Crutches are commonly prescribed in physiatric settings to help offload the lower extremities. Crutch use, however, results in abnormal and repetitive weight-bearing through the upper extremities that may result in secondary injury. This narrative review investigates injury types and risk factors associated with crutch use in order to guide healthcare providers on injury prevention strategies. Medline, EMBASE, CINAHL, and the Cochrane Library were systematically reviewed for publications between 1950 and 2018 on neurological, musculoskeletal, or vascular complications associated with crutch use. Titles and abstracts (n = 2395) were screened by two authors. Sixty studies were eligible. Articles were reviewed for level of evidence, crutch type, participant characteristics, and injury characteristics. There were 42 axillary crutch studies, 12 forearm crutch studies, and 6 studies that did not specify crutch type. These studies incorporated 622 individuals, and most were case series or case reports (n = 54). Axillary crutch use was most commonly associated with axillobrachial arterial complications due to pressure from the axillary bar (n = 34). Forearm crutch use was most commonly associated with compressive neuropathies due to pressure from the forearm cuff (n = 6). Improper crutch fitting and/or use were identified as contributing factors to injury in 22 cases. Duration of crutch use and medical comorbidities also influenced the types of injuries seen. There are rare but potentially serious complications associated with crutch use. When prescribing crutches, clinicians should ensure they are properly fit, engage in appropriate gait training, be aware of common crutch-related injuries, and consider potential patient-specific injury risk factors in order to minimize injury risk.
© 2020 American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation.