Side Effects of Using Crutches: Is There Any?

It’s true that crutches can be one's best friend when a little extra support is needed because of an injury or other complications. They can make your post-injury rehabilitation a lot easier.

But as with everything in life, crutches come with their fair share of complications too.

Depending on how long you need to use them, the severity of the side-effects of using crutches may vary. And in this article, we’re going to know about the side effects of using crutches.

Side-Effects of Using Crutches

People who have to use crutches temporarily for only a short period of time may only experience some minor side-effects. Those who have to rely on crutches for a significantly longer period of time may experience side-effects that are a bit more serious.

Crutches

Whether you need to use crutches for short-term rehabilitation purposes or you need them in your everyday life for the long term, it’s better to stay well informed about the complications that might occur because of using them.

Sore Upper Arms

It is very common for the upper arms to get sore with the use of crutches, especially in the early days.

Your arms may feel sore and achy as the muscles here are not used to holding your body weight for such a long time. Moving the arms or lifting them up might even become difficult because of the pain. But this is only temporary in most cases.

As your upper arm muscles eventually get stronger with the extra exercise provided by the crutches, the pain should also subside.

Irritated Skin

Rubbing and chafing of skin is a common side effect of using crutches. The constant movement of the saddle of axillary crutches against the underarm skin causes the skin to get irritated, which can be quite uncomfortable.

Besides underarm skin irritation, it is also common for blisters and calluses to appear on hands, due to all the friction the hands have to endure while using crutches.

Compression of the Radial Nerve

Prolonged use of conventional crutches can lead to nerve damage because of the intense pressure it puts on the arm.

Incorrect adjustment or use of crutches can lead to incorrect posture in the individual, which in terms causes compression of the radial nerve, also known as “crutch palsy”. This occurs mainly because of the constant pressure put on the radial nerve or brachial plexus by the crutch.

Symptoms may include radiating pain, numbness, or unusual tingling sensations in hand or in the thumb and fingers.

Wrist Injury 

Long-term use of conventional crutches puts a great amount of pressure on the wrists. This can cause soreness or pain in the wrist. In extreme cases, this can even lead to the wrist being strained or injured.

Shoulder Pain

Using crutches that are not of the right height can cause a lot of pain in the shoulder area. The crutches that are too high for the individual irritate the muscles and nerves in the shoulder as well as the underarm area. They can also bruise the armpit.

Atrophy of Lower Body

Over time, the lack of activities involving the lower body eventually weakens the muscles. Prolonged usage of crutches can deteriorate the muscles of the leg or the whole lower body, depending on the particular individual.

However, this only happens in the case of long-term users, and should not be a concern if you are going to use them for only a short period of time.

Discomfort in Pelvis 

People who need crutches for only one side often suffer from pain or discomfort in the pelvic area. The imbalance caused by one side of the body being tense for so long causes discomfort to the pelvis, since the bad leg has to be held flexed to avoid contact with the floor.

Sensory Motor Amnesia (SMA)

Using crutches for a long time can result in your body to ‘forget’ how to use your hips and legs without crutches. This is called Sensory Motor Amnesia. People who get SMA with the use of crutches have difficulties moving their torso, hips, and legs to walk properly.

Side Effects of Forearm Crutches

While forearm crutches are a lot easier on the body than axillary crutches, they are also not without a few side-effects of their own. Side-effects of forearm crutches are a lot less compared to the conventional crutches. Even so, knowing about them from beforehand can help prepare you to take the necessary precautions.

Fatigue

With forearm crutches, the forearm has to bear a lot of weight that it isn’t designed to bear. As a result, the supporting muscles of the forearm can often become fatigued.

Shoulder Joint Pain

Pain in the shoulder joint is also common with the use of forearm crutches. The arm connects to the torso through the shoulder, and naturally, all the extra pressure on the arm often causes discomfort and pain in the shoulder area too.

Tendonitis

While forearm crutches make it very easy to do regular daily activities, they can often overwork the forearm muscles. Overusing these muscles can cause inflammation, as well as tendonitis.

Be Prepared

While there are a variety of complications that may arise because of the use of crutches, maintaining a correct posture, adjustments, and doing regular exercises can help a lot to combat these.

Exercises, as well as stretches, can play a very important role in keeping the side-effects at bay, while proper adjustments and usage will ensure one gets to enjoy all the benefits of using a crutch.

  • Updated November 10, 2019
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