Crutchin' Around NYC

By Dr. Cathlin Fitzgerald, PT, DPT, CSCS

When you’re on crutches, it's already frustrating enough not to able to run and do what you enjoy, so the frustration that comes with moving about your day to day life is amplified.  Obviously we'd all like to avoid situations that land us on crutches (#prehab), but life happens. I recently spent some quality time weight-bearing on only one leg, so I've become familiar with a few ways to make life a bit easier while crutching around. Here's how to cope if you find yourself on crutches.

The Equipment

#1 - If your crutches are not fit properly, you don't know how to go up/down stairs with them, get into and out of a car, or actually "walk" correctly with them, it's worth seeing your PT just to make that easier (and prevent potential weird injuries). During my crutchin' days, I saw a fellow crutcher on my train home pretty regularly. Early on he watched me hop past him up the stairs pretty quickly. He asked how I was able to do it, so I showed him how to get up/down the stairs correctly. From then on we had an unspoken system of how we hailed cabs after getting off the same train to help each other out. 

#2 - Check the tips! If you're on crutches for awhile and you're relatively active, odds are you'll wear through the tips (the covering on the bottom of each crutch). You can get new ones at any drug store. Stay on top of this, because once the tips wear through the bottom of a crutch, it can become more prone to slipping. I may or may not have learned this the hard way.

#3 - Get a crutch bag (a pouch that hooks onto your crutch) or better yet, a fanny pack! Little did I know how handy the bachelorette party favor I’d received months ago would be during these 7 weeks. I kept my wallet, keys, phone, metrocard, and anything else I wanted easy access to (i.e. snacks). For larger items I used my usual commuting backpack.


The Daily Commute

#1 - Don't be a hero. On day one I tried to do everything I would normally do on my commute, and all I did was exhaust myself by the time I got to the office. After that humbling experience, I figured out where elevators were at different stops (turns out, not too many that made sense for me to use), and I took a cab for distances that required further crutching. I learned that it was better to save my energy for the day than to try to crutch everywhere I would normally walk. 

#2 - Give yourself extra time. All the time. Take the extra time you think you’ll need and double it.  Everything is going to take a little bit longer, and the sooner you accept that the sooner getting around the city will feel less stressful.

#3 -  Rain! Umbrellas are generally out of the question, unless you're willing to MacGyver some sort of contraption. I opted for a rain cover over my backpack, a rain jacket with a hood, and retired running shoes. I kept extra socks in my bag because my socks would without a doubt be wet by the time I got to my destination. Someone also suggested I use a poncho to cover everything. I never tried that one, but it seems reasonable.  

 

The Work Day

If you have an active job or have to be up and moving, a knee scooter can be a life saver at the office. Scooters are very impractical to use around the city if you need to get in and out of the subway or up and down any sort of stairs independently (and can only stand on one leg), but in an office setting they're great. I would only use my crutches in the office for the bathroom because crutches are actually easier to use in smaller spaces compared to a bulky scooter.

Travel

I had a few trips that involved flying planned while I was on crutches. If you're traveling alone, use a backpack as your carry on to keep you hands free for crutchin'. The crutches can fit into pretty much any plane overhead compartment so you don't have worry about what to do with them—just click them down to their shortest setting. If you're like me and tend to over hydrate pre-flight, opt for a seat in the back of the plane. This let me easily hop to and from the bathroom using the backs of seats without the hassle of having to ask someone to get the crutches.

The resting and healing phase of any recovery process can be really challenging mentally, physically, and emotionally. Cut yourself some slack and learn your temporary new "normal.” You'll get more efficient as you go, and before you know it you'll be back on both feet!