A walking aid-a walker, crutches, or a cane-helps
substitute for a decrease in strength, range of motion, joint stability,
coordination, or endurance. It can also reduce the stress on a painful joint
or limb. Using a walking aid can help you be more safe and independent in your
Almost everyone has used a walking aid at some
time, even if it was just playing around with crutches that belonged to someone
else. As a result, most people think they know how to use this equipment. But
there are some simple principles that will make using your walking aid easier
General safety when using walking aids
Look straight ahead, not down at your
Clear away small rugs, cords, or anything else that could
cause you to trip, slip, or fall.
Be very careful around pets and
small children. They can be unpredictable and get in your path when you least
Be sure the rubber tips on your walking aid are clean
and in good condition to help prevent slipping. You can buy replacement tips
from medical supply stores and drugstores. Ice tips are also available to use
outdoors in winter weather.
Avoid slick conditions, such as wet
floors and snowy or icy driveways. In bad weather, be especially careful on
curbs and steps.
Never use just your walking aid to help you stand up or
sit down. Even if you still have one hand on your walking aid, put the other
hand on the surface you are sitting on or the arm of your chair. Use that hand
to guide you as you sit down and to push with as you stand up. If you are less
steady on your feet, rest your walking aid securely nearby, so it doesn’t fall
and you can reach it easily. And use both hands on the sitting surface to help
you sit down or stand up.
Always use your strong or uninjured leg
to take the first step when you go up stairs or a curb (see instructions for
curbs and stairs below). When you go back down, step with your weak or injured
leg first. Remember “up with the good, and down with the bad” to help you lead
with the correct leg. Ask for help if you feel unsure about going up and, especially, down stairs.
Crutches allow you to take some or
all the weight off of one leg. They can also be used as an added support if you
have some injury or condition of both legs. Your doctor will recommend crutches
only if you have good balance, strength, and endurance.
people use axillary crutches, which go up under the arms. If you are going to
use crutches for an extended period, your doctor may recommend crutches that
clip around your forearms. The same walking instructions will work for either
kind of crutches.
Note that when you are standing still with your
crutches, they should be slightly in front of you, so the crutches and your
feet form a triangle. Hold the crutches close enough to your body so you can
push straight down on them, but leave room between the crutches for your body
to pass through. Do not rest your underarms on the tops of your crutches,
because you could damage a nerve that goes under your arm.
your crutches fit you. When you stand up in your normal posture, there should
be space for two or three fingers between the top of the crutch and your
underarm. When you let your hands hang down, the hand grips should be at your
wrists. When you put your hands on the hand grips, your elbows should be
To walk using crutches
Set the crutches at arm’s length, about 12 in. (30 cm) in front
of you. Don’t lean forward to reach farther.
If you can put any
weight on your weak or injured leg, move it forward, almost even with the
Push straight down on the handles as you bring your good
leg up, so it is even with the weak or injured leg. Keep all the weight on your
hands and not on your underarms.
When you are confident using the crutches, you can move
the crutches and your injured leg at the same time, then push straight down on
the crutches as you step past the crutches with your strong leg, as you would
in normal walking.
If you need to keep all the weight off the
Move your crutches forward, then push down on
the hand grips and swing your strong leg forward almost up to the crutches.
This is called “swing-to” gait, because you swing your body up to the crutches.
Remember it’s best to form a triangle with the tips of the crutches and your
foot. It’s harder to balance if they all line up.
When you are
strong and your balance is good, you can swing your body between the crutches
and land the strong leg in front of them, so you take a bigger step. This is
called “swing-through” gait.
To go up or down a curb using crutches
first with another person nearby to steady you if needed.
Stand near the edge of the curb, and get
If you are going up, step up with your stronger leg
first. Then bring the crutches and your weaker or injured leg up to meet it. If
you are going down, move the crutches down first. Step down with your weaker
leg first. Then bring your stronger leg down to meet it. Remember “up with the good, and down with the bad” to help you lead
with the correct leg.
straight down on the crutches for balance and to take weight off your injured
Get your balance again before you start walking.
To use your crutches on stairs
Try this first
with another person nearby to steady you if needed.
If the stairs
have a good sturdy banister, you can hold the banister with one hand. Put both
crutches together and use them with the other hand. If there is no banister or
you do not think the banister is sturdy enough, use the crutches normally,
holding one in each hand.
Stand near the edge of the
If you are going up, step up with your stronger leg first,
then bring the crutches and your weaker or injured leg up to meet it. If you
are going down, move the crutches down first. Step down with your weaker leg
first, then bring your stronger leg down to meet
When you reach the level surface, get your
balance again before you start walking.
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ByHealthwise Staff Primary Medical ReviewerAnne C. Poinier, MD – Internal Medicine Adam Husney, MD – Family Medicine Kathleen Romito, MD – Family Medicine Specialist Medical ReviewerJoan Rigg, PT, OCS – Physical Therapy