A surgery or injury to your foot, leg, or ankle can significantly limit mobility. It becomes difficult to walk or climb stairs, and you might need assistance from others.

Since it can take weeks to heal physically from a surgery or injury, a walking aid can help you get around and maintain a measure of independence.

While some people use a cane, others have good results with crutches, though they can be awkward to use. Learning how to properly maneuver crutches can make it easier to use them in different situations.

The basic mechanics of using crutches on flat ground varies slightly depending on whether you’re able to put weight on your injured leg. Watch the video to get an idea of the basics.

1. Non-weight bearing

Non-weight bearing means that you’re unable to put weight on the injured leg.

How to do it:

  1. Place one crutch under each arm and grip the crutch handles.
  2. Stand on your uninjured leg, with your injured leg slightly bent and raised off the floor.
  3. Advance the crutches about a foot in front of you.
  4. Move your injured leg forward.
  5. Supporting your weight with your hands, step forward normally with your uninjured leg. Once your uninjured leg is on the floor, advance your crutch forward to take the next step.

2. Weight bearing

Depending on the injury or surgery, you may be able to put some weight on your injured leg.

How to do it:

  1. Place one crutch under each arm and grip the crutch handles.
  2. Stand in between the crutches with both feet on the floor.
  3. Advance both crutches about one foot in front of you. Step forward with the injured leg, placing your foot lightly on the floor.
  4. Step normally with the uninjured leg, and then advance the crutches forward to take the next step.

If both legs are injured

If both of your legs are injured, your doctor won’t recommend crutches. In order to use crutches safely, you need to be able to put weight on at least one of your legs.

Instead, you’ll likely be offered a different mobility aid, such as a wheelchair.

Living in a two-story house or an apartment building can be a safety issue when using crutches. But if you learn the proper technique, you can safely get up and down stairs. See the above video to get a visual for the techniques discussed below.

1. With a handrail

How to do it:

  1. Hold the handrail with one hand, and place both crutches under your other arm.
  2. Stand at the bottom of the stairwell with your weight on your uninjured leg. Lift your injured leg off the floor.
  3. Holding the handrail, step up with your uninjured leg.
  4. Next, lift your injured foot and both crutches up to the step. Keep your injured foot off the step, but place your crutches on the step.
  5. Climb one step at a time.
  6. Take the next step with your uninjured leg and repeat the process.

A similar technique applies when going down the stairs:

How to do it:

  1. Hold the handrail with one hand and place both crutches under the other arm.
  2. Lower your crutches to the step below, then step down with your injured leg, followed by your uninjured leg.
  3. Repeat as you proceed down the stairs.

2. Without a handrail

How to do it:

  1. Place one crutch under each arm, bearing your weight with your hands.
  2. Step on the first step with your uninjured leg and then lift the crutches and your injured leg to the same step.
  3. Repeat and move slowly.

Again, a slight difference can be done going downstairs:

How to do it:

  • Place one crutch under each arm.
  • Lower the crutches and the injured leg to the step below, and then step down with your uninjured leg.
  • Repeat and proceed down the stairs.

A note of caution

Using crutches to go up and down a stairwell takes balance and strength. If you don’t feel comfortable using your crutches on stairs, one option is to sit on the lower or top step, and then scoot up or down the stairwell.

Keep your injured leg extended while moving up and down the stairs. Hold your crutches in one hand, and use your free hand to grip the handrail.

Here are a few tips to avoid injury when using crutches:

  • Get your crutches fitted to avoid injury. The crutch pads should be about 1 1/2 to 2 inches below your armpits. The hand grips should be positioned so that your elbow has a slight bend.
  • Bear weight with your hands and not your armpits. Leaning on the crutch pads with your armpits could damage the nerves underneath your arms.
  • Wear low, supportive shoes when using crutches to avoid tripping. Don’t wear high-heels or slippers when using crutches. Stick with flats or sneakers.
  • Take small steps when walking on slippery surfaces, and walk slowly when moving from one surface to another (ex. moving from carpet to a tile or hardwood floor).
  • Steer clear of any rugs, electrical cords, or loose mats when using crutches to avoid injury.
  • Don’t carry anything in your hands while using crutches. Carry personal items in your pocket, backpack, or a fanny pack.
  • Only use crutches in well-lit rooms. Place night lights in your hallways, bedrooms, and bathrooms to move around safely at night.

Even though using crutches can be fairly easy once you get the hang of it, you may need to speak with your doctor or a physical therapist.

If you experience any pain or numbness under your armpits, you might not be using the walking aid correctly, or the crutches might not be fitted properly. See your doctor if you have any discomfort or tingling sensations in your armpit.

Also, you may need a professional when using crutches on stairwells or uneven surfaces. A physical therapist is a rehabilitation professional who can teach you how to use your crutches in various situations.

At first, using crutches after a surgery or injury can be awkward. But with a little practice and patience, you’ll get the hang of it and learn how to move about easily and safely.

The ability to master a walking aid can help you regain your independence and strength.