While these new circumstances can be unpleasant, there are several strategies to make recovery as fun as possible. These tips have been put to the test—I’ve gone through two rounds of being on crutches. After having a miserable experience the first time around, I was committed to making the second one as seamless and enjoyable as possible. In the process, I’ve learned several tips that I hope will improve your crutching experience, too.
Ask Important Questions
When the doctor first delivers the news that you’ll be on crutches, it’s easy to get caught up in thinking about the volleyball game you can't play, the Zumba class you can't dance in, or the 5K you can't run. But it’s important to stay focused on a few practical questions that will be crucial to planning your time on crutches. Ask the doctor the following questions:
- Will you be able to rest your injured limb on the ground? If so, can you use it for balance while walking?
- How can you bathe? Can you stand in the shower, or do you need to use a bath tub?
- Can you just use one crutch as a cane? If so, what’s the best way to walk with a cane?
- Can you go swimming?
- What are the best ways to position your arms and maintain posture while using crutches?
Once you have the rules of the game figured out, it's time to prepare yourself for moving about the world on crutches.
Tips and Tricks for Navigating the World on Crutches
Wear a Backpack
If you don't have one, buy one. A backpack will become your best friend. If possible, choose a waterproof bag, since you may not be able to maneuver out of a downpour quickly. Avoid wearing purses, because they can mess up your balance.
Jazz Out Your Crutches
Maximize comfort and functionality by taking three key factors into consideration:
- Cushioning. If you don't obtain adequate cushioning for your crutches, you’re likely to get bruised and lose your motivation to participate in certain activities out of fear that they’ll hurt. Good cushioning is worth the investment. I’ve personally used the ones from Crutcheze ($29.99).
- Pockets. These attach to the crutch itself, securing your items and ensuring they don’t throw off your balance. There are a few different shapes, sizes, and materials to pick from. I personally chose these two: a smaller one by Crutcheze ($19.99) and a bigger one by Krutch Kaddy ($34.95). I use the smaller one for my wallet and MetroCard and the bigger one for everything else. Just be sure to balance the weight to keep yourself stable.
- Crutch Tips. Most crutches are not made for wet surfaces. This means rain or kitchen clumsiness can be a disaster if your tips slip. At the very least, I recommend that anyone on crutches invest in rain tips. If you'll be on crutches through the winter, look into snow tips as well. It’s also worthwhile to consider other features, such as shock absorption. Fancy tips may seem expensive, but they're cheaper than a secondary injury caused by a crutch slip. I bought these tips from Fetterman ($48.00).
Plan Your Meals
Being on crutches makes both shopping and eating very complicated. Luckily, there are some tips you can follow to make these activities as seamless as possible.
It’s extremely difficult, if near impossible, to go grocery shopping while on crutches. Carrying food throws off your balance, while putting food into your backpack as you shop makes it look like you’re stealing. That’s why I recommend that folks avoid the store while on crutches. If your area has food delivery and you can afford it, go for it. Otherwise, you will need to plan.
First, list out everything you’ll need to consume on a weekly and monthly basis. Next, enlist help. If you have a partner, family member, or good friend who is willing to help you, let them. They won't realize how much help you need unless you make sure to ask. If asking is too daunting (or you don’t have anyone to rely on over a long stretch), use TaskRabbit or Craigslist to enlist someone to help you for cash.
Bad news: It’s no longer possible to carry plates and cups to the table. There are three effective ways to get around this obstacle.
- Portable, sealable containers. Make sure to purchase portable containers that seal well so they can be used to carry both food and liquids. This way, you'll be able to cook or heat food and carry it to your eating space in your backpack. Liquid containers will even allow you to make tea or carry coffee.
- A rolling table. If there are no steps between the kitchen and wherever you eat, any flat surface with wheels (e.g., small tables or chairs) can be used to transport your food from kitchen to table.
- Help. Ask someone to transport your food for you.
Choose Sensible Shoes
Make sure to wear only comfortable shoes. The last thing you need is to injure your good leg because of insensible shoes. Remember, your good leg has a lot more responsibility and weight bearing down on it right now—give it as much support as you can.
Adjust for Height Changes
Remember to adjust your crutches to your new height when barefoot. If you don't, your stride and posture will be affected, which can cause you to trip.
Prepare for Stairs
Stairs and crutches are mortal enemies. Do not face them unless you absolutely have to. It is possible to go up and down stairs on crutches, but the problem is that your balance becomes very fragile. Any misstep or bump from a stranger could mean disaster. It's simply not worth the risk.
Expect to Get Wet
Sorry to tell you: Rain will make you wet. There is no way for you to carry an umbrella unless you're willing to wear one of these. There are two things you can do: One, wear a rain coat. Two, try to enjoy the feeling of rain on your skin and learn to embrace this marvel of nature. Just make sure your backpack is waterproof—your laptop won't have the same appreciation for nature.
Choose Modes of Transportation Wisely
This point varies depending on where you live and whether you’re used to driving, walking, taking the train or buses, etc. Here are some general tips to keep in mind:
- Safety is better than movement. If you don’t feel secure on a given mode of transportation, then it’s probably best not to use it. Look for an alternative or stay put.
- Stairs are still your enemy (i.e., avoid the subway). Try to find alternatives, such as buses or cabs. Yes, taxis are expensive—make a cost-benefit analysis of getting somewhere, and choose accordingly.
- Use the driver’s door. If using buses, always exit and enter through the driver's door. If the driver doesn’t see your crutches, she or he might start the bus before you’re seated, causing a tumble.
- Ask for help. Commuting with someone always helps, whether in a carpool or just for assistance while getting in and out of vehicles.
I would strongly encourage you to go to physical therapy as early as you can. A trained professional can introduce you to exercises that will allow you to preserve your strength and promote speedier healing. One of my favorite exercise machines is the arm bike. It’s not as exciting as running or biking, but you can certainly break a sweat. Just make sure to get some guidance on how strenuous your workout should be.
The Bottom Line
The most important thing to remember during this period is that your life is not over. The limitations imposed by crutches are annoying, to be sure, but you’ll be surprised by how fast you can adapt to them. Being restricted in your activities also presents an opportunity to revisit your schedule and regular routines and prioritize what’s really important.
Originally published August 2013. Updated January 2017.