There is an art and a science to living with crutches that not everyone is aware of. Half of the time, the hospitals send you home with crutches after 10 minutes of instruction, which usually leads to a week of fumbling and frustration.
There are a number of professionals who have great instructions on the technical use of crutches.
- Quick Guide by UPMC
- Great Video with demonstration by Nebraska Medical Center
- Instructions with images by WikiHow
I am not going to duplicate these; they do a good job of explaining the basics. I want to focus on living with crutches.
Living with Crutches
I have spent in the neighborhood of 3 years on crutches, between my knee and my hips and I have become quite proficient. I walked to and from school in the snow every day as a kid, and chased around a one-year-old who could walk better than I could. It forced me to find ways to manage things on my own.
Your first priority is to build your stamina. If you’ve ever seen anyone who’s been using crutches for a while, you will notice they have the nicest arms and shoulders. You build all the best arm muscles up when you are carrying your whole body weight on them. The only problem is that they are not often used muscles, so you are going to need to build them up. Make sure you walk around as often as you can. Don’t work so much that you are in pain though, or you will not be able to get to the bathroom the next day. Just do a little more each day until you can get around pretty easily. Then you can run out and get some tank tops to show off your hard work.
You need to invest in a few necessities. When you need your hands for walking, you lose them for carrying. This means that you will have to invest in a couple of things to live your life independently.
One thing you find in people who have had to rely on others is a reluctance to. I hate asking people for help and I hate needing it. As much as I can, I like to help myself. Crutches couldn’t change that, so I have always looked for solutions that would give me my freedom. Here they are:
Anyone on crutches will occasionally need a good backpack. It has to sit still on your back and not swing back and forth when you move. And it has to hold the things you may need. For work I always needed it to carry my laptop, my purse, my coffee and my lunch; so it had to be a decent size and comfortable. I had to take a streetcar and the subway, so I couldn’t be adjusting it constantly; especially when no one relinquished their seat (yes that does happen, even when you are on crutches). Think about your lifestyle and what you need to haul around.
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I prefer the ones with lots of smaller zipper compartments that allow me to find things more easily or that I can ask somebody to get me something and can tell them exactly where it is, if my hands aren’t free.
Fanny Pack or Bum Bag
Whether you are male or female, regardless of your dress style, crutches make carrying your essentials awkward. Most purses are a no-no, they swing around and get caught in your crutches or put you off-balance. Even a messenger bag can force you to keep your crutches way further from your body than is necessary or safe. If you are in the habit of keeping things in a breast pocket, you may not be able to for the same reason.
So what to do? First, consider a bum bag. I know they are not the greatest fashion statement, but they are the best thing for the basics: cell phone and wallet. You have them right in reach. You can get to them without letting go of your crutches or sitting down and they don’t throw you off-balance.
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They make all kinds of them now, so you should be able to find one that you can live with. You don’t need it to hold much, just the essentials. Just don’t get one that sits on your hip; like cross-body bags, they will interfere with your crutches.
Light Travel/Passport Bag
Not sure what best to call these, but I have a few examples below, so that you know what I am talking about. Sometimes they are labeled as travel bags or cross-body bags. Just don’t wear them cross-body; they interfere with your crutches. These bags are super light and can hang around your neck and lay flat on your chest. If you are like me, flat is relative, but even for the large-chested, they are practical.
The real key here is not to overload them or you will hurt your neck. They will hold papers folded in half, or a passport or tickets. I used mine when I had to go to the doctor. It kept prescriptions, referrals, appointment cards and notes together. I always kept a pen and a tiny notebook in mine. Sometimes, if the fanny pack would ruin my outfit, I would keep coffee money or my cell phone, but that was it. Everything else went in my backpack.
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Make sure you pick an ultra-light one. Remember it needs to carry paper and maybe your cell phone. You don’t want it swinging back and forth like a pendulum. Once you are off your crutches, these are awesome for traveling. They are ideal for passports and boarding passes. I’ve worn out three of them over the years.
Spill Proof Coffee Cup
If you are like me, you can’t begin your day properly without a coffee or tea. On crutches, this is problematic; I can carry a half full cup of coffee with my crutches, but I have to move slowly and who wants half a cup of coffee? The answer is a spill-proof travel cup. And I mean Spill-Proof. You want to toss this thing in your backpack, so nothing short will do. And it needs to be comfortable to drink from; if you are out and about a lot, you will use it a lot.
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Just make sure that it can be turned upside down without leaking, and that it has a lock or cannot be opened as a result of shifting in your bag. I don’t often endorse spending a lot of money, but don’t cheap out on this one. If you are a coffee or tea lover, you will get your money’s worth. I donated six cups last year because I was trying to find one that works and doesn’t leak.
Condensation Proof Water Bottle
A water bottle seems obvious, but when you have to carry it around in your backpack along with your tablet, clothes and other personals, it isn’t so much. If you like your water cold or with ice, the condensation builds up on your bottle and everything in your bag comes up damp. Again, I’ve bought and donated way too many of these things trying to find the right solution.
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I have found that the bottles with straws “burp” when they are stored on their side, so I avoid those. I also prefer the ones I can drink from one-handed, so I don’t buy the screw top ones. If you have a great bottle that you love that is not condensation proof, buy a pair of tube socks and put them over the bottle while carrying it in your bag. It will soak up any moisture and serve as an extra source of insulation. Alternately you can just carry it in a plastic bag.
Packing The Essentials
When I was on crutches, I always carried a small backpack everywhere, including around the house. There are certain things that I needed regularly and it wasn’t always convenient to keep jumping up to get them. Here’s what I took everywhere:
- Tissues, and wet wipes
- Medication – both prescription and over the counter
- Chap-stick and hand cream – something non-greasy, especially on crutches, you don’t want to be leaving residue on them
- Tablet, cell phone and book or magazine
- Small notepad and pencil
- Small cloth for using ice packs, to protect my skin
Now that you are outfitted, you should be able to manage very well on your own when you choose.
I liked to wake up in the morning, fill a travel cup with coffee, one with water and put my breakfast in a leftover takeout container (as you will see, I have a thousand uses for these things). I kept a lunch bag with a couple of ice packs in the freezer; I would grab those if I needed them. I would pack all of that in my backpack and head for my favorite chair. Then I could sit and enjoy my breakfast and read my book without feeling too needy.
Once I was ready to go back to work, I upgraded to a laptop backpack and carried all the same stuff to work, except that I also took my lunch and a laptop. I had everything I needed for the day, so that I didn’t tire myself out running around.
Just a few last tips from me. Some of them are covered in the videos and links above, but I want to reiterate.
- Pace yourself. There is not always a place to rest when you are on crutches, so plan.
- Don’t overdo it. If you make yourself sore, the next day could be very long.
- Don’t lean on your crutches, you can cause nerve damage. Your armpit should not support you body weight, it was not made for it.
- Always take the stairs with your crutches ahead of you, both of them. Preferably, put both on one side and use the rail on the other. Leading with your feet is a good way to fall.
- It is not okay for someone to take away your crutches. If someone wants to move them out of the way, it needs to be with your approval. It is your responsibility to make sure no one will trip over them, but no one should leave you trapped in your seat. Crutches and a coat are not the same thing.