When Max Younger was a kid, his dad Dan was always on crutches. A serious childhood injury meant that his father was constantly in-and-out of the hospital, getting surgeries and knee replacements. "They caused irritation, bruising, and nerve damage in his hands," Max remembers. "He was never one to complain, but you could see it, and if you asked, he'd tell you."
After decades of watching his father limp around the house, Younger—an industrial design student working at Hallmark—started noodling in his spare time on a design that would help his father deal with the wrist and arm pain that come from extended crutch use. Then Max got a call—his father had a staph infection. The leg had to be amputated. Dan would be on crutches for the rest of his life. So Max teamed up with his wife, Liliana, to found Mobility Designed, a company that wants to bring crutch design into the Space Age with its first product, the M+D Crutch.
As Max sees it, crutch design hasn't much changed since the Civil War. They're just sticks you shove under your arms that require you to put all your body weight on your wrists and armpits to get around. The design has endured, but not because of its merit. In fact, it has loads of issues, including pain and bruising under the armpits, and can result in nerve damage to those areas, too. Forearm crutches, more common in Europe, don't bruise the armpits, but they can still hurt the wrists, and they also require the use of your hands, which makes other every-day tasks challenging. The M+D Crutch is designed to address all of these issues.
In appearance, it almost looks like something designed by Aperture Science, the futuristic science lab with the Apple-like aesthetic from Valve Software's Portal games. It's built so that all of your weight rests on your elbows, not your armpits or your wrists. "It was challenging to design not using the arm pits because they are such an easy a place to use: that's why we pick kids up that way," Younger says. "But as most of us know as adults, its not as fun being picked up by your armpits." After exploring some other concepts, including "exoskeleton belt/suspension systems," Younger settled on the elbows... a part of the body most of us lean on all the time without pain. "It just made sense," he says.
When you wear the M+D Crutch, you strap it into a foam-lined arm cradle. You can hold the crutch's handle if you want, but it works fine even in hands-free mode, so that you can walk around with the crutches while, say, holding a bag or looking at your phone. A button under the arm cradle also allows you to lift your arms while still keeping your weight on the crutches. Interchangeable feet not only help absorb shock, but can be swapped out according to varying weather conditions and terrain.
Ultimately, the biggest testament to the superior design of the M+D Crutch is probably the man it was built for, Max's father Dan Younger. "With Max's crutches, my wrists and shoulders aren't as fatigued," he says. "Every day tasks are much easier. I can walk farther and easier without getting tired."
Unfortunately, after a failed Kickstarter campaign, Dan is still one of the only people who has a set of M+D Crutches for himself, but Younger says the company has bounced back, and will be selling its crutches through its website starting this summer, probably for around $300 a crutch.
"We believe the world needs better crutches, because millions of people rely on them every day to go about their lives," says Mobility Designed's Liliana Younger. "Why are we still relying on our armpits, when elbows make so much more sense?"
Update: a previous version of this article said that the M+D Crutch will cost around $100. It will actually cost closer to $300.