Those looking to buy their first pair of crutches may not be aware that there are two different types of crutches, and that they have some major differences. Underarm crutches, also called auxiliary crutches, are the most common type of crutch- these are the typical crutches assigned to patients in recovery from ankle or knee injuries. They have a pad that is held under the arm, pressed into the patient's side during use. The other major type of crutch is the forearm crutch, also known as the elbow crutch. These crutches have an open cuff that grips the user's forearm during use. The differences are not merely in design – the two different types of crutch have different strengths and weaknesses. Which type you choose should depend on your individual needs. Consider the following as you choose your crutches:
Strength – Crutches of all types require a certain amount of upper body strength for proper use. People often have the misconception that the arms alone hold the body's weight when on crutches. In fact, weight is distributed throughout the entire upper body, and the muscles of the trunk and shoulders do just as much work as the arms. Both underarm crutches and forearm crutches require upper body strength, though forearm crutches require a bit more from the user. If you have limited strength in your core, you may want to consider a knee walker instead.
Balance – Learning to walk on crutches can be a real challenge to balance and coordination. Underarm crutches are the most common type of crutch, and can be easier to master at first. However, forearm crutches are proven to give you greater control over your movement. They are often suggested for more active patients, as they allow different gaits for different terrain.
Fit – It is vitally important that crutches be properly fitted to the user. You should be able to stand up straight comfortably with a crutch, with your elbow bent between 15 and 30 degrees as your hand rests on the handle. Be sure your crutches are the right size for your body.
**Improperly fitted crutches can lead to abrasions, muscle pains, and nerve damage.**
Crutch tips – Where crutches come in contact with the ground, they typically have a rubber, slip-resistant tip. These tips are very important, as they must support your weight and keep the entire crutch balanced as you walk. Larger tips have a wider surface area in contact with the ground, and provide greater stability.
Crutch handles – All crutches place a great deal of strain on the wrists and hands. To this end, some crutches feature special handles with extra padding, which can reduce stress and make your walking aid easier to grip. Others offer ergonomic shaping specific to the left or right hand. These offer greater security and comfort to the user. Be sure your crutch has a comfortable handle that will be easy for you to use over a long period of time