smartcrutch review: thoughts after the first month

For over two years now, I’ve navigated an off-and-on, recurrent (or remitting?) knee injury. I’ve gone through rolls of CVS and Synergy brand kinesiotape (and a half roll of KT tape which I swear does not adhere as well and has since been relegated to other tasks). I’ve seen a sport medicine physician. I’ve iced and compressed and elevated. I haven’t gone to physiotherapy because I lack insurance, though that sort of rehabilitation is likely in the works. This has brought me to trialling the SmartCrutch…

Photo on 2018-01-09 at 11.26 PM #2

…but more on that in a moment!

The technical-non-technical background on my knee

If you don’t care about the suspected mechanics of my injury and want to get to the SmartCrutch jump ahead to the next header. 

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Here’s a screenshot of my x-rays from a couple years ago which I posted on Instagram, recently (somewhat poorly) labeled, and sent to a friend. 

It seems the issue is my patella is being pulled medially (toward the “inside” of my leg), and causing some sort of tracking-type problem. Likely, this is because my legs are different lengths—yes, many people’s are, but unlike many people’s, mine are actually clinically significant, to the tune of about 68 mm. This stems from my right hip being super screwed up, also known as severe hip dysplasia. I have an orthotic but because of muscle tension in my quads preventing my hip from fully extending, combined with the other stuff, I still limp.  

The theory here is the malalignment has messed with my quads, has pulled my patella over to a slight angle, and this results in a degree of pain and the feeling like it’s going to give out. My limb length discrepancy is visually apparent (limp), and these symptoms further exaggerate my limp to one that is not-normal-for-me. Doctor, x-rays, then the assessment became that this is all due to my biomechanics and it didn’t seem to my doc that exercises would help this, at least not then. A year and a half ago or so, there was nothing he could really do (especially given my lack of insurance coverage). My pain isn’t terribly severe, thankfully, but feeling like I’m going to possibly fall over combined with that and my general imbalance is a tad disconcerting. Walking longer distances, as well as snow and ice suck (I don’t encounter that many sandy beaches which might also suck after a couple dozen feet). The injury actually started when I was working at tennis clubs, weaving around uneven back areas of courts. So, uneven things remain a problem: cobblestones in Zurich, snow here in Winnipeg, as well as long distance walking, and abrupt stops. 

It was a mostly annoying problem until one night about six weeks ago when, after a fair bit of standing/walking, the only way I could really move about my kitchen was by holding onto the counter. Awkward. 

The question of crutches…

Well over a year ago, a friend asked if I’d considered using crutches. I had, sort of, but related to my hip dysplasia (as they both stem from a staph infection resulting in multifocal osteomyelitis as a neonate, AKA a bone infection affecting multiple joints), I also cannot fully straighten my right arm. This caused significant issues when I had knee surgery (on the other knee) 14 years ago and had to use axillary crutches. My orthopaedic surgeon said forearm crutches might help, but other mobility aids were more easily accessible—I eventually used axillary crutches for a very short period post-surgery when I was semi-weight bearing. Thus, axillary crutches still didn’t seem a great option. A year following the injury, I did check out options and discovered the Smart Crutch, but wasn’t ready to make the mental—and financial—investment into crutches. 

Well, finding myself leaning on my kitchen counter to stabalize myself changed my mind pretty quickly. Within 12 hours of my e-mail to Smart Crutch that night, Kirsten at Smart Mobility had replied, and agreed to send me a pair of crutches for review. (It turns out Kirsten is also trying to find the “right fit” in a Canadian distributor, so while being Canadian is always a win, it was definitely a win here.)

Enter disclosure: I didn’t pay for these, but regardless, promise a thorough and honest review. Because that’s what we agreed on. 🙂 (Formal disclosure at the end of the post.)

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Getting to know SmartCrutch

I contacted Kirsten on Monday night, we discussed by e-mail Tuesday/Wednesday, connected by phone on Thursday, and she shipped the crutches out same-day from Colorado. I was impressed. FedEx had them in my hands in Manitoba on Monday, well before 5 PM as promised. Again—impressed! 

The uniqueness of SmartCrutch is in their adjustability. For me, that’s key. SmartCrutch transitions between a forearm crutch to a platform crutch. As my right elbow does not fully extend (and my wrist also has limited extension, though not as significantly), being able to adjust and carry weight across my full forearm, I thought, would be of significant benefit to me.

SmartCrutches are are a bit of a custom fit, with more customizations out of the box. They have three sizes currently available (with a fourth on the way!). While the upcoming size, Kirsten lamented after I provided her my measurements and we chatted by phone, was likely more appropriate to people my size, we settled on the Petite-Midi crutch. 

Needless to say, in the pre-crutches and starting out phase I was curious: will the SmartCrutch(es) help manage my knee issue? Will it help relieving the lower back pressure I often get when walking and mostly consider normal now? (Oops.) Will there be things I never realized were totally off that are helped? Will I even notice a difference? And the pessimist: Will they just be a pain in the ass? Is the way things are now just the way things are and will be?

And… so began my SmartCrutch trial.

Unboxing SmartCrutch.

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How about a break from this for a video, yeah?
Because, unboxing videos! Yay!

Also apologies for the video quality. I should learn not to record using PhotoBooth and why I didn’t plug in my good microphone which was right beside me is a mystery.

Beginning the SmartCrutch Trial

When I wrote this part, I was 4 weeks into using the SmartCrutch. Within an hour of unboxing, I headed out the door with my SmartCrutches for a board meeting, which was almost rescheduled due to snow/bad weather (which says a lot in Winnipeg). A fresh layer of powder on the sidewalks, I trekked out to the bus stop, a ten minute walk away. 

My first SmartCrutch story is of a “problem”-not-problem. After leaving home, I heard this strange sound. Living near train tracks, I didn’t think much of it. As I continued on, it followed me. Not even halfway to the bus, I realized the odd whistling sound was the wind blowing through the adjustment holes in the crutches—similar to blowing over the top of a pop bottle, except times the four open holes. Quite musical, but not ideal. 😉

Easy fix: Once I got home, I stuck some purple glitter washi-tape over the open holes. Problem solved: no more whistling (though an amusing story!).

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The next issue I came across was more of a fit issue. As mentioned, Kirsten mentioned this when we chatted, that I am somewhat between SmartCrutch sizes. One thing I LOVED about Kirsten from the get-go was her honesty. My forearm measurement is “between” cuff sizes—a little short for the petite/midi crutch. Kirsten mentioned that this could be a problem, but likely workable, and sent the crutches out. She also suggested some great workarounds, and super prompt replies to my e-mail questions. (Again, beyond impressed with her customer service!). One such workaround was modifying the angle of the crutch to closer to 90*. Another was to “close up” the cuff so the opening was essentially non-existent—I accomplished the latter in a few different ways. More on that in a bit.

And before it gets pointed out, yes, I realize the cuff opening is for safety so that if I fall the crutch falls off, but given the crutches make me more stable, I’m willing to take this risk.

SmartCrutch: 4 Weeks Later 

I would say that I continue to grab a SmartCrutch (sometimes two) about 90% of the time I leave the house (and 97% of the time I’m walking farther than say around a small store). I love that they’re small-ish even fully set up so that I can tuck them in between my knees on the bus, keep my backpack on my lap, and only take up my designated one seat. 

In the past few weeks I’ve also “styled my crutches”, both with fun contact paper and by closing the cuff as Kirsten had suggested was helpful, I attempted this a few different ways, starting with shoelaces and a combo of duct tape and KT tape, moving on to a thick bright green ribbon (hey, it was Christmas!).

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I’m still working on other ways to keep the cuffs closed, as the above methods were decent but not terribly long lasting—I just tried Command strips for picture hanging, too, and the velcro-like closure didn’t stay securely closed to the force of the cuff opening trying to separate. So, back to the drawing board!

This was a dual solution, resulting in less forearm friction and also solved the issue I was having of the crutches almost falling off when I reached up for something with them on, AKA every time I went shopping, only saved by the fact I was wearing a puffy jacket.

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The pink chevron contact paper is a mod I am loving. I still have to get the right crutch finished up, but it’s a two person job! Pretty template + idea from Jennifer Peacock-Smith (Facebook group for template here).

I’ve not experienced any arm pain while using the SmartCrutch, although of course some muscle soreness is to be expected (and experienced!). As well, I haven’t noted any lower back tightness/discomfort as I’d often get pre-smart crutch when walking faster than a saunter for more than 10-15 minutes some days. Win!

Another thing about being a person who generally limps and has their whole life, random strangers always seem to need to ask if I’ve injured myself. Usually, the answer was no. Even post-injury, the answer was no, since I limped anyways. 25 years in to my life, I finally got annoyed with these people. Particularly one totally random man when I was just trying to walk across a parking lot with my earphones in and I had to take my earphones out to hear “What happened to your leg?”, and then I just said “Sorry, I’m busy.” and booked it out of there. 

Guess what? Since wandering the world with a crutch or two, no randoms have asked. It’s been quite refreshing.

As well, I find the SmartCrutch is easy to stow in a variety of locations beyond the bus. I’ve yet to take them on a plane (coming in March!), but thanks to their design, I’m set at archery and while pushing a shopping cart! 

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Final thoughts on SmartCrutch

Bottom line here: the SmartCrutch is comfy. Seriously, that layer of foam lining the bottom of the platform is delightful, and comfy whether you’re wearing long sleeves, a jacket, or no sleeves. The adjustability has been crucial for me, and I find the ability to adjust, adjust, and adjust again has been so helpful—you don’t have to get a measurement right the first time, because you can keep tweaking it until you get what works for you. And if you have weird biomechanics like me, that’s super helpful. 

I find I have generally less knee pain at home when I use my SmartCrutch. Actually, today I used my SmartCrutch inside the house for the first time after coaching without it, and my right quads were just feeling unstable and not stellar: it was so nice to not have to repeat that situation from a month ago using my counter to navigate my kitchen—I grabbed a SmartCrutch instead!

As the hashtag goes… #ilovemysmartcrutch!

 

Disclosure: I received a pair of SmartCrutches from Smart Mobility, Inc. in exchange for an honest review. I was not required to write favourably, and I have done my best to give my honest opinions. (Of course, bias does come with free stuff. It’s sort of in the box. ;))