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Managing Phantom Limb Pain
Learning to Walk with a Prosthetic Leg
Below are common FAQs that people with limb loss have about their treatment plan.
Q. How soon after my amputation will I be able to walk?
A. That depends on how quickly you heal. A healthy person with good circulation and no post-operative complications might be ready to use a temporary prosthesis 4 or 5 weeks after surgery.
Q. What is the rehabilitation team? A. This is the entire team of specialists that will assist in your rehabilitation. At minimum it would consist of your physician and prosthetist or orthotist; a physical therapist is usually part of the rehabilitation team of a new amputee. Many other specialists might be included depending on your needs: an occupational therapist, rehabilitation counselor, wound care specialist, speech therapist and social worker are just a few of the specialists who might be involved.
Q. When will I be ready to receive my definitive prosthesis? A. The permanent prosthesis is prescribed when your limb volume has begun to stabilize and you have progressed in your gait training. This might occur from three to six months after you receive your temporary prosthesis.
Q. I can still feel my toes even though my leg has been amputated. Is this normal?A. Yes, it is. This is called phantom sensation, and most amputees experience it. If it is uncomfortable, speak to your physician about treatment options.
Q. What kind of shoes can I wear with my prosthesis?
A. Almost any shoe can be used with your prosthesis – be sure to bring the shoes you wear most often when you are fitted for your limb. Most foot components work properly with shoes of only one heel height, though there are some prosthetic feet that provide adjustment so that shoes of different heel heights can be worn. Athletic type shoes are often recommended – they are light in weight and usually have soles that prevent slipping.
Q. How will my prosthesis stay on?
A. There are many different suspension methods – you should discuss the best for your needs with your prosthetist. Some limbs are suspended using suction, sometimes assisted by a suspension sleeve. Suspension can be obtained from a pin mechanism attached to a roll-on liner, and some prostheses are attached using straps or extensions of the socket.
Q. Will it hurt to walk with my prosthesis?
A. No. Your prosthetist will suggest a break-in schedule so that you can become accustomed to your socket without experiencing discomfort. If your prosthesis hurts, call your prosthetist.
Q. Can I continue to enjoy sports with my prosthesis?
A. Most people can resume their sports activities using their prosthesis. Some sports such as swimming and sprinting require specially designed limbs – discuss your specific athletic needs with your prosthetist.
Q. How long should my prosthesis last?
A. The components are designed to last from 2 to 4 years, though of course this depends on how hard they are used. The socket is designed to last for 2 to 4 years also, though most sockets are replaced because of changes in the residual limb rather than because of wear and tear.
Q. How often should I see my prosthetist or orthotist after my device is delivered?
A. You should return to Hanger at least twice a year to be sure that it retains optimum fit and that it remains safe and functional. Some components have specific maintenance requirements which will be discussed at the time of delivery.
Q. Should my artificial arm have a hand or a hook?
A. Each has advantages: a hook is durable and better suited to handling a variety of objects, and the hand is preferred by those who want a more cosmetic limb. These terminal devices are interchangeable and some amputees choose to use both.
Q. How should I wash my prosthetic socks?
A. Wool socks are best if they are washed by hand and air dried. They can be machine washed, but they will remain softer and last longer if hand washed. Never put wool socks in the dryer. Nylon and cotton socks can be machine washed.
Q. My skin is red when I take off my device. Is that OK?
A. This is most likely normal. Check the skin again 20 minutes or so after removing your device. If the redness is the result of normal pressures, it will have gone away in this amount of time. If your skin is still red after 20 minutes, or the area hurts, discontinue using the device and call your Hanger Clinic clinician.
Q. What is the difference between a body-powered and a myoelectric arm?
A. There are two options for operating the terminal device and/or elbow components of a prosthetic arm. Body powered prostheses use a custom-designed harness and stainless steel cable to operate the terminal device and elbow. A myoelectric prosthesis has electrodes built into the limb which use the tiny electrical signals from the muscles to signal small battery operated motors which in turn move the terminal device and/or elbow – no cables or harness are necessary. Each system has advantages, and some amputees have both a body-powered and a myoelectric limb.
Q. My device needs an adjustment. Do I need to get a prescription from my physician?
A. Probably not – adjustments that do not change the fundamental nature of the device do not require a prescription.
Q. Can I take a shower with my prosthesis on?
A. Not unless it was designed specifically for swimming or bathing.
Q. My prosthesis now needs more socks than it did at first in order to fit correctly. Can it be adjusted so that I don’t have to wear so many?
A. Small adjustments to the socket to reduce the number of socks needed are usually successful at first, but become less successful as shrinkage continues. Your prosthetist must estimate where and how much your residual limb has shrunk and then determine a course of action.