Frequently asked questions about amputation

What is amputation?
An amputation is a procedure where a surgeon removes a limb, or part of a limb, that is no longer useful to you, is causing you great pain, or is threatening your health because of extensive infection. Most commonly, a toe, foot, leg, or arm is amputated.
What I can expect after surgery?
For the first couple of weeks, you should expect some pain. Pain will be controlled with pain medications. While you are healing, your doctor will tell you how to bandage and care for the surgical site and when to return to the office for follow-up care. You may be given exercises to build your strength and flexibility. You may be asked to touch and move your skin to desensitize it and keep it mobile.
Discomfort of the Residual Limb.
It is very common after amputation to experience two types of pain. The first type of pain may feel dull, throbbing or aching. This is normal pain from any type of surgery. The second type of pain may feel sharp, shooting, tingling or burning. This type of pain is coming from the nerves in your leg that have been cut. Pain medication may be given to you for each type of pain. Pain may be controlled by you on a special pump that will give you pain medication when you press a button. When you first start feeling the pain, ask your nurse for pain medication. The pain should resolve as you heal. It is important for you to control the pain so you can participate in therapy. If you continue having pain that is not controlled by your medication, talk with your doctor.
Phantom Limb Sensations
Phantom limb sensations are when you still feel your leg is there, even though you know that it is not. These sensations are strongest after surgery, but may occur even years later. But be careful not to try to stand on the missing part of your leg. Move slowly and cautiously. And Always
get someone to assist you immediately after your surgery when you feel like you need to get up. Your therapists will teach you how to safely perform your everyday activities. At night, you may want to place a chair by your bed so that you will not get up thinking that both your legs
are there and try to walk. This could result in a fall. Falling on your incision line may cause you to reopen the incision and cause a lot of damage to the tissue that is trying to heal. If you feel like you are at risk of falling, talk with your doctor, nurse or therapist.
Q: What happens after the amputation? Are bionic limbs available that can make me just like I was before?
A: Prosthesis is not bionic. It is an artificial replacement for a missing limb or part of a limb. Although prosthesis is never as natural as your own limb, it can help you to do many things quite effectively if you are willing to combine your energy and willpower into learning how to use it. The most important aspect of success is working with your doctor, Prosthetist, and therapist to address all of your concerns. You must be willing to work with them on the processes of design, fitting and training, which are required to be a successful user.
Q: What does prosthesis look like? How will it stay on?
A: Depending on the level of your amputation, physical ability and functional needs, each prosthesis will be somewhat different. If you desire a “cosmetic look,” prosthetic supplements are available. But, for most standard prostheses, they are comprised of conventional component parts attached to a socket that fits over your residual limb. To stay on, we use a suction suspension system sleeve or a pin system.
Q: Will I be able to do all the things I did before I lost my limb?
A: The majority of people who lose a limb can get back to a normal mode of functioning within a few to several months, depending on the location of the amputation as well as physical ability. How well they function depends primarily on their goals along with timely, comfortable prosthetic fitting, good follow-up care, and a “can do” attitude.
Q: What if the prosthesis doesn’t fit right?
A: Follow-up is as important as the initial fitting. You will need to make several visits for adjustments with the Prosthetist as well as training with a therapist. They can help you ease pressure areas, adjust alignment, work out any problems, and regain the skills you need to adapt to life after limb loss. Tell your Prosthetist of any discomfort, if your leg feels too loose or too tight. Ask questions about things you need or want to do. Communicate honestly about your needs. The more you communicate with your medical team, the better they can help you achieve your goals.
Q: Once I have been fitted and feel comfortable in its function, what will happen next?
A: Plan on making follow-up visits to your Prosthetist a normal part of your life. Proper fit of the socket and good alignment will insure that the prosthesis is useful to you. Your Prostheses will need regular maintenance and repair to continue efficient functioning. Small adjustments can make a big difference.
Q: Is it difficult learning to use prosthesis?
A: Learning to use prosthesis is a tough job. It takes time, great effort, strength, patience and perseverance. You will do best to work with a therapist while learning how to handle the new device. Much like learning how to operate a car, you will need guidance on how to:
· put on (don) and take off (doff) the prosthesis
· walk on different types of surfaces, including stairs and uneven terrain
· handle emergencies safely, including falling down and getting up again
· perform daily activities at home, at work and even in a car
Q: What can I do to prepare myself for prosthesis?
A: There is a lot you can and must do to be able to use prosthesis and use it well. The top priorities are:
· working through the feelings about losing a limb and deciding how to rebuild your life after amputation
· exercising to build the muscles needed for balance and ambulation
· preparing and taking care of your residual limb to attain a proper, sound shape for the prosthesis
· Learning proper body positioning and strengthening, to maintain tone and prevent contractures.
Q: Will I need to use a wheelchair or crutches?
A: Some people elect not to use prosthesis, relying exclusively on mobility devices. However, with prosthesis, the use of crutches or a wheelchair depends on several factors including level of amputation, whether you have a single or bilateral amputation, and your respective level of balance and strength. Most amputees have a pair of crutches for times when the limb is off, including nighttime trips to the bathroom, showering, participating in certain sports, and to help if problems arise that may require leaving the prosthesis off for any length of time.
If you are a person who has lost both legs, you will probably use a wheelchair at least some of the time. Unilateral amputees may find it helpful to use a cane or crutches for balance and support in the early stages of walking or just to have a break from the prosthesis. This is an individual decision based on factors such as age, balance, strength and sense of security.
Q: Can the limb break down?
A: Yes, things can happen that will require repair or replacement. Get small problems taken care of promptly. There is no benefit to waiting until something falls apart or causes you serious skin breakdown. If you wear a prosthesis too long when it needs repairs or replacement, you can do harm, not only to your residual limb, but also to other parts of your body. Strain on other muscles, especially in your back and shoulders, will affect posture in addition to performance of the device and energy needed to use it. Early prevention is more valuable than long-term treatment.