Losing a limb to amputation is a major life change, and many people who experience limb loss have similar questions. Below are a few frequently asked questions, followed by several tips for new amputees. We hope this article inspires, comforts, and helps you prepare for and adapt to post-amputation life.
What does phantom limb pain feel like?
Amputees describe phantom pain as pain or discomfort coming from the limb or body part that is no longer there. The sensations associated with phantom pain include:
Currently, there is no one specific treatment for phantom pain, but there are ways you can manage your symptoms. In terms of medications, your doctor may prescribe over-the-counter pain relievers such as ibuprofen, naproxen sodium, and acetaminophen can help reduce phantom pain.
Your doctor may also prescribe antidepressants, anticonvulsants (seizure medication), or narcotics. For any and all medications, you should communicate closely with your doctor to make sure it is working for you and to avoid side effects or overdoses.
Your doctor may also recommend noninvasive therapies such as brain stimulation surgery, acupuncture, spinal cord stimulation, or repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS).
How can i pay for prosthesis?
The costs of a new prosthetic limb are high, and the more of a limb that needs to be replaced, the more the prosthesis will cost. Thankfully, several insurance plans provide coverage for at least a first prosthesis. When considering prostheses in Tennessee, you should carefully review your insurance policy so you know exactly how much your plan will cover.
What is the process for getting my prosthesis?
First, when you visit your doctor or surgeon, we will evaluate your needs and your overall health to determine if amputation and prosthesis is right for you. After your amputation, we will cast a mold of your residual limb, then send the mold to our lab to prepare the first socket.
Once the socket is made, we will perform a diagnostic test to make sure the socket fits properly, we will then make any final adjustments and finish building your prosthetic. Finally, once your prosthesis is finished, it will be ready for you to pick it up.
Can i have an active lifestyle as an amputee?
Yes, in fact, many amputees find outdoor hobbies, adventures, and activities to be fulfilling and meaningful.
Can i still drive as an amputee?
Amputees are not limited from driving. Depending on the type of amputation, it may be more difficult at first, but with proper training and support, it will become easier.
How long will a prosthetic last?
The functional time of prosthetic limbs depends on several factors. For instance, younger amputees who lead an active lifestyle tend to wear out their prosthetic limbs faster than amputees with less active lifestyles.
For new amputees, you will go through an adjustment period with your first prosthesis. Your residual limb may swell or shrink in the first few months. As your residual limb changes, your prosthetist can change out the socket and liners. However, if the residual limb changes dramatically, you may need a new prosthetic limb.
Why do i have to wait for prosthesis after amputation?
After amputation, your residual limb will need time to heal before you can be fitted with a prosthetic. After the amputation, the incision will be closed with surgical sutures or staples and dressed. You will also be required to wear a special compression bandage called a shrinker, to decrease the swelling and size of the amputated limb at the amputation site.
Because amputations and residual limbs vary from person to person, it takes time to craft and fit custom prosthetics to new amputees. And in order to properly fit the prosthesis, your residual limb should be stable.
What can i do to help my healing process?
To help the amputated part of the limb heal and better prepare for an artificial limb, you should pay special attention to caring for your residual limb. Before and after amputation, your doctor will give you instructions for how to care for your limb tailored to your needs. In general, the following steps apply to most new amputees.
- Carefully and thoroughly wash amputation site to prevent infection
- Wear the shrinkers to ensure your residual limb will be the proper size
- Desensitization exercises to reduce painful sensations at the amputation site
- Dry your residual limb completely before wearing your shrinker sock
- Perform rehabilitation exercises recommended by your rehabilitation team
- Related: after leg amputation: keeping your other leg healthy
What support is there for new amputees?
First of all, your support starts with our professional team of surgeons and certified prosthetic assistants at The Surgical Clinic. We will help you in every aspect of your prosthetics care.
In terms of medical support, seeking help from physical therapists, occupational therapists, and mental health professionals can help you strengthen your body and mind after amputation.
Family and close friends can also be a source of support, and they also might not be the right people to lean on.
The online community of amputees on YouTube, Reddit, Instagram, and Facebook are good places to find resources and advice from other amputees. You may even make some new friends through these social media platforms.
We can also help you find a support group for amputees in Nashville, so you can better work through the grieving process and deal with the emotions that come with losing a limb.
Tips for new amputees
The following tips are simple and practical things to remember as you adjust to life after amputation.
Focus on developing your mindset
Believing you can reach your goals and overcome your challenges and then acting on that belief is just as important as physical therapy. Focus on adapting and learning, while still moving through the stages of grief from losing a limb.
Set boundaries for yourself
Many people, even strangers, may want to approach you and talk about your amputation. But, because limb loss is a weighty and personal experience, you do not have to talk about it with everyone who approaches you. Learn to set boundaries around what you are and are not comfortable talking about. And if some days you feel up to it and sometimes you don’t that’s fine too.
Be patient with yourself
Losing a limb can be a traumatic experience. Even if your amputation was not due to an injury or accident, it is a big life change. Adapting to changes like this takes time. Be patient with yourself, because there will be ups and downs.
Let people know if it’s ok to ask
You will find after amputation, that some people will stare, take furtive glances, or whisper behind your back. When people respond to you this way, it can be very rude, but really they may not know what to say. If someone approaches you, they may be nervous or want to ask some common questions, but they probably won’t know how to ask.
One way you might smooth out these situations is to teach the other person to ask if it’s ok for them to ask you. That will give you the liberty to say yes or no, or say “I’m not feeling up to talking about my amputation today.” You might also thank them for respecting your feelings and boundaries.
Do your research
There is a plethora of information available online for how to take care of yourself, your prosthesis, and your residual limb. Ask your doctor and your rehabilitation team for advice and practical care steps, especially if you find something online that you aren’t sure about.
Try new hobbies
Big life changes get easier when you find a way to spend your time that is meaningful to you. It might be a sport like biking or swimming, or it could be something artistic like painting or music. Give yourself a creative outlet to help you regulate and process your feelings.
Take care of yourself
Your physical health is an essential element to recovering from amputation. Make sure you get proper amounts of sleep and exercise to strengthen your body and mind. Also, make sure you eat a balanced diet to give yourself the right nutrients that your body needs to heal.
Take care of your skin
You will need to take extra care of the skin around the amputation site, especially after the initial procedure. Cleaning, drying, and properly moisturizing your skin will help it heal properly and help your prosthesis fit more comfortably.
Bonus tip: never use baby powder on the skin that fits into the prosthesis socket. The powder will ball up and will irritate your skin.
Remember “amputee” is not an identity
Perhaps the most difficult part of navigating a major life event like losing a limb is the challenge of defining your identity or choosing how you see yourself. Instead of identifying as an amputee, consider it as an identifier. It does not define who you are, but it is an aspect of your life that you are experiencing.
What you do and who you choose to be after amputation and prosthesis is up to you. There will be challenges, but even then you are who you choose to be.