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Crutches Resource Center

History, Types, Uses and Alternatives

This guide was created to provide a comprehensive overview of crutches. Learn about the history of crutches, the types of crutches available, use cases, tips, and the pros and cons of each type.

It can be difficult to determine what type of crutches are best suited to your specific needs.

Especially if you’ve never used them before.

If you are currently using crutches, or about to start using crutches, but want more information to improve your experience, then you are in the right place.

 

History of Crutches

The history of crutches is long and well-recorded.

Crutches have been around for thousands of years. Aside from short term injuries, crutches have been used by individuals crippled by polio, leprosy, and a variety of other injuries to retain their mobility.

The earliest known images of crutches date back to the New Kingdom period of ancient Egypt, which took place around 1500 B.C. Crutches used during this time were basically sticks that were modified to provide support while walking.

Crutches evolved over the next several thousand years until the start of the Middle Ages. The crutches used during Medieval times looked a lot like our crutches today—minus the hand grip.

It was after this period that the crutch innovation essentially came to a standstill. Crutches remained virtually unchanged until the 20th century.

The first commercially manufactured crutches are attributed to Emile Schlick in 1917. The first adjustable crutches were created by A.R. Loftstrand Jr. a few years later.

Forearm crutches weren’t invented until the 1950s. They were created by Thomas Fetterman, a polio survivor who created them to improve his mobility.

Today, there are a variety of crutch designs and types to choose from that meet an assortment of needs.

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Types of Crutches

The type of crutches a person should use depends on the type of injury they have and their specific mobility needs.

Not all crutches are created equal.

This is especially true if you are required to be non-weight bearing for a long period of time.

As you go through the crutch selection process it’s important to make sure you can get around comfortably without putting weight on your injured foot or leg. This is critical to avoid re-injury and necessary for effective healing to take place.

Forearm

Forearm Crutches

Forearm crutches were developed in the 1950s by Thomas Fetterman specifically for people disabled by polio. Since then, they have become the most common form of crutches used in Europe and Canada.

While the forearm crutch offers the advantage of reducing pressure under the armpits, it still limits the use of your hands. It can also cause soreness in the palms. Like underarm crutches, you will also lose the use of your hands and arms when using forearm crutches.

How to Use: Using a forearm crutch is similar to using an underarm crutch. Using your uninjured leg and crutches for support, swing your weight forward between your crutches and land on your good leg. Make sure the cuff of the forearm crutch is 1–1.5 inches below your elbow

The Underarm

Crutches

The underarm crutch is the most common type of crutch. These crutches have been around for quite a while and are often mistaken as being the only option.

Despite being in use for most of the history of crutches, underarm crutches, also known as axillary crutches, have their pros and cons.

PROS – Underarm crutches help you get around without putting weight on your injured leg and can be used for all leg injuries.

CONS – Axillary crutches are uncomfortable and often painful. Common complaints include sore underarms, wrists and hands. There’s also the potential of axillary nerve damage if used incorrectly or for longer time frames. You will lose the use of your hands and arms when using underarm crutches, so getting through your daily routine will require assistance.

How to Use: The best way to use these crutches is to stand straight with the crutches slightly in front of your feet and the crutch pad 1–2 inches below your armpits. Swing your legs forward between your crutches, landing on your good leg, then repeat.

Hands Free Crutch

The hands free crutch has its origins in Canada in the late 1990s.

After breaking his ankle, a Canadian farmer realized he needed to find a way to continue working. He started by planting a stool under his knee to support his leg while he worked, which helped him come to the realization that this setup allowed him to retain the use of his hands and arms, which enabled him to work. Thus the first iWALK was born.

The iWALK2.0 is a leg support crutch that works well for below-the-knee injuries. It allows users to retain the use of both hands. It also uses your legs for walking and support, unlike other crutch designs which rely on your hands and arms.  It’s also pain-free. The only disadvantage is that the iWALK2.0 cannot be used for injuries above the knee because when using the iWALK, your knee remains weight bearing. The iWALK2.0 allows you to walk just as you normally would on both feet, with your hands and arms free for doing other things.

Strutters

Strutter crutches are a type of axillary crutch that features an armrest and hand grip. They are unique because they are spring loaded, move with your body, and have a longer foot for better stability.

The pros of this type of crutch are that they offer a more even weight distribution under the arms. This helps reduce the potential for nerve damage and can be used by people with poor leg strength. The cons are that they are not truly hands-free and can limit mobility.

How to Use: Strutters are used in the same manner as underarm crutches but provide greater stability.

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What Are Crutches Used For?

There are quite a few reasons to use crutches.

In 2000, a study by the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research found that a total of 6.1 million people use mobility devices like canes, crutches, and walkers.

That’s a lot of people in need of mobility assistance and many of them are likely experiencing a good deal of pain.

It’s no secret that crutches can be painful to use and may even cause nerve damage. A good crutch, however, shouldn’t result in pain and injury. Finding the right crutch can make a big difference when it comes to your mobility during recovery.

In the following sections, we’ll explore a few scenarios that require the use of crutches.

Non-Neight Bearing Injuries

Most people use crutches when they need to keep weight off an injured leg so they can heal and get back to full mobility.

Put simply, the best crutches to use for non-weight bearing injuries work to keep the weight off of your injured leg. Crutches can be used for both short and long-term mobility assistance and can help you support your weight when you’re unable to do so on your own. Some crutches can even help you keep your leg partially elevated.

Common Injuries That Require Crutches

There are a variety of injuries that require the use of crutches.

Some of the most common include:

  • Achilles tendon rupturesPhysical therapy
  • Broken ankles
  • Foot fractures
  • Stress fractures
  • Tibia fractures
  • Pulled muscles
  • Sprains
  • ACL injuries

Choosing a crutch that is suited for your injury is incredibly important. Crutches and other walking aids are best for below-the-waist injuries.

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 Which Crutches are best?

The Basics

The best type of crutch for you to choose depends on the type of injury you have.

Injuries at the knee or above require crutches that keep the weight off of your entire leg, whereas below-the-knee injuries open up a few more options. Here is a comparison of crutches based on mobility, ease of use, and how pain-free they are for the user.

Mobility

All crutches help with limited mobility when you need to keep weight off your leg, knee, or foot.

However, not all are created equal when it comes to finding the best crutch for enhanced mobility.

Underarm, forearm, and axillary crutches all function similarly and require using both of your arms and hands to get around. This can be incredibly inconvenient if you need to carry, well—anything.

Although technically not a crutch, knee scooters may not be hands-free, but they can help you get around fairly quickly. The problem is, they are not suitable for going up and down stairs or across uneven terrain. A hands-free crutch like the iWALK2.0 is a great example of full mobility in one crutch, but whether it is suitable depends on where your injury is located.iWALK2.0 Crutch And Knee Scooter Alternative

Ease of Use

Every crutch requires some practice before you can use it with ease, but not all crutches are simple to use while performing daily tasks.

Most crutches and mobility devices require the use of both hands to properly use them. Hands-free crutches offer the greatest ease of use when it comes to keeping up with daily tasks, making them one of the best crutches for non-weight bearing injuries.

Pain Free

Underarm crutches are the worst culprits and can cause incredible underarm pain and even nerve damage. Forearm crutches place more pressure on your hands which can create soreness there as well. Some of the best pain-free options include knee scooters and hands-free crutches. These designs keep weight off your arms, hands, and underarms.

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