CRUTCHES AND CANES
Chances are you were issued a cheap pair of aluminum underarm crutches upon discharge from the hospital. Back in 1962 they were handing out wooden ones. We all soon learn the disadvantages. Theyre ugly, make noise, rattle and chafe your underarms. They can put a strain on your shoulders and may cause nerve impingement problems, with constant use. The standard tops and tips quickly wear out. The tips can slip. And how the heck can you carry stuff??
Many doctors and PTs will recommend forearm crutches for their younger, more active clients. They are smaller, lighter weight, and more maneuverable. However, these can also cause problems with the joints and nerves in your arms and hands with long term use. They also have the disadvantage of not leaving your hands free.
Some changes have been made for the better and there are solutions to some of the problems. Both types of crutches now come in a variety of colors and materials making them relatively noise-free and more attractive. Most of us have more than one pair for different activities. Although these may be more expensive than the standard, we rely so heavily on them, that it may well be worth paying a bit more. Collapsible or telescoping crutches are highly recommended for traveling. These can be either full length underarm style or forearm type. Some people may require a custom-made crutch due to excessive weight, or being very tall or short. There are a number of innovative adaptations available to fit your crutches which will make your life easier and safer. There are several places where you can find the latest and best crutches currently available.
A new line of light weight forearm crutches is available from Walk Easy. Their web site also offers information regarding choosing a crutch, and some interesting biographies and links:
Those who prefer the underarm style but may have developed problems with wrists such as carpal tunnel or other overuse syndromes and are looking for an alternative should check out Keen Mobility. They have developed a new crutch design with an innovative adjustable hand grip, built in shock absorption and pivoting tips among several other safety features.
Thomas Fetterman, post polio patient and long term crutch user himself has probably been in the business the longest and offers the largest selection of quality crutches and accessories.
Thomas Fetterman, Inc.
For forearm crutches, both standard and collapsible, and a number of crutch covers and ingenious crutch tips another source is:
Rubbing and chafing under the arm can be minimized by new tops made of silicone gel material. There are also covers, like little shower caps than can be put on over standard tops. They come in a variety of materials which are a very comfortable and are washable. Available from the sources above.
You no longer have to suffer from calluses and blisters on your hands, or put excess strain on you forearms. Check out the different hand grips and cuff inserts made for both underarm and forearm styles. These come in leather, nylon and soft neoprene, various sizes, and colors. See the sources above.
These always seem to wear out too quickly and can slip. You may prefer the Performance and Tornado tips offered by Fetterman for both crutches and canes. These help prevent "crutch shock", provide better traction, and are durable.
For walking in the rain, ice, and snow, there are specialty tips, "rain rings", and ice tips that can be installed on both crutches and canes.
Author's note: a tip from the top - Twice a year at daylight savings we change the clocks, and many people also use this marker to change the batteries in their smoke alarms, toothbrushes, etc. This is the perfect time to get into this habit, turn your crutch, cane or walker over and inspect the tips for wear and tear. It is far better to replace them before the treads run down and prevent injury due to slipping and/or poor traction.
ACCESSORIES AND MISCELLANEOUS
Carrying stuff is difficult with any type of crutch. Many underarm crutch users have learned that we can propel our crutches forward by grasping the top between the chest wall and upper arms, leaving our hands free. This takes a little practice to master.
Author's note: "Initially I learned this technique, carrying a glass of milk and a plate of cookies. Now its a glass of wine and some cheese and crackers. I can even do this up and down stairs and not spill a drop. Practice, practice, life changes and so do our tastes."
There are a variety of bags that can be attached to your crutches for carrying smaller items, as well as shopping tote bags. My favorites are some ingenious new gizmos such as cup and water bottle holders, and handles that can be attached so you can carry larger items such as books and pizza boxes!!
Heres another option for students:
"I have one set of schoolbooks for use at school and another set at home. This is more convenient than carrying schoolbooks home in a backpack." Coreen, HP
"HINT - when walking on crutches, don't drop down and let your shoulders rise when your weight comes onto your arms. In thirty years this will damage your shoulders so much that you'll have to choose between a prosthetic and a wheelchair. Don't push up, either. Keep your shoulders completely stable." Zeke HD 40 yrs
Ive heard that there are a few veteran hip-disartics and hemis whove learned how to get around using canes only, without a prosthesis or crutches. Frankly Im amazed, but if it works, go for it. A large percentage of prosthetic users find use of a cane essential, particularly as we age. The main use of a cane in this situation is for stability and balance, NOT for weight bearing. If you find yourself "walking on your hands", its probably safer and wiser to use a crutch.
Canes also now come in a variety of styles and colors, and your selection will probably become even larger as the baby-boomers show the affects of aging. Be aware that most shock absorbing crutch tips and accessories will also work on canes as well. Besides the resources listed above, another option is:
They offer an wide variety of canes and accessories, including wrist straps, cane holders, and ice tips, and offer many excellent free tips and information about canes.
Ive found that the adjustable height, foldable cane made by Rubbermaid is very helpful if you only need to use a cane occasionally. These sell for less than $20 in most discount drug stores. I use mine for travel. It comes in handy for walking over cobblestones, hills and uneven terrain. Once folded it can fit in a purse, tote or backpack. I attach mine to my belt loops with a piece of Velcro.
A 4-point or quad cane offers more stability than a single point cane. Many prosthetic users find this a helpful tool when learning how to walk if they dont want to use a crutch or find them unwieldy. It can be viewed as an intermediate step away from a walker.