Recovery Process After An Amputation

June 4, 2023

Amputations may be necessary for countless reasons, including infection and trauma. In the United States, more than 150,000 amputations are performed each year. The recovery process after an amputation can be physically and emotionally challenging. In addition to the recovery period in the hospital, patients have several months of recovery at home.

There are many things amputees need during their recovery after amputation surgery. Some may want an above-knee amputation prosthesis, and there are also many assistive devices for leg amputees. Physical therapy for amputations is necessary as part of recovery too. Learn more about recovering from an amputation now.

Monitoring In The Hospital

After having an amputation, most patients require monitoring in the hospital for at least three to seven days. Seniors and those with underlying health conditions may need to stay at the hospital for longer. During the hospital stay, patients will have their vital signs monitored. The incision site will be cleaned and checked for signs of infection.

Patients will receive medication for pain control. They will also learn how to transfer themselves from their bed to a chair safely. Patients will be given physical therapy to help with improving strength in the residual limb as well. While recovering at the hospital, patients should always let their care team know if they experience any pain, bleeding, or changes in their health. If possible, it is helpful to have a family member present when the doctor visits. The family member can help the patient by writing down the doctor's instructions and asking questions.

Regular Physical Therapy

Individuals who have had an amputation will need regular physical therapy. In general, patients will be fitted with a prosthesis around eight weeks after their operation, though some choose not to use a prosthesis. Physical therapy is essential in both situations. It is crucial in helping patients maintain the circulation of the residual limb and the skin's health. It can also improve strength and endurance. In addition, it reduces the risk of developing shortened muscles or tendons (contractures).

For individuals who plan to use a prosthesis, the physical therapist can help shape the residual limb. This is done with an elastic bandage or a shrinker. Physical therapists teach the patient how to massage the residual limb so that it is desensitized enough to have a prosthesis. The therapist will also monitor the residual limb for signs of infection or other skin issues that may need treatment.

Occupational Therapy

Occupational therapy helps patients develop skills for living well at home after an amputation. Occupational therapists will assist patients in modifying the tasks of daily living so that they can be as independent and comfortable as possible. For example, the therapist may teach patients with upper limb amputations how to modify cooking and eating tasks. Patients will learn modifications that will help when bathing and dressing too.

The patient's occupational therapist may make a home visit to recommend changes to increase the safety and functionality of the patient's home. For example, shower modifications may be recommended. The installation of grab bars and additional lighting may be beneficial to prevent falls. Occupational therapy often begins during the patient's recovery period in the hospital. Patients may continue to have occupational therapy for an extended period at home.

Use Of Assistive Devices And Artificial Limbs

Patients who have a limb amputation often benefit from the use of assistive devices and artificial limbs. After the operation, patients may need to use crutches or wheelchairs. They may need a wheelchair ramp at their home. For certain types of amputations, the patient may be able to use artificial limbs. Typically, artificial limbs are fitted at least two months after the patient's operation.

The patient will need to take special care of the residual limb before receiving the artificial limb. Each artificial limb is designed and fitted specifically for the needs of the individual patient. A prosthetist will be responsible for making, adjusting, and repairing the patient's artificial limb. Patients will have regular appointments with their prosthetist throughout their lives.

Regular Counseling Sessions

Regular counseling sessions can help patients cope with the emotional aspects of an amputation. Patients may have individual and group therapy sessions. Family therapy may also be helpful. Counselors use cognitive-behavioral therapy and other techniques to give patients skills to reframe their thoughts and overcome the grief that can occur after an amputation. Patients may need to continue counseling for several months, and some individuals choose to have counseling for years.

When choosing a counselor to help with amputation recovery, it is imperative to choose someone who has experience assisting individuals who have recovered from amputations. The patient's hospital care team can make appropriate recommendations. Patients can also ask for recommendations from individuals in their community who have had amputations. Some counselors may offer video chats or messaging services to support patients between in-person therapy sessions.

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