Navigating stairs with crutches can initially feel like a daunting task. You have just had surgery; you’ve figured out the seemingly impossible task of moving your leg into and out of the car; and now you are standing at the bottom of a flight of stairs so that you can settle into your apartment. You ask yourself, “Now what?” If you were admitted to the hospital for your surgery and you have stairs at home, it is likely that the physical therapist at the hospital practiced going up and down the stairs with you. Still, there is a lot of information to absorb and remembering the specifics can be a challenge. Here, I would like to teach you the standard way to navigate up and down stairs with crutches. Please note: there are variations to this technique that can be used depending on your surgery and home set up. Please consult your doctor.
Before discussing step-by-step how to navigate up and down stairs, let’s review some basic terminology. After surgery, you may be given what is termed “weight-bearing restrictions” from your doctor. The two most common weight-bearing restrictions given to individuals are non-weight-bearing (NWB) or weight-bearing as tolerated (WBAT). For non-weight-bearing, you are to avoid putting any weight through the surgical leg. That means your foot and toes should remain off of the ground at all times while you are standing or sitting. Alternatively, weight-bearing as tolerated means you are able to put weight through the surgical leg as you are able. Make sure you know what your weight-bearing restrictions are before leaving the hospital.
Let’s now review how to go up the stairs. Let’s first assume you have no handrails and your weight-bearing restriction is non-weight-bearing. Here is the step-by-step:
Now, we will review how to go down the stairs. Again, let’s assume you have no handrails and you are not allowed to put any weight through the surgical leg. Here is what you do:
This is the most basic way to navigate the stairs with crutches. There are variations to this technique. For example, if you do have handrails, you can hold onto one handrail and place both crutches under the other arm. Perform the same steps as previously listed. If you are having a hard time remembering the sequence there is a trick that you can use. “Up with the good and down with the bad” is a phrase that can be helpful. When navigating up the stairs, your “good” leg or non-surgical leg will move onto the step first. When navigating down the stairs, your crutches will move onto the step first.
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Blog Written By: Dr. Maria Brady, PT, DPT