Anyone who's used crutches knows they are a real pain. But the simple fact is, we are all just a slip and fall away from needing them. That's why any improvement would be welcome.
Robin Westerlund, of Wyandotte, has a great deal of experience with crutches.
"I've been on and off crutches for the last 10 years," she said.
When she was 11 years old, she suffered an ankle injury while trying out for sports. Since then she's had eight ankle surgeries.
Robin has learned to do lots of things on crutches but still finds doing daily activities difficult. Then, four months ago while searching online, she stumbled on something that piqued her curiosity.
"I was actually browsing online one day trying to find a knee scooter because I didn't even know this thing existed. I was just Googling knee scooters, and I saw a picture of this and I clicked on it," Westerlund said.
It was an iWalk 2.0., a relatively new product designed to replace crutches for people with injuries below the knee. Westerlund's doctor was also intrigued. "My doctor didn't know about it. He thought it was so cool. He was taking pictures of it," she said.
According to Brad Hunter, a representative for iWalk, the device was originally conceived by a Canadian farmer after he broke his ankle.
"When he shaved, he would kneel on a stool and he thought, 'What if I was able to make this stool stay here right under my leg? It would be way better than these crutches.' So he went down into his work shed that day and made the first iWalk out of wood," Hunter said.
Others took interest and the idea for mass production of a more advanced version was born. Hunter said the initial iWalk was good but needed improvement.
"About three years ago, we started working and developing the next version. We launched the iWalk 2.0 in October of last year," Hunter said.
Westerlund found her iWalk online, but it hasn't received much attention until recently.
The true breakout moment for the iWalk 2.0 was when Harrison Ford was recently photographed using one after he injured his leg on the set of "Star Wars Episode VII."
"He called us and he was very interested. He's a pretty progressive guy, very mechanically inclined, and so we got him going on it over the phone," Hunter said.
I had an opportunity to try an iWalk 2.0.
After viewing its online video, I was able to assemble and begin using it in minutes. Based on the support it provides, it seems best suited for any injuries to the foot and ankle in my opinion. Fractures of the lower leg itself, the tibia in particular, probably would not be as easily supported without discomfort.
I found it easy to learn with very little practice.
As I walked around public areas, the reaction from observers was obvious and positive.
Kim Brady watched me walk by.
"The first time I saw it I thought he had maybe a prosthetic leg. Then we saw his leg hanging out the back so we (thought), 'That's kind of cool,'" Brady said.
Westerlund has been using the iWalk for months and has been able to resume nearly normal activities, especially with her hands free when she stands and walks. She's even climbed a mountain trail with her iWalk.
Priced online at about $150, direct from the company, it is reasonable compared to crutches and knee scooters. I only used it for a couple of hours and was not injured or disabled, so I can't comment on any issues of fatigue or discomfort for someone who is. However, in the time I used it, I had neither.
Carefully fitting the device was important for success and comfort and it is well worth paying attention to those aspects.
I would also talk to your physician about the iWalk to be sure he or she doesn't see any contraindications. The only downside I can imagine is that, compared to crutches, it is so easy to use you might be tempted to walk faster than you should at first.
For more information, you can visit iWalk-free.com.