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Managing Phantom Limb Pain
Learning to Walk with a Prosthetic Leg
Healthy lifestyle practices such as daily exercise, eating nutritiously, and getting enough rest are important for everyone, but even more so for prosthetic users. The absence of a limb and a portion of the muscular-skeletal system can cause physical strain on the rest of the body, not to mention the emotional strain of adapting to limb loss. Both your initial recovery and your long-term wellness will benefit from committing to a healthy lifestyle.
Physical fitness is not something that can be achieved quickly or easily. Fitness is something that is built gradually and then maintained over the course of your life. New amputees and prosthetic users that want to get fit need to remember that trying to do too much too soon is counter-productive. It takes several months for most people to recover from injury, surgery, cancer, chemotherapy or radiation. Your physical therapist can guide you in the early stages of rehabilitation and give you appropriate exercises to do on your own.
A comprehensive exercise program should condition both the upper and lower body as well as the cardiovascular system. Weight bearing activities and weight lifting are appropriate for most people and have the added benefit of strengthening the skeletal system. Swimming is a type of exercise that many amputees like as it strengthens the body and cardiovascular system without putting additional stress on the joints. What matters most is finding a form of exercise you really like and that fits into your life. It can be as simple as walking or riding a bicycle, or can involve joining a fitness center or going to an exercise class. You decide and then stick with it!
One of the primary benefits of exercise is that it helps you maintain a healthy, stable weight. It is not unusual for people who have lost a limb to be sedentary for a few weeks or months until their physical therapy begins. This can lead to rapid weight gain, causing challenges in both the prosthetic fitting process and in your rehabilitation. Gaining or losing weight has a major effect on how your prosthetic socket fits. Gaining weight can make the socket tight and uncomfortable; losing weight can cause it to be loose and more difficult to control. In either case, it is sometimes necessary to fabricate a new socket to accommodate the changing dimensions of the residual limb. Being overweight also reduces your stamina and makes it more difficult to walk on a lower extremity prosthesis.
Being active and maintaining a healthy weight also help prevent cardiovascular disease, the leading cause of death in the United States. About 60 percent of men over 60 and women over 80 will experience major narrowing of the arteries. In fact, vascular problems are one of the primary causes of lower extremity amputation in older adults. Many older adult prosthetic users are vulnerable to cardiovascular problems that stem from inactivity.
As your energy and strength return, you may want to work with a physical therapist or professional trainer who specializes in athletics for people with physical challenges. Over the years, as more and more amputees express a desire to be active and engage in sports, many specialized organizations have formed to meet the demand.
Two good resources for more information are the Amputee Coalition of America (ACA) and Disabled Sports USA (DSUSA).
Finally, if you smoke, strongly consider quitting. You may feel that quitting right now would be too difficult but you can at least learn about your options. The US Surgeon General has stated, "Smoking cessation (stopping smoking) represents the single most important step that smokers can take to enhance the length and quality of their lives." Nicotine Replacement Therapy has helped thousands of people give up smoking for good. You’ll find methods for quitting at www.cancer.org or www.smokefree.gov.
Interested in learning more about healthy lifestyles? Call 1-877-4HANGER or visit our prosthetic information page to request more information.