I’ve now been on crutches for 2,062 days. If I live to my full life expectancy and there’s no miracle CRPS cure in the meantime, I’ll likely have to use crutches for around 14,000 more days. It’s a pretty long time. There’s an oft quoted statistic that suggests you have to practice a skill for 10,000 hours before you become an expert. Well, I’ve already used crutches for nearly 50,000 hours so I don’t know if that qualifies me as an expert, but I have certainly learnt a lot about the various types that are out there.
Like most people who stagger out of A&E after an accident, I started off on the standard grey NHS crutches. They’re okay for a couple of days, but use them for any longer than that and you start getting sore red lines on your hands and similar bruising around your elbows. You can cushion them (I suggest using cut up bits of sponge and gaffer tape) or if you know you’re going to be using them for a while, you can start the search for a more comfortable, long-term solution.
Initially, I moved to crutches with a better hand grip – a Fischer grip, to use the technical term. These spread the load throughout your whole palm, rather than just the thin line that so rapidly gets uncomfortable with the crutches you’re normally given in hospital. Eventually, as I accepted my crutches as a more permanent feature, I invested in colourful ones to match different outfits, making me feel a bit more like the ‘me’ I’d always been.
Wrist problems begin…
Unfortunately it’s well documented that using crutches for a long time can start to cause further problems. For me, everything was going swimmingly until August 2014, almost three years to the day from my accident, when I suddenly started having pain in my wrist. My initial fear was that the CRPS was spreading, but this turned out not to be the case; a CT scan and subsequent surgery revealed that the constant use of crutches had started to destroy the cartilage in my wrists.
To put it simply, my wrists had started to break down under the constant pressure of supporting my weight as I couldn’t hold it through my leg. The consultant was able to slow down the damage, but not to cure it; I was told that I had about 10 years of regular crutch usage left before my arms just couldn’t take it anymore.
It was a pretty horrible revelation. Of course, it made sense; legs are designed to support your body weight, whereas arms just aren’t really. Even after I’d recovered from the surgery, it was still too painful to use the crutches I’d had before, so I began my search for a solution that could offload the weight on my hands. My search led me to a fairly new brand: Smart Crutches.
What makes Smart Crutches different?
The USP of Smart Crutches is their adjustable handle rotation. The section of the crutch cradling the forearm and hand can be rotated from 0 – 90 degrees and then locked into place anywhere inbetween for the user’s comfort. At 0 degrees, they look and operate much like standard crutches, but when locked at 90 degrees, they support the entire forearm parallel to the ground and allow weight to be taken through the whole lower arm, rather than weighting the wrist and hand.
It’s a brilliant solution and one that has made a massive difference to me personally. This whole forearm section is well padded with foam, meaning that your arm is comfortably supported at all times. They’re also easy to adjust to fit you exactly. The crutches are light, weighing 800 grams per crutch. They also have a rubber foot which is designed to bend in all directions, meaning that the crutches are less likely to slip when transferring weight.
Their designer, Colin Albertyn, was inspired to create a better crutch when he himself had an injury which required him to use crutches during his recovery. Like many others, he experienced pain and discomfort from standard crutches, leading him to create a more ergonomically designed solution to maximise mobility whilst simultaneously preventing additional injury and stress.
Are they expensive?
Smart Crutches can be bought individually or as a pair, ranging from around £50 – £100 and if you’re buying them for a disability, you’ll get the VAT back. It’s not cheap, but roughly in line with other high end crutch brands like Kowsky and Ossenberg. There’s a range of sizes from child to large adult and a helpful measuring guide on their website to ensure you get a perfect fit.
Are they durable?
Personally, I’ve found that most of my crutches last me about 9 months before I need to buy a new pair and Smart Crutches are about the same. If you’re gentler on your crutches you’ll probably get longer out of them, but one downside I’ve found with them is that the bulky forearm brace makes the crutch top heavy, so when leaned against a wall they’re likely to fall over if you’re not very careful.
Do they look good?
These are not crutches for the wallflower who wants to blend into the background. Smart Crutches have a cool, sporty aesthetic, and are available in a wide palette of colours, from neutral to very bright. If I’m out and about on my crutches, people will regularly stop me and ask about them, simply because they look so different to those standard boring NHS grey ones.
Are there any negatives?
My pet hate is the fact they’re not silent. They make that classic, clicking, crutch sound when I walk and I DETEST that. My husband has spent hours with various DIY solutions trying to find a way of eliminating the click and none have really worked. I think this is one that has to be solved by the manufacturer; please could you fix it soon so my crutches don’t advertise my arrival five minutes before I appear?
Do you recommend them?
I think Smart Crutches are a fantastic invention. The most significant advantage of these crutches is that adjustable forearm, meaning they can offload the pressure on hands and wrists. They also look really good into the bargain. On the negative side they’re expensive and make that horrible clicky noise, but if you’re looking for a crutch to help protect your hands or eliminate wrist pain like me, I don’t think there’s a better solution out there.
For more information and to shop, check out www.smartcrutch.co.uk