Living With Chronic Pain

Canes, Crutches, and Walkers

Most of us have either had a need to use medical devices or know someone who does. Making sure they are used properly is important. Otherwise they can actually worsen an already difficult and painful situation. Here are some easy tips for commonly needed items:


Crutches seem simple and easy to use but often they are too long, too short or held improperly. When I broke my foot and had to stay off of it for 3 months, crutches were my primary way to get around. But I had forgotten how easy it is to misuse them, exacerbating my back, neck and arm pain. Used appropriately they are a great help depending on how much weight you can apply to the injured area.

Making them comfortable is the first step

  • Ask your provider to adjust them to the proper height for your body. Too low or too high defeats their benefit and just aggravates other areas of pain.
  • They should fit 1-1.5 inches under your armpit, not at the armpit! 
  • The hands should grip at hip height.
  • Your weight should be on your entire arms, NOT on your armpits. That way the entire upper torso is properly aligned and helping to carry your body weight.
  • Make sure the areas under the arms and the hand grips have sufficient padding.
  • Ensure the tips are free of debris and have grooved rubber tips so they don’t slip or slide when impacting the ground.
  • Keep floors and areas clutter free.
  • Remove throw rugs and secure cords out of the way.
  • Wear non skid shoes 


  • Don’t look down when waking, always look forward to keep from tripping and to maintain proper spinal alignment.
  • Keep your elbows slightly bent to prevent pain and inflammation.
  • Move crutches just a few inches in front each time you step to maintain balance.
  • Turn them upside down when sitting, so they don’t fall and hurt someone.

Standing with crutches. 

Sounds easy enough. Most if us just lean forward and rest our underarms on the lads  But here’s how it should actually be done.

  • Stay upright with the crutches slightly in front on either side of the body.
  • Use the hand grips to support your weight, NOT your armpits. 
  • Putting weight in your armpits makes you less stable as it forces you forward and could cause one or both crutches to move or be hit out from under you. Compressing nerves and blood vessels in the armpit can create all sorts of issues in the arm.
  • Putting all the weight on the shoulders is more tiring, decreasing the time most can use crutches comfortably.
  • Keep the crutches a few inches in front when standing so you don’t trip over them.

Sitting to standing with crutches

  • Move up to the edge of the chair until you feel it on the backs of your legs.
  • Weight bear on your good leg.
  • Hold both crutches by the hand grips with one hand.
  • Reach back with the other hand and support yourself with the top of the chair 
  • Ease down and get settled 
  • Then reverse those steps to stand
  • Scoot to the edge of the seat.
  • Hold crutches in the opposite hand from the injured leg.
  • Use the other hand to push off the seat to a standing position.
  • Use the strong leg until you feel balanced and ready to move.


May sound silly but walking with crutches can be tricky.

  • Always make sure your are balanced before you move. 
  • Place crutch a foot in front at shoulder width apart.
  • Move your injured leg and both crutches forward at the same time.
  • Grip both of the hand rests tightly and swing the good leg forward.

With one crutch

  • Always use on the opposite side to the injured leg.
  • Move forward with the good leg.
  • Take excess weight with the crutch and opposite arm to help move the injured leg forward.
  • Always turn with the strong leg.


If at all possible, do not use crutches on stairs. Even scooting on your bottom is preferable to losing your balance and falling. When absolutely necessary have someone by your side for security and take it slow. 

  • Use your strong leg to step up keeping your weaker leg and crutches behind you on the lower step.
  • Keep the recovering leg slightly bent and behind 
  • Bring the crutches up in each hand 
  • Put weight on the stronger leg and then bring weaker one up 
  • Bring both crutches and legs together on the step 
  • Stop, regain your balance, before proceeding to the next step.
  • If there’s a hand rail put both crutches on the other side and use the hand rail for assistance.

Crutches are too often a thankfully brief but necessary part of recovery after an injury. Ask your provider for help in getting them fitted properly and how to use them safely. No one is born knowing how they are used. They may look easy but when vulnerable and scared they can be intimidating. And when out and about dint be shy about getting assistance whenever possible. In my experience people are generally more then happy to help.


Canes are added benefit when you have pain, weakness or mild stability or balance issues. Single point canes with rubber tops may be all that’s required to aid in comfort or safety. For those who need more help a 4 prong cane may be best.

Getting comfortable

  • The top of the cane should reach your waist.
  • Never fully extend your elbow, keep it slightly bent when holding the cane.
  • Always use it in the hand opposite the weaker leg. 
  • Set it a foot ahead and step with the injured extremity.
  • Then move forward with the good leg.


  • Always use a hand rail. if none are available find another option.
  • Going up: grasp the hand rail with your free hand on the side of the weaker leg, ( cane always goes in the hand on the opposite side to the injured extremity.)
  • Step up with your stringer leg first.
  • Bring up your other leg and the cane.
  • Get balanced before moving again.
  • Going down: grab the hand rail with your free hand on the side of the weaker leg.
  • Put the cane on the first step.
  • Move your weaker leg to that step. 
  • Carry your weight with your good leg down to the same step.
  • Get balanced.


Walkers are the best option for the most stability. They let you use your arms to support all or most of your lower body weight and still stay mobile. Those with a seat let you sit and rest whenever needed.


  • Walker should reach the level of your wrists.
  • Always keep your elbows slightly bent when you’re gripping the hand grips otherwise it could cause tendonitis.
  • Stand up straight, don’t hunch.
  • Make sure the tips are stable, not worn and it moves easily.

Sitting / standing

  • Feel the back of your legs hit the chair seat
  • Use the walker for stability and lower yourself
  • Push off with the armrests
  • Grip both hand grips with your hands and using your arms push yourself up.
  • Don’t tilt or pull on the walker 


  • Make sure you are on even grounds 
  • Take small steps, move slowly 
  • Never use a walker on the stairs.

These devices have been around for so long it’s easy to think we know how to use them safely. But all too often that’s not the case. Whether a temporary requirement after an injury, or long term one to improve mobility and stability, make sure they are set up to meet your individual needs.





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