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How to Properly Use an Assistive Device

Feb 5, 2024 | Fitness & Wellness

Navigating with an assistive device may seem daunting, especially for first-timers.

Many receive crutches or canes post-injury or surgery without proper instructions. That said, using such a device can be easier than you think with careful consideration of each movement.

Keep reading to learn how to properly use an assistive device.

What Are Assistive Devices?

Assistive devices enhance mobility, aiding in activities like walking and stair climbing.

They benefit individuals dealing with balance issues, pain, weakness, fatigue, or joint instability. They are also used to offload the full or partial weight of a lower extremity that has undergone a surgical procedure.

Common types of assistive devices include walkers, canes, and crutches.

Fitting An Assistive Device for Your Needs

Before using an assistive device, you must set up the device for your specific body and overall mobility needs.

Regardless of which type of assistive device you use (walker, cane, or crutches), you need to have the device fit you properly. If the device is placed too low for your body height, you will end up putting excessive weight on your upper extremities. If the device is too high, it often results in excessive shoulder shrugging and discomfort.

Measuring and adjusting a device while standing is the most accurate, but it can also be done with the individual lying down.

If you are using a walker, start by standing in the opening of the walker with the walker directly in front of you.

If you are using a cane or crutch/crutches, you will place the device at your side. With your shoulders relaxed and your arms resting at your sides, the handpiece or handle of the device should land at the crease of your wrist.

For crutches, make sure the top of the crutch is about two inches or two fingers width below the armpit.

Proper placement of the device is also quite important for optimal use and function.

When using a walker, it is placed right in front of you. When using two crutches, one is placed on either side. When using a cane, it is held in the opposite hand of the affected side or leg.

For those new to assistive devices, this may seem counter intuitive. However, placing the cane on the opposite side ensures a natural gait pattern, promotes optimal posture, and widens the base of support. For those looking to offload pressure or weight on their affected side, placing the cane on the opposite side allows you to shift weight away from your injured or weaker side.

Getting Started

Once your device is properly adjusted, it’s time to start moving.

Ambulation patterns differ depending on the device and weight distribution on the affected limb. In general, advance the device, then the affected side, and finally the non-affected side. As you gain confidence, transition to a more natural gait by moving the device and affected side together.

Stairs can be challenging, so always use a railing if available. Railings offer better stability and support.

Ascending Stairs: Start with your strong leg and advance one step at a time until your injured leg is ready for a normal pattern.
Descending Stairs: Lead with your injured leg, keeping your strong leg on the step above. Controlled descent requires strength from your strong leg.

Mastering ambulation and stair negotiation with an assistive device takes practice and patience. Repetition builds confidence, making your movements more natural.

Your physical therapist will guide you post-injury or surgery to ensure proper fit, usage, and safety.

Struggling to use your assistive device following injury or surgery?

Let our team of Physical and Occupational Therapists show you how to use your device both comfortably and safely.

Treatment is covered by insurance, no referral is needed to start, and with flexible virtual and in-clinic appointments available, you can find a time that works with your schedule.

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