Losing a limb because of accidental trauma or disease has an enormous impact on a person’s body, emotions, relationships, vocation, and way of life. While some other surgical procedures return the patient to health and wellness relatively quickly, the recovery period after a major amputation can take a long time and require hard work on the part of both patient and the care team.
For patients facing an amputation, the rehabilitation process starts, when possible, even before the surgical procedure. This is called “pre-hab.” Physical medicine and rehabilitation experts can work with you to create an individualized plan and prepare you for what’s ahead. Your rehabilitation team may include:
A physical medicine and rehabilitation doctor focuses on restoring health and functional abilities after amputation and creates a custom treatment plan built around your needs.
A physical therapist works with you on muscle strength, flexibility, and coordination, and trains you in how to use your prosthesis if one is part of your recovery.
A prosthetist, or orthotic expert, creates a customized prosthesis if one will be used.
An occupational therapist works with you to maximize your independence and adapt to daily life, with or without a prosthetic.
A rehabilitation psychologist helps you with grief and loss associated with the removal of a limb, and any associated mental health crises including post-traumatic stress disorder.
Your Amputation Recovery
The success of post-amputation rehabilitation depends on many factors, including:
- Your age and medical history
- Your general health, diet, fitness, and lifestyle
- Which body part is amputated
- The surgical approach
For example, a young, fit person undergoing amputation after an accident may have stronger muscles and healthier blood vessels than an older adult who has lost a limb after years of living with diabetes or peripheral artery disease. However, a sudden and unexpected amputation can put more stress on the person’s mental health.
Emotional Recovery After Amputation
Amputation can be devastating, leaving you with sadness, anger, and grief at the loss of your independence and self-image. You might also be dealing with fear regarding the costs of medical care and the amputation’s impact on your career.
You are not alone. About 41% of people who have undergone amputation are at risk for anxiety, depression, substance use disorder, strained relationships, and reduced quality of life. It is important to remember that treatment for these symptoms can be very effective. Committing to working with a rehabilitation specialist that can help your mind and emotions recover along with your body.
In the early phases of your recovery, self-care is especially important. Try to get regular sleep, maintain a routine and eat healthy foods, and try some relaxation techniques such as meditation or mindfulness. Most importantly, make sure you have a support system of trusted family members and friends with whom you can share your feelings and concerns.
Prosthetics After Amputation
Not everyone who has an amputation wants or needs an artificial device to replace the lost body part. In helping you decide, the physical medicine and rehabilitation team considers many aspects of your life and health, including what extremity was amputated. Leg prosthetics can help restore mobility. Arm prosthetics can be more complex, including newer models with technology that interfaces with the nervous system and enables fine motor movement.
Your age, weight, fitness, and general health before the amputation are important variables. An older patient or one with a chronic condition may already have limited mobility. Assessing your physical readiness for a prosthesis, your doctor and rehab team will talk over all the pros and cons with you so that you can make the best decision for your goals and lifestyle.