The first time I went on crutches was 1997; I had broken my ankle in the middle of a wrestling match the day before leaving on a cruise for spring break (still won BTW). That was a very difficult place to be with a broken leg and on crutches, and I was ill-prepared. This was back with the old wooden ones that were fairly flimsy, and extremely uncomfortable. Being that I was young and stupid (as opposed to a little older and stupid now), I once walked over a mile and a half on them. That sucked.
The second time I went on crutches was in 2003 for just a few weeks when I had a partial tear in my MCL. I don't recall any long walks, but remember crutches being a real pain. The third time, in 2011, I made some discoveries in how to really maximize your self-sufficiency, safety, comfort, and sanity while being on these damn things! Now that I'm on my fourth go-round with crutches, I'm an old pro, and it's never been easier for me to get around with them.
Here's my list of the top 5 things you need to have when you're on crutches, from an expert:
1) Crutch bag
This will be so convenient for you, and it's safe. I've done the backpack thing, and believe me, that is a hassle, and can throw your balance off big time. Plus, if you have any sort of hip injury, you are hurting yourself by twisting and turning to put the backpack on and off. If the backpck is heavy, it can be dangerous and will increase your fall risk. Avoid the backpack when possible, but absolutely get yourself a crutch bag. You will be so thankful that you did, as it will give you just a bit more independence, which is also a great morale booster. Plus, where else are you going to hold your beer? I keep a bottle opener on mine too.
2) spare crutch tips
One problem that has plagued me throughout my previous crutch usage is wearing out the crutch tips. I'm really not sure what the deal is with this, but I specifically remember in 2011 this was a major problem, as the metal-pole of the crutches were breaking through the rubber tips, which meant I only had a 2 inch piece of metal to balance myself on, which led me to several falls, and was extremely dangerous. I was at a bachelor party in Nashville, and we eventually had to drive to some random medical supply place to find some, as I literally couldn't get around. I had never had this problem before, but I will never have it again, it was a major pain, and very dangerous. Get yourself at least one extra set of crutch tips. You'll thank me.
3) A grabber
Getting in and out of chairs to do anything is difficult and a hassle when you have a lower body injury that requires crutches. You really want to set up your space so you have everything you need close by and within reach. Undoubtedly though, you will drop things, or they will somehow be just out of your comfortable reach. You can do two things: twist, bend, and stretch to reach it, or get up, grab your crutches, hobble over to whatever it is, and either use your crutches to drag or scoop whatever it is closer to you, or twist, bend, and stretch to pick it up. These are terrible options. Either it's a lot of effort or you're going to hurt yourself, usually both. For me, if it's on the ground or far away...it's dead to me. That's why I got a grabber. I'm currently on my fourth day sitting in this damn recliner, and even though my wife sets everything up for me each day, I manage to knock things over or move them so they are just out of reach. Now I use the grabber, and it's been extremely useful and I don't have to twist, bend, or stretch for anything.
4) Crutch Pads
There's no good reason that crutches aren't already made with comfy armpit and hand grips, other than so they can sell you comfy armpit and hand grips....and you need to buy some. I've really perfected my technique of basically not using the armpit pads and just putting most of the weight in my hands, and this helps prevent some road rash in your armpits, but that's not always possible (that takes a good amount of arm strength). Back in '97 we just taped kitchen towels around the pads. Don't do that. Buy some pads. Your armpits and wrists will thank you!
5) Elevated toilet seat
This is a new device for me that I have greatly appreciated, and wish I had had for previous injuries. Do you need this for a broken ankle? Probably not. Do you need this for any injury from the knee to the hip? Absolutely. Getting on and off a toilet is a huge pain when you're on crutches with a knee, femur, or hip injury. Toilets are quite low in most places, and having to bend or squat at deep angles is not preferred and is difficult, painful, and against most doctor recommendations. These elevated toilet seats attach easily to your existing toilet, and allow you go get situated without having to bend, twist, or squat to an aggressive angle. Plus, it allows you to maintain a bit more of your pride and decency. It really sucks having to have someone help you go to the bathroom. When you're injured, you're already putting a large burden on the people closest to you, and for me, anything that can help me maintain my independence and lighten the load for my caretaker is something I want. The toilet seat has given me the ability to maintain a little bit of dignity and privacy, and allowed my wife to not have to get "that" involved (although she would if she had to). They aren't expensive, so if you're going to be out for a bit, pick one up and make your life just a bit easier.
So that's my expert opinion on how you can maximize your quality of life while laid up on crutches. Oftentimes, you're fine one day, and you have an injury and are on crutches the next. This time, I had months to prepare for this procedure, so I spent a long time preparing, specifically in the weight room training my upper body. Arm and shoulder strength will dramatically improve your ability to get around on your crutches and generally make your life easier. Did I miss anything else? What are your must have crutch-related items? Leave a comment and let me know. You can comment on Facebook too at facebook.com/rulethelake.
Best of luck to you and your recovery!
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