Alright, people. This is it. Let’s end this debate on “forearm crutches vs underarm crutches“, with a big and ultimate blow. And for this, I went an extra mile and gathered some valuable information, so you don’t have to go through that daunting task.
So if you’re with me and want to learn what exactly the difference between forearm and underarm crutches is; when and why to use them in detail then make sure you stay till the end of the post.
This might seem a little lengthy, but it’s totally worth your time.
At the end, you’ll be able to choose the right crutch for your injury with full confidence.
How to Choose Crutches
Choosing a suitable crutch for your injury is NOT a walk in the park. This is so critical because if you mistakenly choose a wrong crutch, instead of healing, you’ll develop other severe issues like bad-posture, wrist pain, shoulder pain, or even nerve damage in some cases which is so painful.
I’m telling ya it’s totally nerve-wracking.
And it gets even worse when you’re unaware of the basic concepts: when and why to use a particular crutch type.
But, hello, why I’m here for.
If you’re stuck in this situation, I’m going to help you get over.
Below, I’ve categorized six major key points and described them one by one to make it easier for you.
You can go through them and understand which particular crutch type is best in a particular situation, their side effects, & their pros and cons in detail.
It’s really easy to understand by the way.
Hopefully, you’ll be able to choose the perfect crutch type for your injury.
Alrighty then. Let’s dive into our first point of discussion.
Upper Body Strength
Upper body strength is one of the most crucial factors you should bear in mind when choosing a crutch type.
Let me explain why it’s important and what most people think of it.
Most people think while using crutches, all the body weight gets distributed onto crutches.
But, it’s one hundred percent wrong.
The studies show that your body weight gets distributed equally onto the crutches, wrists, shoulders, and overall upper body. Or you could say your body weight gets distributed equally all over your body, except for the injured leg. And a weak upper body will cause balancing problems while moving, and it’s very dangerous.
That’s the reason you must’ve enough upper body strength to be able to walk with crutches without the danger of falling, and getting yourself hurt again.
Did you know this before? Comment below and let me know.
Now, let’s discuss which crutch type you should prefer for your injury when it comes to upper body strength; underarm or forearm?
And for this, one more factor comes onto the surface.
The age factor.
People with old age have weak upper body postures. That’s the reason most often; they shift to scooters or wheelchairs because it’s a more comfortable choice. Similarly, people with hip surgeries or severe injuries tend to lurk towards wheelchairs or scooters due to the more ease.
But, what if you’re strong enough to walk on crutches? What should you choose then? Forearm or underarm?
Well, to answer your question, understand this: forearm crutches require more upper body strength because there’s no shoulder padding to hold your body. You’re left with armrests on both sides only.
But on the other hand, underarm or axillary crutches have soft paddings that rest under your armpits and provide substantial support. That’s why it’s easier to walk with them, even, when you lack proper upper body strength.
Hope that answers your question. Let’s move on to our next important point.
Balance and Movement
Balance is everything, pal.
If you’d not be able to balance your body weight onto the crutches, then why would you use them in the first place?
Makes sense, right?
Now, let me burst your bubble first.
Initially, crutches will suck. Whether you choose forearm or underarm. It will be so difficult for you to move and balance your body weight at the same time. If you’ve been using them already, you’d agree with me here.
Alright, don’t panic, there’s a solution. And that is: practice, it is the only key to every success. You’ve to learn how to walk with crutches first. Then, with time, it’ll be habitual for you to walk with them easy-peasy.
Now let’s talk which type is best when it comes to balance and movement.
Ideally, underarm crutches are more easier to walk with when your major concern is balance and movement. Why? Because of the shoulder paddings that give you substantial support on both sides.
But, there’s a major con as well. Underarm crutches limit your gaits and overall movement because these are heavier and taller. So consequently, the movement will be harder with axillary crutches, especially on stairs. And you’ll be tired and dragging yourself due to their heavy weight.
Meanwhile in the parallel universe, forearm crutches are a little difficult to cope with when facing balancing and movement problems, because you won’t get the support of shoulder paddings as you’d do in the case of underarm crutches.
But, mind you, forearm crutches prove solid savior in the long-run.
These are lightweight, small, and compact. Once you master their use, you’ll have long-term comfort and freedom while walking.
Correct Walking Posture
Maintaining a good body posture is very important because it keeps your spine healthy and prevents back pain issues. Well, not only that but also a good body posture impacts a lot of things like neck pain, digestion, and back muscles functionality.
The key takeaway here is to maintain it with a perfect spinal alignment which can be a little challenging while using crutches.
And that also leads to the real question: which crutch type is best for the correct body posture?
Here the bad news is for underarm crutches lovers.
Underarm crutches are NOT ideal for a correct walking posture due to their height, weight, and pivot point being much higher, under the armpits. That’s why they limit your gait types and movement and you constantly try to readjust their position and end up affecting your posture while walking. For your perfect spinal alignment, it’s better to avoid them.
On the opposite side, elbow crutches are much lower in size and these are compact and lightweight. These are more easier to carry through while walking and as well as on stairs. But you’ll need to practice harder to master them due to the lack of shoulder support.
So, from the correct posture perspective, forearm crutches clearly win over.
Effect on the Body
Crutches leave some serious side effects on your body whether you’re using them for short-term or long-term. And that’s a very painful experience.
One of the major complications are: skin irritation, muscle soreness, bruised ribs, and crutch palsy, which is nerve system damage and can result in partial or complete muscle disability in extreme cases.
Also, if you’re NOT so lucky, you’re likely to fall off the ground due to the hard movements and get yourself injured, again.
Heh, yeah, sadly that’s right too.
A research study from the International Orthopedic Association shows that two out of six people while walking with crutches fall off the ground. They may be beginners with crutches or even when they’ve master their use.
So, pray that you’re amongst those four lucky bastards!
But, hey, don’t panic even if you’re not so lucky like me, I stumble a lot and I don’t know why.
I’m going to tell you right now how to make crutches more comfortable so you can have a favorable time and heal like crazy!
So to do that, first, let’s understand which crutch type is more dangerous: axillary or elbow?
And the award for the dangerous crutch type when it comes to side-effects goes to underarm crutches.
These evil species put resisting force on both sides under the armpits with their saddles and prompt skin irritation and soreness. To avoid from letting that happen, use crutch pads or also known as soft cushions. That will reduce the chaffing of saddles and foster a comfy experience.
Plus, ribs bruises can happen with underarm crutches due to their improper use. To avoid that, keep them at least 5cm below the armpits while walking and do not rest on the crutches a lot of people make this mistake, which is the main source of crutch palsy as well.
Meanwhile, forearm crutches are less dangerous regarding side-effects. But that does not mean they are perfectly OKAY.
Elbow crutches can develop wrist pain due to their constant use. To save yourself from that pain, use forearm crutch pads. That will reduce the pressure on the wrists and you get to walk pain-free.
The proper fitting is yet another overlooked factor. But remember, it’s so crucial the crutches you’re using MUST properly fit you. Otherwise, you may bear side effects in the future without even knowing, like wrist pain, bruises, bad back and the most frustrating, nerve damage.
Now the question is how do you know if crutches are of right size for you?
Well, it’s so simple to know.
Ideally, all crutches come in a size adjustment feature and the ideal size range is always there on the product description. Your job is to find the right size crutch and in most cases crutches come in one-for-all size, so don’t get overwhelmed here.
Alright, your next step is to properly fit them according to your size.
And for this, some products come with separate video guides or pdf guides. Or you can find dozens of YouTube videos helping you properly assemble your crutches. And don’t worry, there’s no rocket-science and it usually takes 2-3 minutes for assembly and the method may vary depending on crutch designs.
Also, don’t worry about walking with crutches because this is something you learn when you get your hands on them. Before that, you cannot actually know how it feels like to walk with crutches. Your surgeon will also instruct you, but still if you’re willing to learn right now, I’ve covered them in another article here. Give that a read, it’s simple and easy to digest.
Here are some cool tips you can use for correct crutch fitting:
- If you’re using underarm crutches, keep the saddles at least 5cm below your armpits and do not EVER rest on them that will hurt your shoulders in the long-run and can also cause nerve damage…
- The hand grips should be at the same level as your hips. No matter if you’re using axillary or elbow crutches.
- While walking, your elbows should slightly bend to absorb the pressure and minimize wrist fatigue.
Best Crutches for Long-Term Use: Which one to prefer?
At this point, you’ve probably guessed which type is best for long-term comfort.
But, if not, I’m going to tell you right now.
And mind you, this is not my personal opinion.
A research paper “Design Evaluation of Crutches by Engineering Perspective” by American Journal of Engineering, published in 2016, proves that forearm crutches are best suitable for most patients because these have the least side-effects of all crutch types.
That’s the reason in most markets, along with the U.S, surgeons only recommend underarm crutches for shorter periods like from 2 to 12 weeks.
And for long-term usage, forearm crutches serve the purpose best for most people with little to no danger.
(Notice the term, “for most people”)
That’s because elbow crutches may not be a good fit for everyone. They require more upper body strength and a good sense of balance to master their use. If you’re in old age or going through a severe injury which requires more energy, you might not like forearm crutches, and I suggest consulting your surgeon first before you choose.
How to use underarm crutches?
Walking with underarm crutches is easier as compared to forearm crutches. There are different types of gaits that patients use depending upon the type of injury.
You can find out below how to walk with crutches with non-weight bearing injuries:
- First, stand still, holding the crutches on your both sides. Be sure your injured leg is not touching the ground and handles are leveled with your hip bone. If not, then properly size them before walking.
- Then, bring forward both crutches ahead of you about a foot.
- After that, you need to move forward with your strong leg followed by your injured leg, shifting your body weight onto crutches. Do not put weight on the injured leg; your injured leg should always be in the air.
- Then repeat the same cycle again to walk with underarm crutches properly. One more thing you should remember is you must not rest on the underarm padding because you may face skin irritation, bruised ribs, or armpits.
What are different types of crutches?
There are four main types of crutches:
- Underarm or Axillary crutches
- Forearm or Elbow or Canadian crutches
- Platform or Gutter crutches
- Legs Support or Hands Free crutches
How to fit underarm crutches?
Here is how you can properly fit your underarm crutches:
- First you need to stand still, holding crutches on both sides.
- There should be a gap of at least two inches between underarm padding and your armpits.
- The height of hand-grips should be equal to the height of your hip bone.
- Your elbows should slightly bend 15 degrees approximately, while walking.
How to keep crutches from hurting your armpits?
Underarm crutches can hurt your armpits due to the constant saddling. To prevent that, first, use crutch cushions or soft padding to reduce the effect of friction and to foster a comfy feel. The second thing you can do, which is really important and a lot of people ignore, is to always keep a gap between your armpits and underarm padding of about two inches and do not rest on them.
How to use crutches without hurting your armpits?
Underarm crutches can be really painful for some people because they cause bruises and skin irritation, and that hurts a lot. To save yourself from that pain, you need to buy soft cushions or soft paddings to reduce friction. And the other thing is you must not rest on padding, which is the main reason for hurting your armpits and always keep a gap of at least two inches.
Final Verdict: Forearm Crutches Vs Underarm Crutches
So wanna know which crutch type is best?
Here is the final note:
Keeping all the above discussed points in focus, along with the study conducted by American Journal of Engineering in 2016 on crutch designs, here is our final verdict:
“Forearm crutches clearly win over underarm crutches having the least side effects and being perfect for most patients. These are easier and safer to walk with because of their lightweight, small, and compact design, and also hand-grips being at perfect position for natural hand placement.”
But, it’s needless to say, there are always some exceptions in every case. So forearm crutches might not be safe for everyone, and for this matter, your surgeon will guide you the best.
There you have it, my friend. A complete guide on “forearm crutches vs underarm crutches” with a final verdict. Hope you’ve learned everything you wanted. Going by, just tell me in the comment section: which type of injury you’re going through? And which crutch type you’re going to choose?