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Engineering Students Engineer a Better Crutch

Jan. 4, 2019
Traditional crutches are hardly ideal for getting around with an injured leg. This redesign makes it safer and simpler to get around.

A snowboarding accident and a sprained ankle inspired a group of Purdue University students to re-engineer the crutch to help injured people avoid obstacles typically associated with using crutches to get around. One student suffered a snowboard injury that left him dependent on crutches to get around. A second sprained his ankle shortly thereafter and was also forced to use them.

Both students found that using conventional crutches made it difficult and uncomfortable to complete many daily tasks. Research and experience also taught them that crutches can cause nerve ending damage in the armpits, skin irritation, and joint and muscle pain. To add insult to injury, using crutches can also lead to slipping and falling.

The “Clutch Crutch” is an ergonomic, hands-free crutch invented by six Purdue University grad students.

A group of six Purdue grad students, including the two who were injured, formed the Clutch Crutch Team to invent a recovery device for injuries below the knee that would let patients more easily go about their lives with little to no difficulty during recovery process. Goals for the device included not slipping on icy surfaces, the ability to put on and remove it with ease, and avoiding constricting any major blood vessel, nerve endings, or glands. The user should also be able use it to stand comfortably and move using it without needing excessive energy.

The team then went about designing a prototype. It aimed to design a device that redirects pressure to the quadriceps, the muscle at the front of the thigh. A relatively strong muscle compared with the rest of the body, it can provide adequate support without causing any nerve ending damage or adding pressure to the injury.

Creating a prototype took time and much deliberation. Nevertheless, a prototype was built that fit all of the team’s requirements. They students also instrumented the crutch so that doctors and medical staff could get real-time data on how much force was being placed on the injured leg to aid in tracking progress. The Clutch Crutch also lets the injured person walk easily on different terrain and even stairs.

The Clutch Crutch team worked with the Purdue Office of Technology Commercialization to file a patent on the innovation and is looking for partners to continue developing it.

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