Kids Health Info

Crutches

  • Crutches can help your child recover more quickly from leg, foot or ankle injuries, by reducing the amount of weight placed on the injured leg. If your child needs to use crutches, encourage them to take things slowly at first and learn how to use their crutches properly. It can be easy for children to fall or lose their balance while using crutches.

    Not all young children will be able to use crutches. If your child is not coordinated enough to use crutches, or if you have any doubts, please ensure they do not use crutches. Your GP or physiotherapist can suggest alternatives. You can ask your GP for a referral to a physiotherapist.

    Adjusting the crutches

    To make sure the crutches fit your child correctly:

    • Ask your child to stand up straight, and measure them from the armpit to the floor. Take 5 cm off this and you have the correct crutch length, e.g. if the height from your child's armpit to the floor is 90 cm, the crutch should be 85 cm high. (If your child is unable to stand safely, you can take the measurements while they are lying down). 

    Adjust the handgrip height so the elbow bends slightly when your child is standing relaxed.

    Make sure the crutches are safe to use by checking the wing nuts are tight and that the crutch tips (the rubber stoppers at the bottom of the crutches) are securely attached and not worn.

    Adjusting crutches

    Your child is now ready to walk on their crutches as they have been shown. They should wear non-slip shoes (e.g. runners). Your physiotherapist, doctor or nurse will have told you and your child how much weight they can put on the sore leg.

    How to use crutches

    Make sure your child is standing up straight and balanced before trying to use the crutches. Their feet should be slightly apart. The crutches need to be out to the side (about 10–15 cm) and slightly in front of their feet. 

    Your child should:

    • hold the handgrip firmly to their side by pressing their upper arms against their body (the elbows should be slightly bent)
    • move both crutches out in front of their body (make sure the crutches are not placed too far in front or too far apart from each other)
    • balance their weight on their hands and push down onto the crutch handles (make sure they lean on their hands, not their armpits)
    • bring their good leg up to or just past the crutches – this will move them forward.

    If they are not allowed to bear weight on their sore leg, make sure they keep it off the ground.

    If they are able to take some weight, they can put their sore leg on the ground and place some weight on it. Their hands should take the rest of their weight. 

    If your child is having difficulty using crutches, a physiotherapist can ensure the crutches are sized correctly and will teach your child how best to use them.

    Sitting down or standing up with crutches

    Your child should:

    • hold the crutches in one hand, by the crutch handles
    • place their sore leg forward
    • grip the seat with their other hand
    • lean forward, gently bend their good leg and lower themselves onto the seat; or 
    • gently straighten their good leg and push themselves up from the seat.

    Using crutches with stairs

    If your child is not allowed to bear weight on their sore leg, they will need to follow these steps when using stairs.

    Parents/carers should always position themselves close to the child to steady them if required.

    Going up

    Your child should:

    • walk right up to the step (figure a)
    • pushing through their arms, lean forward and bring their weight over the crutches, and then hop onto the first step with their good foot (figure b)
    • straighten their body while bringing their crutches and sore leg up onto the step
    • continue this process carefully up the stairs (figure c).
    Crutches - going up stairs

    Going down 

    Your child should:

    • walk right to the edge of the step
    • place their crutches carefully down to the step below
    • move their sore foot out in front of the crutches and lean slightly forward, then let the crutches carry their weight (figure a)
    • pushing firmly through the crutches, step down onto the good leg (figure b)
    • continue this process slowly and carefully down the stairs. 
    Crutches - going down stairs 

    If your child feels unsafe using crutches on stairs, they can sit on the step and go up or down on their bottom.

    Crutches - unsafe using crutches on stairs

    Key points to remember

    • Your child should take things slowly at first and learn how to use the crutches properly.
    • Your child's weight should be on their hands, not on their armpits.
    • Make sure the crutches are not placed too far in front of their body or too far apart from each other.
    • Special care is needed going up and down stairs. A parent or carer should be close by to steady your child if needed. If it doesn't feel safe, your child should go up or down stairs on their bottom.

    For more information

    • Contact your local emergency department, physiotherapy, GP or practice nurse.

    Common questions our doctors are asked

    How old should a child be before they can use crutches? 

    It depends on how coordinated and physically capable the child is, but, generally, children need to be at least seven years old to safely use crutches.

    How long will my child need to use crutches? 

    This depends on how serious your child's injury is and how quickly they recover. If in doubt, ask your GP, orthopaedic surgeon (bone doctor) or physiotherapist. Make sure you follow medical advice and take your child to all their follow-up appointments.


    Developed by The Royal Children's Hospital Physiotherapy and Emergency Medicine departments. We acknowledge the input of RCH consumers and carers.

    Reviewed July 2018.

    Kids Health Info is supported by The Royal Children’s Hospital Foundation. To donate, visit www.rchfoundation.org.au.


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Disclaimer
This information is intended to support, not replace, discussion with your doctor or healthcare professionals. The authors of these consumer health information handouts have made a considerable effort to ensure the information is accurate, up to date and easy to understand. The Royal Children's Hospital, Melbourne accepts no responsibility for any inaccuracies, information perceived as misleading, or the success of any treatment regimen detailed in these handouts. Information contained in the handouts is updated regularly and therefore you should always check you are referring to the most recent version of the handout. The onus is on you, the user, to ensure that you have downloaded the most up-to-date version of a consumer health information handout.