Northeast Joco

New crutch design is a weighty issue

Max Younger saw his father encounter painful difficulties with standard crutches after his leg had to be amputated seven years ago.

Younger, who lives in Roeland Park, has a background in product design that gave him the confidence to pursue a new kind of crutch design that he started to sketch out while he was still in college. Now, it’s becoming a reality.

The basic idea behind the design is to take the stress off a crutch user’s armpits and wrists and make the elbow and forearm the supporting structures. Users place their arms in the crutch with their forearms parallel to the ground.

When you have to use crutches daily, “your wrists hurt, your shoulders hurt, your back hurts, and you don’t want to walk long distances,” said his father, Dan Younger of Leawood. “It’s such a difference (with Max’s crutch). The fact that the weight is distributed differently — you’re still having to use your body to support you, (but) it’s much more user-friendly.”

Adjustable handles are there for the user’s hands, but they fold away if the person does not want to use them. Additionally, a hinge at the elbow allows users to move their arms more freely without having to take the crutches off their arms. The foot of the crutch is also shock-absorbing.

Through a long development process, Max Younger tried various materials, from PVC piping to 3-D prints that weren’t strong enough to a weight-bearing product to welded aluminum. Ultimately, he decided to use urethane shaped in rubber molds for the main structure of the crutch.

Because he has a day job as a product designer for Hallmark, his work on the crutches dominates his evenings and weekends. His wife, Liliana, quit her job as a product designer at Hallmark a year and a half ago to work full-time for the Youngers’ new company, Mobility Designed.

Max Younger has had his dad testing the crutches through each stage, along with a few short-term crutch users here and there.

“It’s the ergonomics of it. You have to think about how the user’s going to use it, and often you’re wrong, and you have to try something else,” Max Younger said. “When you watch someone use it every day, you get to see what’s wrong with something, and it stimulates ideas.”

That’s why it’s taken awhile to develop a product he’d like to put on the market. Younger has been focused on adapting his crutch to deal with many different situations.

“We learned that (our crutches) were really great for walking, but they weren’t great for brushing your teeth, so we added a hinge to the elbow to allow them to reach up or reach down. It can lock in place if you wanted to go for a hike,” he said.

Making modifications isn’t always instinctual, and it takes a lot of patience.

“Ever see the runners with artificial feet? You don’t see people using prosthetics using these things,” Max Younger said. “It gets caught on things (like) rugs,” he said. “When you’re on a track and field (space), you don’t have anything that’s going to catch you, but when you’re in the house, everything is an obstacle.”

The company, which is incorporated in Kansas but also has an office in Missouri, has attracted local and out-of-town backers. It received $10,000 from Digital Sandbox to produce the prototype. Max Younger’s team also won the 2015 Venture Creation Challenge put on by the University of Missouri-Kansas City’s Regnier Institute.

Younger said he hopes to have the crutches available for consumer sales around February or March and expects the price to be $250 to $300 for each pair.

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