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Chiropractic After Crutch Use

Hopping around on crutches for weeks can cause shoulder pain, headaches and muscle aches. Find out how chiropractic can help.

Have you ever had to use crutches for so many weeks that you began to have aches and pains from simply using the crutches? Did your shoulders ache? What about your armpits? Did they become sensitive or chafed? Did you begin to have mid back stiffness? How about your hips or low back? These are all some reasons why it might be useful to visit your chiropractor whenever you had to use crutches for more than just a couple of days.

  • Although the use of crutches is the most common way to stay mobile while injured, there are some things to be aware of while using crutches. No matter how well crutches are designed and even if they fit your height perfectly, it is practically impossible to duplicate the same correct posture and body mechanics that you have when you walk normally on two legs. Using crutches will change the way you stand and walk. Over time, this can cause some issues with your health. Here are some things to consider with prolonged use of crutches:

  • The longer you have to use crutches, the more recovery you need to return to your previous level of fitness. From the initial onset of the injury until end of crutch use, the shoulders, arms, elbows, wrists and hands are put under the strain of supporting the entire weight of the body. Over this extended use of crutches, there is wear and tear on the muscles and joints of the upper body.

  • Using crutches affects the shoulders in a significant way. The weight of the body rests on the crutch pad, which is wedged into your armpit. This can sometimes raise the shoulders upward, above the normal shoulder position. The shoulders can succumb to overuse injuries from continual pressure from the crutch pad. It is very important to stretch, strengthen, and rehabilitate the shoulders following crutch use.

  • The nerves going to the arm and hand can be damaged or irritated by continuous pressure of the upper crutch pad being wedged into the arm pit. By constantly leaning on the crutches, pressure is placed on an important group of nerves called the brachial plexus. These nerves originate in the spinal cord in the lower neck region. They extend down through the shoulder and pass through the axilla (arm pit), sending branches of nerves that continue down the arm to the finger tips. This constant pressure from the crutches can inflame the nerves, resulting in parasthesia (unusual sensations), tingling, numbness, and sharp “electrical” pain in different sections of the arm, elbow, and hands.

  • Neck stiffness can occur after using crutches. It’s very difficult to maintain normal posture in your neck and shoulders while using crutches. Most people find that their neck and shoulders angle forward at an unnatural angle. This causes your neck to extend upward, resulting in neck pain and muscle stiffness.

  • Along with neck discomfort, headaches are a common complaint of crutch users. Tension headaches can arise from continued use of crutches for an extended period of time. The muscle tension can begin in the center of the neck and progress up toward the base of the skull, triggering a headache.

  • Low back muscle strain can become a problem for people using crutches due to keeping one of the legs off the ground and placing all the body’s weight on the other leg. This causes the pelvis to tilt in an unnatural way. Over time this unnatural slanting of the pelvic girdle can cause muscles on one side of the body to tighten. By the time you are finished using crutches, the muscles on one side of your body may have tightened to the point that one hip is stuck higher than the other and your posture is negatively affected.

  • Hip irritation sometimes occurs on the side of injury. This is because the hip must remain flexed to keep the injured leg from touching the floor. Continually bending the hip joint can result in sensitivity and pain, sometimes making it difficult to get comfortable when sleeping at night.

  • Knee soreness on the uninjured leg can occur due to overuse of the knee. The knee on the weight bearing side of the body has the entire weight of the body on it while moving from one place to another. Over time this knee can become sore, stiff and swollen. It is important to address these symptoms that can progress and eventually lead to arthritis.

  • While using crutches, rib sensitivity can occur due to the top of the crutch rubbing the highest section of the rib cage. This constant friction between the crutch pad or axillary support can cause irritation of the upper ribs. This irritation can cause intercostal nerve pain and also rib muscle pain. This limits movement of the ribs and can cause chest pain, sometimes referred to as a “pinched rib.” The ribs will need to be realigned by a chiropractor in order to relieve the pain and discomfort of the ribs and chest area.

  • Extended use of crutches can cause an ache in the upper back between the shoulder blades. This area of the upper back can become painfully irritated over time. The rhomboid muscles, teres muscles, and erector spinae muscles becomes over used and fatigue quicker. This causes recruitment of other muscles in the upper back and can cause discomfort and tension in the entire back.

  • The reliance of crutch use for all your mobility can cause difficulty sleeping and also finding a comfortable position in which to sleep. The side of injury (whichever leg / foot / knee is hurt) is often uncomfortable to sleep on. Eventually, the opposite side (which used to be your “good” side) also becomes sore from repeated use.

  • Using crutches can cause foot and ankle pain on side of the body that contacts the ground. Continuous use of crutches for long periods of time will cause overuse pain in the uninjured foot and ankle. This is due to the continued use and weight bearing work the foot and ankle must perform with every step. Proper footwear is crucial for this foot while recovering from the lower leg injury.

  • Traveling with crutches can cause musculoskeletal aches and strains from maneuvering crutches and transporting crutches in and out of vehicles. When placing crutches in the car and removing them after you reach your destination, it is important to keep the crutches easily accessible. This will limit the amount of bending and reaching when removing the crutches from your vehicle. It also helps to have friends or family to help remove your crutches (from the vehicle trunk or backseat) for you.

As you can see, there are issues with using crutches for extended periods of time. Fortunately, a chiropractor can alleviate some of these issues. Chiropractic treatment relieves some of the stress placed on the body while using crutches. This is achieved by helping the body maintain the proper biomechanical alignment in order to reduce wear and tear on the muscles and joints affected by extended crutch use. It is advisable to schedule an appointment with your local chiropractor after the first 2 weeks of crutch use. Your chiropractor can then assess how your crutches are affecting your posture. Multiple chiropractic visits may be required after you have discontinued use of your crutches. This will restore your proper posture and hopefully alleviate any headaches, and reduce musculoskeletal problems.

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