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Stair Techniques for a Broken Leg
Few things are more intimidating to someone with a broken leg than a set of stairs. Yet unless you live on one floor or have the ability to set up your sleeping and bathing quarters on the ground floor, at some point you will need to negotiate stairs. The method depends on whether you have crutches or a cane, as well as on your physical strength and the set up of the staircase itself.
Ascending with Crutches
Place both crutches under the armpit that’s farthest from the handrail. Facing the stairs, hold on to the handrail with the hand closest the rail. Keep your broken leg behind you and hop onto the first step with your good leg. When you reach the top of the stairs, reposition your crutches so that you have one crutch securely under each armpit, and continue down the hall to your destination. Be careful to readjust your crutches several feet from the top of the stairs -- the last thing you need is to suffer another injury by falling.
Descending with Crutches
For going down the stairs with crutches, reverse the moves used in ascending them. Face forward, keeping your broken leg in front of you, with your crutches again tucked under the armpit farthest from the handrail. Hold the handrail firmly and hop down on your good foot. Take it one stair at a time and rest during the exertion if you need to.
Stairs and Canes
Depending on your injury, you may start out with a cast and a cane, or graduate to a cane after crutches. Use your cane to provide support ascending and descending stairs, but make the handrail an additional means of steadying yourself, if you have one. Facing forward, shift the cane to the hand opposite your broken leg and then hop to the first step on your good leg, keeping your injured leg behind you. Bring your broken leg to the same step, then repeat the process. To go down the stairs, go in the sequence of cane, broken leg and good leg, stopping at each step so that both legs and the cane start out in the same position each time. Don't put weight on the broken leg, but instead allow the cane and your good leg to carry all the weight.
Scooting up the stairs when you have a broken leg is a reasonable alternative if you don’t have the required strength in your upper body to manage a cane or crutches. It’s also useful if there aren't handrails on the staircase. Sit down on the step with your back to the stairs. Keep your crutches roughly parallel to the floor in the hand opposite your bad leg, with the bad leg stretched out in front. Use your unencumbered hand and your good foot to propel your backside up each step. Stay in the same position, with your back to the staircase, for going down the stairs.
Ask someone in your household to be extra vigilant about keeping the stairs clean and free of debris and clutter. Secure any loose carpeting or stair runners, and check the strength of the handrails. If your staircase doesn’t include a handrail, consider having one installed. Ask your family member or home-helper to remove scatter rugs at the top, bottom or landing of the stairs. Keep a backpack near the top or bottom of the stairs to store any items you might need on the other level of the house, rather than try to hold them in your hands on the journey up or down the stairs.
- American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons: How to Use Crutches, Canes, and Walkers
- Cleveland Clinic. Stair climbing with an injured or weak leg. Updated July 24, 2014.
- American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS). Preventing falls among the elderly. Rosemont, IL: AAOS; February 2018.
- Warwick H, George A, Howell C, et al. Immediate physical therapy following total joint arthroplasty: Barriers and impact on short-term outcomes. Advances in Orthoped. 2019;2019:6051476. doi:10.1155/2019/6051476.
Ellen Douglas has written on food, gardening, education and the arts since 1992. Douglas has worked as a staff reporter for the Lakeville Journal newspaper group. Previously, she served as a communication specialist in the nonprofit field. She received her Bachelor of Arts from the University of Connecticut.