Like canes and walkers, crutches help persons who have limited mobility get around. Individuals with broken legs or muscular or neurological problems often rely on crutches for day-to-day activities. Unlike canes and walkers, which are used singly, crutches come in pairs, with one crutch for each side of the body. There are two main types of crutches: axillary and nonaxillary. Axillary crutches provide support under the armpits, or axilla. Nonaxillary crutches, also known as forearm crutches, Canadian crutches or Lofstrand crutches, provide support around the forearm.
Made of lightweight aluminium, Canadian crutches have a cuff that fits around the lower arm, just below the elbow. Many users add padding to the inside of the cuff for additional comfort. Users grasp a hand bar that extends from the crutch. Like the cuff, the hand bar is often padded.
When compared with axillary crutches, Canadian crutches have many advantages. Because they are made of aluminium, they are lighter than wooden axillary crutches. They are also smaller because they extend only as high as the elbow. The lightness and reduced height makes it easier for individuals to climb stairs. Because the forearm is enclosed in the cuff, there is no danger of dropping the crutches if you use your hands to grab onto something. Finally, the forearm cuff stabilises the lower arm, making weight bearing easier than it is with axillary crutches.
The sole disadvantage of Canadian crutches is that, for most people, they support a smaller percentage of weight. While it is relatively easy to transfer 80% of your body weight onto axillary crutches, most individuals find it difficult to transfer more than 50% of their weight onto Canadian crutches.
Walking With Canadian Crutches
There are several different ways to walk with Canadian crutches. Individuals who require minimal support often use a two-point gait pattern that mimics walking without crutches. With the two-point gait, you move the right crutch and left foot simultaneously, then move the left crutch and right foot. Individuals who require significantly more support can use the four-point gait. With this type of gait pattern, you move only one crutch or one leg at a time, keeping three points in contact with the ground at all times. Very active individuals who have strong torsos and upper bodies are able to move both crutches simultaneously before swinging their legs through.
Who Uses Canadian Crutches
Generally, people who will be using crutches in the long term prefer Canadian crutches. Individuals with short-term, acute injuries such as broken legs typically use axillary crutches. Notable artistic figures who use Canadian crutches include well-known violinist Itzhak Perlman and actor/activist Henry Holden.
- "American Family Physician"; Ambulatory Devices for Chronic Gait Disorders in the Elderly; Dr. Frederick W. Van Hook et al.; 2003
- Medscape; Assistive Devices to Improve Independece; Divakara Kedlaya; June 2008
- WebMd.com: Using Crutches
- Center for Disability Information and Referral; Famous People With Disabilities; 2007