Simple invention relieves pain caused to hands by crutches

My C9's arrived on Saturday and they are fantastic! I can't believe the difference they have made. My hands are feeling better already; even my posture has improved while walking with the crutches because my hands aren't in agony.

Anyone who through injury or disability is unfortunate enough to rely on crutches to get around will be all too familiar with the extreme pain that normal crutch grips can cause to the hands. Frequently people who have suffered an injury say that the pain caused by the broken ankle or torn ligaments is nothing compared to the pain caused by the subsequent use of crutches. This was the experience of engineer Chris Slack, who explains here how a rugby injury led to the invention of a simple device that allows standard crutches to be modified to prevent painful and blistered hands.

Starts with a painful experience

Like many roads to enlightenment this all started with a painful experience. During rugby training I was sprinting on to a pass that was slightly too far in front of me, and not being as flexible as I once was - “ping”, my Achilles tendon separated from my calf muscle. Later in hospital, whilst my leg was being set in plaster (fixed toe-right-down to allow said body parts to re-connect over 12 weeks), I was thinking about how difficult life would be for the next few weeks but I did not suspect for one moment that the real terror would lie in the crutches, not in the plaster.

I was issued with a set of standard NHS elbow crutches but I was only able to get about four paces (or leaps of faith) before I had to sit down, exhausted and with already sore hands. I noticed various posters on the wall opposite advertising all sorts of medical appliances but unfortunately nothing for “crutch hands”. As I work with a team of experienced engineers I discussed my problem with them and asked for suggestions. By this time my hands were blistered and weeping, making walking on the crutches with my entire bodyweight distributed through my hands a genuine nightmare. I telephoned the hospital for advice and they recommend taping an old hand towel on to the handles. This did give some relief but the towel got dirty quickly and fell off after a day or two.

I was beginning to think that I could not be the only person with this problem and that there was a real medical need for a solution. At this point I met up with a medical colleague and I mentioned my hands. We both took a good look at my crutches and my hands, did some slow motion walking, and we suddenly realised what the problem was. It was apparent that there were two connected issues, namely:

  1. Compression of hand skin and bone due to the full body weight being absorbed entirely by two tiny patches of hand (via a hard plastic handle)
  2. Abrasion to the hand as hard plastic pinches a hot (often sweaty) hand, which is forced to rock across the handle as the crutches move from “pointing forwards and down” to “backwards and down” as each step (or vault) is made.

It seemed that an obvious solution would be a foam or rubber tube to spread the weight and absorb the impact caused by hand-grip pressure. This would be something like those found on gym equipment… imagine bench pressing a hundred kilos with narrow metal poles in your hands where the rubber handles were missing, for several hours a day over 12 weeks and crutch life becomes easier to imagine.

However a foam/rubber type material would abrade the skin and possibly set off all sorts of skin allergies (latex being a fairly common one), so clearly two materials would be needed.

I gave the matter some thought and decided that the best answer would be a toweling tube designed to fit a crutch handle, with an extra 10mm of foam tube outside it, secured in a T lock behind the crutch stem with Velcro. This would be washable, would keep the palms dry, would offer natural abrasion mitigating properties and, funnily enough, was the original homespun recommendation from the Nursing Coalface! This then was the C9 and the first production run and website launch for my idea took place in summer 2009. It still seems amazing to me that the difficulties posed by the use of crutches had not been addressed previously by the numerous medical appliance manufacturers, as the solution to scores of people suffering from sore hands is a simple yet highly effective device. I am really pleased to have been able to use my engineering skills to help meet a real medical need.”

Further information on commercially available crutch handles and medical grade, anti-viral re-usable masks.

NB Since time of writing this piece it looks as though the C9 product is no longer available. Total Health are currently researching different suppliers. We would be delighted to hear your experiences via