, standing and sitting will be easier.
  • Your crutches should be adjusted for your height. The top of your crutch should be 1 to 1 ½ inches beneath your armpit. Adjust the handle to be at hip level.
  • Prevent tripping by keeping your crutches tips approximately 3 inches from your feet.
  • When holding the crutch’s handles, bend your elbows slightly.
  • Your crutches will not fall if you rest them upside down when they are not being used.

How to Use Crutches When Walking

When you walk with a crutch, you should step forward and put your crutch ahead of your weak leg:

  1. You should hold your crutches so that they are slightly wider than your body and about one foot in front of you.
  2. When you move your body forward, lean on your crutches’ handles. Your crutches should provide support. When stepping forward, don’t step with your weak leg.
  3. Your steps should always be finished by swinging your strong leg forward and not your weak leg.
  4. To move forward, simply repeat steps 1 to 3.

Sitting When Using Crutches

When sitting down:

  • Slowly back up to a toilet, bed or chair until you feel it touching your legs’ backs.
  • You should hold both of your crutches in your hand that is on the side of your weak leg.
  • While balancing on your strong leg, move your weak leg forward.
  • Grab the bed, toilet, chair’s armrest or chair’s seat.
  • Gradually and slowly sit down.

How to Use Crutches Climbing Stairs

Before you are ready to tackle stairs, you can, of course, sit down on a stair and scoot up or down the stairs. You would move from step to step one at a time.

Follow these steps to travel up and down stairs while on your feet. It is a good idea to practice these steps with the help of someone supporting you.

Going up:

  1. First, begin by stepping up with your strong leg.
  2. Then bring your crutches up with one crutch in each arm.
  3. Before bringing your weak leg up, put your weight on your strong leg.

Going down:

  • First, begin stepping down by putting crutches onto step below. One crutch should be in each arm as you move them down.
  • Your weak leg should be moved forward and down first. After that, put your strong leg down.
  • If the staircase has a handrail, you can use the handrail for support by holding onto it as you hold both crutches on the opposite side in your other hand. Since this will at first feel awkward, move very slowly until you feel comfortable doing it.

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Turning Using Crutches

It is most important that when you turn using a crutch, you never pivot on your weak leg. You should pivot on your strong leg.

The Weight Amount Recommended for Your Weak Leg

  • No weight on your weak leg: Your weak leg should always be off the ground when you walk.
  • Weight-bearing touch-down: Without bearing weight on your weak leg, maintain your balance by touching the ground with your toes.
  • Partial weight-bearing: Consult with your provider to determine the amount of weight you can put on your weak leg.
  • Tolerated weight-bearing: Limit the amount of your body weight you put on your weak leg to half your body weight. It should not be painful.

Standing When Using Crutches

Follow these steps for easy standing:

  1. First, move to your seat’s front while moving your weak leg forward.
  2. Put both your crutches into your hand that is on your weak leg’s side.
  3. To stand up, push up from the seat while using your free hand to help.
  4. Put one crutch in each hand and use your strong leg to balance.