After an Injury, Stay Comfortable and Productive With This Gear
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I’m lucky enough to have made it well into adulthood without ever breaking a major bone or having serious surgery, so I wasn’t sure what to expect when I realized I’d be kicking off summer 2019 on crutches. At the beginning of May, I had a minor surgical treatment intended to put an end to a years-long case of plantar fasciitis that hadn’t responded to stretching, physical therapy, cortisone injections, or custom shoe inserts. The downside to this procedure was a prescribed four weeks without putting any weight on my left foot—and a timeframe that stretched to include limited weight-bearing for weeks after.
If your doctor puts you on crutches while you recover from surgery or an injury, consider investing in a few conveniences. Although everyone’s experiences and needs will vary—and my need for six weeks on crutches is by no means representative of the needs of someone who has a lifelong disability—I quickly realized that a Wirecutter approach to helpful items would make my recovery go much smoother. Whether you’re on crutches because of a scheduled procedure or an injury, here are a few things that might make life a little easier.
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Handy accessories to keep nearby
Get a pouch for your crutches: If you don’t want to use a backpack 24/7—and if your clothing often lacks useful pockets—there’s just no good way to carry stuff while you get around on crutches. I immediately picked up a small, two-pocket pouch that attaches to a crutch just below the handle with Velcro straps. Regardless of my pocket situation, I can carry medications, a phone charger, and—most important for the first few hours of the day—a travel mug of coffee.
Carry a leakproof coffee or beverage mug: Speaking of coffee, a leakproof mug is essential for me during recovery. I love coffee, and the first sip of the morning from a perfect cup is one of my favorite things.The leakproof Zojirushi travel mug—a longtime Wirecutter pick and staff favorite—became an essential part of my morning routine on crutches. It’s so reliable that I could fill it up, put it in the pouch strapped to one of my crutches, and move from kitchen to couch to patio without spilling. The combination of pouch and mug let me keep my favorite morning ritual intact and made me feel a little more normal.
Charge gadgets with a power bank: As an editor who has been covering charging accessories for years, I may be biased, but I’ve found a power bank to be key during my recovery. The best spot on my couch is pretty far from my nearest outlet, and limited mobility means I’ve been spending a lot more time on my phone. Having a power bank handy means I can keep my phone, tablet, and wireless earbuds all charged up without having to hop over to an outlet or ask anyone for help. Wirecutter recommends the Jackery Bolt, our favorite pick through multiple updates, because the small pack has built-in charging cables that make it convenient on the go. But if you’re stuck in bed or on the couch, one of the larger Wirecutter picks with more capacity is the way to go, especially when paired with a longer cable.
Use a comfortable lap desk: Wirecutter’s recommendation for a great lap desk can make it more comfortable to type on a laptop for longer stretches. It also helps to keep the heat of a laptop off your body and generally gives you more flexibility in seating options. Since I wasn’t able to apply any weight or pressure on my left foot during the first month of recovery, sitting at a desk was a little risky. I tried alternating between my couch and bed, keeping my leg up while I worked on my laptop, but my neck, back, and shoulders began to protest pretty quickly. I then opted for a smaller version of Wirecutter’s padded pick from LapGear, though our other pick, the Avantree Multifunctional, has legs that make it even more ergonomically sound.
Folding crutches might help for traveling: I had hoped to be off crutches by the time I needed to travel to New York for work, but that didn’t happen. Although I was allowed to put partial weight on my foot, the longer I walked on it, the more painful it was. I compromised by choosing this set of folding crutches, which I could stash in my carry-on roller bag or easily fit in the overhead compartment but still bust out to full length when I needed to move around for longer periods of time. While it wasn’t ideal—I came home sore and exhausted from the extra time getting around—these crutches were a little easier to deal with in transit than my regular pair.
Consider a knee scooter: If you need to stay off one leg, knee scooters are a popular suggestion for getting around more easily than crutches allow—my doctor explicitly recommended one. It wasn’t easy to pick one; I found dozens of options, many of them with little differentiation. I decided I wanted air-filled tires instead of solid rubber ones—guessing they’d be more stable—and I opted for the lightest one I could find, which weighed about 25 pounds. It cost a little more than average at around $200, instead of the $120 or so that basic models go for. The scooter lets me make a sandwich at the kitchen counter and then get the plate to the table without asking for help—something I can’t do when both of my hands are using crutches. But even my lightweight model is too cumbersome to bring on short errands, so I wouldn’t recommend relying on one unless you can keep it at home or at work where you need it most.
Avoiding or reducing pain
Upgrade the pads on your crutches: Even though crutches should rest between the upper arm and ribs—not against your armpits—good padding can help reduce sore spots. Despite the warm weather where I live in Southern California, I landed on a set that’s covered in a fleece material. It’s already picking up cat hair, but the cushioning is sparing my ribs, and the material has enough friction to prevent my crutches from sliding around.
Order a high-quality ice pack: Drugstore ice packs are a waste of money once you realize what an ice pack can be. When I was in physical therapy a few years ago, my back was treated to the best ice pack I’d ever used—it was huge, heavy, and seriously cold, far colder than any of the ones I’d bought at Walgreens or CVS. I bought this similar Colpac ice pack (smaller sizes are available too), and it has been a workhorse for four years now. Even though I’m not allowed to ice my foot during recovery, I have been pulling out my giant ice pack to soothe the sore spots on my ribs where my crutches press in.
Book a serious massage: This isn’t a piece of equipment, but it did make a crucial difference in my recovery. A month in, my joints and muscles were wrecked from the unfamiliar movements, so I decided to see a massage therapist that my physical therapist recommended. He helped work out a painful knot in my hamstring—a likely symptom of my constantly keeping my leg bent and my foot raised while crutching around—and gave me tips for stretching to prevent its recurrence. I didn’t anticipate how poorly the rest of my body would respond to the demands of recovery, and thinking of massage therapy earlier would have helped me avoid some pain and discomfort.