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The Basics of Using a Walking Aid

If you’re preparing for hip, knee, foot, or ankle surgery, you may have questions about using a walking aid like crutches or a walker after surgery. Here are a few basic explanations of how these devices can be used.

September 21, 2020 | 3 min read
Christa S. Plew, MBA
Editor-in-Chief

The prospect of using a walking aid, like crutches, walkers, or knee scooters after surgery can be disheartening. Depending on the type of surgery, you may be limited in the amount of weight, if any, that you’re allowed to put on your surgical leg. If you’re planning on having a bunion removed, a hammer toe repaired, hip, knee, or ankle replacement, there’s a chance your doctor could recommend using one of these aids after surgery. 

Before surgery, ask your doctor what they might recommend for your recovery. They may even be able to provide a prescription for one of these devices, before your surgery, so you can practice using the walking aid.

Here are a few simple explanations of how to use these devices if you’re worried about getting started (but always ask your own doctor for instructions specific to your injury):

Standing up 

Using crutches 2
To stand up, hold both crutches by the hand grips in one hand and push up with the other hand on the chair. Then transfer each crutch under each arm, keeping your surgical leg off the floor.

Using a walker 3
To stand up, steady your non-surgical leg against the chair or bed (wherever you are seated). Push up off the armrests with both hands, then grip the walker with both hands. Use your non-surgical leg and your arms to steady/balance yourself.

Sitting down

Using crutches 1,2
To sit down, place both crutches in one hand holding the hand grips together. Reach for the chair with your other hand to slowly lower yourself down, keeping your surgical leg off the floor.

Using a walker 1,3
To sit down, place the back of your legs just against the front of your seat. Position your walker in front of you. Lower your body using your non-surgical leg and the walker to keep your balance.

Walking

Using crutches 1,2
To take a step, move the crutches forward while balancing on your non-surgical leg. Then squeeze the crutches between your upper arms and ribs, bearing the weight with your hands, not your armpits, and step forward with your non-surgical leg so that it is even with your crutches.

Using a walker 1,3
To take a step, step into the walker leading with your non-surgical leg. Once steady, lift/slide the walker in front of you.

Check your positioning

Using crutches 1,2
If you begin to experience discomfort after using your crutches, it might be a good idea to check the fit:

  • Hang your arms loosely at your side with elbows slightly bent. In this position, your wrist should be even with the handle, which should be right around the height of your hip.
  • You should be able to fit three fingers between the top of the crutch and your armpit when you’re standing straight, which would equal about 1-2 inches of space.
  • You can tape hand towels or wash cloths around the crutch pads or handles to increase comfort.
  • Remember that you shouldn’t be resting the crutches in your armpits. Keep your armpits off the crutch pads when walking.

Using a walker 1,3

  • Hang your arms loosely at your side with elbows slightly bent. In this position, your wrist should be even with the top of the walker.
  • Don’t slouch over, keep your back tall and straight.

As you progress to being able to put weight on your surgical leg or foot, and as your doctor recommends, you should be able to start decreasing your dependence on walking aids. Make sure you feel safe and comfortable walking without the device before your stop using it completely. 

References

  1. (2015, Feb). How to Use Crutches, Canes, and Walkers. OrthoInfo. https://orthoinfo.aaos.org/en/recovery/how-to-use-crutches-canes-and-walkers/
  2. Allied Health Physiotherapy (2018, Sep 4). How to Use Crutches. Alberta Health Services. https://myhealth.alberta.ca/alberta/pages/use-crutches.aspx
  3. Allied Health Physiotherapy (2018, Sep 4). How to Use a Walker. Alberta Health Services. https://myhealth.alberta.ca/alberta/pages/use-a-walker.aspx
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