This past holiday season I have done an unscientific yet conclusive comparison between Sidestix forearm crutches (aka elbow crutches) and a set of underarm crutches. Full disclosure, before this taste test drive I did not use crutches or have mobility issues. Well, other than spending too much time watching on Netflix.
T’was late December and I was in Vancouver visiting friends and family. While romping in the snow I injured my Achilles tendon. It could have been a slip in the snow or my stylish, while too tight shoes, or just that I have the tendons of a wiser (read older) man.
Next morning, I went to the walk-in clinic (slight pun).
The doctor’s advice was to keep my foot off the ground for a couple weeks. My supportive friends graciously provided me with underarm crutches to help get me back to the Sunshine Coast. The trip takes a couple of hours on a good day and requires public transit, car share, and a ferry. Lots of ins and outs, ups and downs, stairs, heavy doors and hills. With one bad leg the trip home seemed like a Spartan Race surprise course popped up ahead of me. Being late December the obstacle course was also covered in snow and ice.
”UGH! This’ll be fun” was uttered. I instantly realized the effort needed to get home just doubled, if not tripled.
Supposed “Mobility Aid”
What I didn’t realize, having never used underarm crutches before, was how uncomfortable this supposed aid to mobility would prove. First thing I became aware of, there is no such thing as a silent pair of underarm crutches. Every step was a punctuated by multiple metallic clicks coming from the dull grey tubes. With clicking there was a squeak from one of the hard rubber feet when shifting my weight to the crutches. I guess it could have also been coming from the uncomfortable grips as they resisted the natural rotations of my hand.
The accompanying noise wasn’t unbearable but it was definitely embarrassing, adding insult to injury.
Hello, Public Transit
Next challenge on the obstacle course was boarding the ferry to get to the Sunshine Coast and home base. I was not looking forward to this, as I had to contend with escalators and a long walk from the parking lot to the waiting room with a couple over the shoulder bags. I’m tired just remembering it.
Again, surprised to learn how the easiest things became a balancing act with too many accessories. While buying tickets to board the ferry, the crutches fell to the ground with a loud sharp noise while fishing in my pockets for my phone and wallet. This caused me some social anxiety.
The walk to the ferry is about a hundred yards but with underarm crutches it seemed like a 1000. This being the first long distance I had to cover, I quickly found this to be slightly better than hopping on one leg but less comfortable. The underarm crutches would pinch and put a lot of pressure on my ribs, skin and muscles. It felt like my clothes was binding and shifting uncomfortably and causing a friction which lead to an abrasion, to be found later.
It felt like forever, the clicking and clanging now echoing from the concrete and steel construction of the passenger walkway. On the Ferry the crutches hit the deck again while I tried to sort out just how to open a heavy door. Do I back in? should I lean on them sideways?
Finally, putting both crutches in one hand and using the now free hand to operate the handle, I leaned on the door while it swung open, I hopped through and focused to stick the landing. The sweat collecting on my temples informed me that this had become some sort of Crossfit workout in winter clothing. Not Fun.
Only one leg of the course remained (pun intended).
There I was getting off the ferry and ascending a hill to get to my car some 600 yards away. And, it had snowed recently. The only way out was through. So, gloves on, jacket zipped and teeth gritted in stern determination, I pushed off. I got tired, even faster than before due to the snow while trying to find some grip. Overheating and sweating as a result. Gloves came off, I started up the hill, this wasn’t easy. I had to adapt to the incline and the steps got shorter and yet more difficult.
Another break and assessment… Am I going to make it back to the car?
Jacket unzipped, bags re-adjusted, breathing heavy. Click-Click, Clang and slip all the way up with some choice mutterings punctuated by gasps for air. Feeling like a civil war casualty as I had basically the same technology with almost no improvements in underarm crutches since then.
Once the car was in sight my spirits lifted, but I still had to catch my breath, so close and yet still on these centuries old style underarm crutches.
A humbling experience.
I had no idea what it might be like for anyone with a mobility challenge, like an amputation or Cerebral Palsy. My humbling experience was just a small slice of a person’s daily life. I am also aware that the underarm crutch I was using was intended to be a “one size fits all” design that ultimately did the job albeit uncomfortably. Clearly they were not intended for long term use. If you happen to be using underarm crutches for an extended period I recommend you look into something tailored and suitable to aid mobility, not causing you new stresses.
Yes, I work at Sidestix Ventures. And, once I got back to the shop I grabbed a pair of Boundless Sidestix. Until this point I had no idea what all the fuss was about. I heard glowing reviews and testimonials from our clients, never actually feeling the difference an ergonomic design and custom fit can make.
I adjusted to my Sidestix and soon I was off back into the world. The difference was immediately apparent. My Stix crutches were quiet, and sure footed. Starting with the vibram soles on the rotating feet providing better grip as the soles have a 3 axis rotation to improve the connection to the ground.
Next sensation was the lack of the repetitive jarring that resulted from each step. This was due to the suspension shock absorber. It really did work and wasn’t just a sporty decoration. This effect multiplied by hundreds or thousands of steps daily had a profound effect on how my joints felt each night and what I was able and willing to undertake the next day. I felt no abrasion or pressure in sensitive underarm areas.
These forearm crutches snuggly held my forearms while my hands were on the grips. The forearm cuff allowed for free movement. My arm hanging on to it like a hook with some forgiving flex. Basically, the cuffs prevented the crutch falling down and avoiding awkward situations while using my cell phone, wallet or using doors knobs. I found the built in efficiency did not require that I take rest breaks when travelling longer distances. Honestly, I felt like it was more of a glide.
My brief experience on both sides of the mobility aid spectrum really opened my eyes to what people with mobility challenges deal with every day. I was able to connect the reviews and testimonials from our clients as result of a thoughtful design that continues to improve. Since then, my work at Sidestix has gained a new importance to improving quality of life through mobility by design.
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