Crutches serve a crucial purpose in the recovery phase after a fracture or surgery. Without them, many patients would either remain bedridden or risk further injury by walking on a bad leg.
We at BestReviews hope you’ll never need a pair of crutches. But if you do, we want you to have the right pair. That’s why we use a combination of consumer feedback, expert opinions, and independent lab testing to identify the best products on the market. Our goal is to provide you with the knowledge and insight needed to easily select the best product for your needs.
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Please see our product matrix for information on the best crutches available on today’s market. And please read on if you would like to learn more about crutches.
The best crutches are lightweight, strong, and durable. They’re constructed in such a way that they don’t fatigue the user’s upper body muscles, and they resist the ill effects of weather and rough handling.
The most common crutch materials include the following:
People have been leaning on wooden crutches for centuries, and for good reason. Wood is durable, fairly lightweight, and easy to maneuver. It’s a customizable material with many design options. What’s more, treated wooden crutches resist the ill effects of bad weather.
However, some wooden crutches fall prey to everyday wear and tear. Some break unexpectedly after years of use; others develop splinters. As a general rule, consumers should dispose of old wooden crutches rather than donating them to others.
Steel emerged as a popular alternative to wood because of its inherent strength, resistance to damage, and overall durability. Unlike wooden crutches, steel crutches can be prescribed repeatedly without concerns about structural failure or sanitation. However, the weight of steel crutches is still greater than that of wood or aluminum.
Aluminum crutches are strong like steel yet light like wood. With adjustable handgrips and foam-padded handles, the aluminum crutch design closely resembles that of the traditional wooden crutch. In addition, some aluminum crutches sport internal shock absorbers and energy-releasing springs that help reduce user fatigue.
On the downside, aluminum crutches typically generate more noise during use than softer wooden models. Bearing excessive weight can be an issue with standard aluminum crutches, so potential buyers should check weight and height ratings before purchasing adult-sized aluminum crutches.
Some crutches are made of “high tech” materials such as carbon fiber and polymer composites. These crutches possess awesome tensile strength. In fact, a carbon fiber crutch typically has the same strength as a steel bariatric model.
This strength, combined with the lightweight quality of aluminum and the flexibility of wood, places composite and carbon fiber crutches on the cutting edge of mobility aid technology. However, they’re not widely available in medical supply stores as of yet.
Sometimes, a doctor or physical therapist will prescribe a specific type of crutch based on the patient’s injuries, physical condition, or level of mobility. Other times, the patient is free to choose the type of crutch he or she would like to use.
Two common types of crutches exist, each with its pluses and minuses.
The underarm crutch, also known as the axillary crutch, has served as a standard mobility aid for hundreds of years.
It begins at the top with a padded or unpadded cap that fits under the armpit and shoulder.
A split shaft, supported by an adjustable handgrip, fits snugly against the user’s rib cage, hips, and knees. The end of the crutch, much like a walking cane, makes solid contact with the ground and is protected by a rubber or plastic tip.
A forearm crutch employs a supportive collar that fits snugly around the user’s forearm. The collar shifts much of the user’s body weight and support from the shoulder and armpit area to the forearms. To use a forearm crutch, the user grips an adjustable offset handle and navigates the shaft like a walking cane.
Forearm crutches are generally recommended for heavier users and those who lack the upper body strength for underarm crutches. Some child and adolescent patients also prefer forearm crutches because of the shift in weight bearing.
In addition to the underarm and forearm styles, some manufacturers offer a “hands-free” crutch that supports the injured leg or knee. Because the user is not required to hold two crutches at once, he or she is free to reach for items, open doors, prepare food, and so on. This crutch style won’t suit every patient, but it does address some of the mobility and discomfort issues suffered by underarm and forearm crutch users.
From sitting to standing, here’s a basic breakdown of how to use a standard pair of axillary crutches. This list is not a substitute for professional medical advice. If you need in-person instruction on how to use crutches, please contact your healthcare provider.
1. Use both crutches to leverage yourself from a seated to a standing position.
When seated, place both crutches on your weaker side and push off with the stronger side. The crutches should provide enough stability on the injured side to prevent weight bearing. Once you are standing, carefully transfer one crutch to your stronger side.
2. Place the crutches firmly against the sides of your body.
The majority of your weight should rest on the handgrips and your stronger leg. The top of the crutch should fit snugly under your arm, but it should not physically touch your armpit.
3. Plant both crutches a short distance ahead of your body.
Prepare your stronger leg to swing through and land slightly ahead of the crutches. Shift your weight to the crutches and swing forward until your strong leg lands safely. If possible, keep your weaker leg above the ground and slightly bent.
4. Prepare for the next step.
Once your stronger foot is securely on the ground, repeat the process until you reach your destination. All steps should be taken slowly and deliberately.
Most health insurance companies recognize crutches as an essential mobility aid. As such, your final cost may be close to zero.
Obtaining such a prescription should be the first step in your shopping process. Here are some places you can find new or used crutches:
A well-stocked medical supply store should have a large selection of crutches to choose from, including steel bariatric and hands-free knee crutches.The store’s staff should be able to process the necessary insurance forms and measure the crutches for an ideal fit.
Shopping online can be a fast and economical way to buy new or refurbished crutches. If you’re a first-time user, buying a set of crutches sight unseen might not be a good idea. But if you’re an experienced crutch user, you might appreciate this direct shopping approach.
Many drugstore chains carry a limited selection of mobility aids on their shelves. Unless you have a valid prescription from a physician, you may have to pay for your crutches out of pocket at a drugstore.
Some people donate their used crutches to charity. You may see these products on thrift store shelves at drastically reduced prices. If you’re considering a thrift store purchase like this, we urge you to inspect the crutches for structural damage before purchasing.
Q: How do I know if I’m using my crutches properly?
A: Properly adjusted underarm crutches should not press into the armpit area, nor should your shoulders absorb your body weight. Almost all of your weight should rest on your wrists and be distributed throughout your upper body.
Properly adjusted forearm crutches should redistribute your weight to your forearms and wrists.
If you have any doubt about your “form,” ask for help. A physician, nurse, or physical therapist can demonstrate proper crutch use and ensure you’re moving properly. If you’re in a medical supply store, a trained associate should be able to help you.
Q: Is it safe to use pre-owned crutches?
A: Crutches are typically prescribed for a specific individual’s use. However, this does not mean that another person couldn’t reuse the equipment. As long as you can make the necessary adjustments to meet your own medical and physical requirements, it is usually safe to use pre-owned crutches.
Of course, if you have any doubts about the safety of using someone else’s crutches, check with your healthcare provider first.