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Questions Regarding Crutch Safety

Nico Calabria has been playing safely on mixed ability teams since he was six. He's now an adult member of the US NAtional Amputee Soccer Team.

Some of those new to the idea of amputee soccer have expressed concerns that an adaptive player might cause injury to themselves or a another player with the crutch. That's completely understandable.

For for players, coaches, family members and officials - safety is paramount. After all, players only have one good arm or leg left.

So the following is to help you become as comfortable with amputee soccer safety, as we are. It's intended to clarify concerns that parents, players, league officials and coaches might have.

There are also some International amputee soccer rules which we urge be incorporated into local leagues to help assure even greater safety.

1: Risk to the adaptive player

In the decades years of the sport's existence, on the local, national and international levels, there's never been a reported incident of a player being injured as the result of using crutches to play.

Good conditioning is be needed, of course, to help develop upper body strength and endurance. Be smart. Train, don't strain.

Stress on elbows can be greatly reduced by proper crutch fit.

New players may experience hand soreness or even blistering when they first begin practice. Even this can be mitigated by the use of padding on the crutch handles, and the use of bicycle, weight lifting or golf gloves.

Shin protection: A shin guard must be worn. That's a good precaution for any player.

2: Risk to opponents

The record is equally safe regarding opposing players being injured as the direct result of another player's crutch.

Trips, falls, and collisions happen, of course. That happens regardless of age group or whether the game is standard or adaptive soccer. But the few amputee soccer injuries which have been reported were the result of physical game play, not because crutches were involved.

Crutches Stay Close to the Body

Keeping the crutches close to the body is not only good safety, it's also good coaching strategy, and promotes speed and stability.

  Game rules state that crutch may not be used to control or direct the ball.  It's the same as a hand pass. That rule also reduces the chances of the crutch being swung at the ball and inadvertently striking another player.

Body Mechanics

Beyond that, the crutch is a tool designed to provide stability and mobility.

For us, it makes sense to use the tool properly. The closer the player keeps the crutches to his/her body, the more stability and the more speed they achieve. A wider stance = slower and less stable.

Note the photo at the left. The amputee player keeps her crutches close to her body. The non-adaptive player has a wider, unstable form.

Try it yourself. Get a pair of crutches. Take one shoe off and don't put that foot down while you're in motion.

Try running with the crutches close to your body, then try in a wider stance. See how it feels.

We also know that inappropriate use of the crutch can result in the athlete falling on his/her butt - not conducive to skilled offense or defense.

Regarding inappropriate use of the crutch - while running as an adaptive player, take a swat at the ball, or at an imaginary player, and see what happens to your balance and your ability to stay with the play.

By the way, we're not responsible for your injury if you fall trying this.

And it that weren't enough to help a player keep crutches close to their body, there's the Red Card Rule.

  Any use of the crutch in an offensive manner - any action which would result in a 2 minute penalty in hockey, for example - results in an immediate red card and ejection from the game. Period.

League and game officials are urged to adopt this rule in any match where adaptive players are on the field.

3: Other Precautions

The use of special equipment by certain members of a team is a constant in American sport. The gear is considered a reasonable accommodation to allow specific players to compete safely. Just like soccer crutches.

Amputee soccer has a long history of practice, exhibition play and even head-to-head competition with non-adaptive players. Again, free of injury from the use of crutches.

  As an additional safety precaution in youth leagues, officials have begun requiring that adaptive players cushion their crutches with pipe insulation.

That's a good idea. We endorse such a requirement.

  Only metal crutches are allowed on the field. Wooden crutches break and could pose a risk. So they're banned.

Forearm crutches are the rule. Underarm crutches are banned from international competition.

FIFA Approval

In addition to questions of safety, league officials in several US jurisdictions have questioned the use of crutches - and therefore of adaptive players - on the grounds that they're additional equipment and not approved under soccer regulations.

That position may disappear since the Court of Arbitration for Sport ruling on the case of Oscar Pistorius, the bi-lateral amputee sprinter from South Africa.

The Court of Arbitration for Sport ruling in favor of Oscar Pistorius' prosthetics - in competition with able bodied Olympic athletes - helps clear the way for amputee soccer players to use crutches in able bodied matches.

The world's highest arbitration Court ruled that "On the basis of the evidence brought by the experts called by both parties, the panel was not persuaded that there was sufficient evidence of any metabolic advantage in favour of the double amputee using the Cheetah Flex-Foot."

It's hard to imagine that a local soccer organization could ban the use of crutches for an amputee player when the Court of Arbitration for Sport allows carbon fiber blades for a world class sprinter.

We've provided information to parents and leagues questioning the use of crutches on the pitch, and will be happy to do so again.

As far as FIFA is concerned, the use of crutches by adaptive players is not only allowed, it's encouraged. FIFA endorsed and was a co-sponsor of the first All Africa Amputee Football (Soccer) Tournament held in Freetown, Sierra Leone, in February, 2007 - a tournament where all competitors played on crutches.

We hope these have answered your concerns. But if you have additional questions, please feel free to Contact The American Amputee Soccer Association.

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