The Best How To Guide: Using Crutches to Ascend and Descend Stairs

Using Crutches to Ascend and Descend Stairs

Welcome to one of the most challenging things you will face on crutches! Don’t worry, we are here for you. Follow this simple guide and you will be safe to ascend and descend stairs on crutches. As always, please consult with your PT/OT before approaching new challenges on your crutches. Although this guide may be comprehensive, your situation may be unique and need a different stair climbing method.

Ascending stairs on crutches:

  1. Position yourself firmly at the base of the staircase you wish to climb, as centered on the step as possible.
  2. Using one hand, firmly grasp the handrail of the staircase, holding both crutches firmly under the other arm.
  3. Get as close to the bottom step as you can.
  4. Your first step will be with the stronger of your two legs. Step up with this leg while at the same time placing your weight on the crutches under your arm, allowing you to lift the affected leg to place firmly on the step you have advanced to. 
  5. Only once you have both feet on the step you have climbed to, should you then lift your crutches and bring them to the same said step you are standing on.
  6. Position yourself as if you are starting the process from the beginning and repeat.

Descending stairs on crutches: 

  1. As with ascending, firmly grip the handrail of the step to gain your balance.  
  2. Again, you will need to ensure that you are positioned in the middle of the step, with both crutches under your free arm.
  3. With the descent, you will need to firmly put your crutch lower onto the step you wish to go down to.
  4. Once you have a good footing with your crutch, place the affected leg down on the same step as the crutch first, while still holding onto the handrail.
  5. You will then move your stronger leg to join the crutch and affected leg on the lower step.
  6. Ensure that you have a firm stance and repeat the above steps again.

Additional information: 

Since there are multiple different injury scenarios which can affect the way in which you walk on crutches, here are a few tips to ensure that you get the most efficient use of your walking aids.    Always remember that the purpose of the crutches is to offer relief to your injured/affected limb and therefore any movements with the crutches should focus on that aspect.   

  1. Always ensure that you have a firm footing wherever you are walking, especially on slippery surfaces.
  2. If you are unable to step on your injured/affected limb at all when ascending or descending stairs, then you should bend your injured limb behind you on the uphill and straighten in front of you on the descent.
  3. Crutches can be uncomfortable and one of the easiest ways to make this a more pleasant experience is to ensure that your weight rests on your hands and not your armpits.
  4. The most practical way to remember which leg goes first in any stair situation is the following saying, “Up with the good, down with the bad”.
  5. Don’t try and juggle crutches, bags, spare clothes and a range of daily needed items in your hands. It is easiest to use a backpack when you are using crutches. 
  6. If you feel you are not strong enough to take the stairs, then do not attempt this, especially if you are on your own. Try and find alternate routes, free of obstacles, that can be tricky to maneuver while you are not able to walk unaided.   Stairs can be tackled by sitting on your buttocks and moving up (or down) each step with your hands as support.  
  7. Ask for help if you need it. Sometimes there will be situations where you cannot move where you want to or how you want to and this will require assistance.

As my grandfather used to tell me, “You get what you pay for if you are lucky”. With that in mind, it pays to invest in high-quality equipment. The hospital gave you those crutches because they are the cheapest piece of equipment that will get the job done. Know that you still have a choice and an investment in your equipment can really pay off when it comes to comfort. Crutch tips, for example, are a great first investment while on crutches. They can increase traction, stability, and even the efficiency of walking on crutches.


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