What to expect during amputation recovery

For people who are age 65 and older — particularly those who have struggled with diabetes or vascular disease — amputations can be a significant possibility. Dealing with the surgery, recovery, and return to normal life can be challenging for both patient and family alike.

The loss of a limb is a life-changing experience that can significantly impact mobility, independence, and overall health. But knowing what to expect during every stage along the way is an important first step to prepare for the journey ahead.

What is it like to have a limb amputated?

Once it’s determined that an amputation is required, your surgeon will determine where to cut to remove all the damaged tissue and salvage as much healthy tissue as possible. The remaining bone, blood vessels, and nerves will be sealed off, and the muscles will be cut and shaped to allow for a prosthesis to be attached later.

Depending on the limb, the reason for your amputation, and any complications you may have, most patients will stay at the hospital for one to two weeks following surgery. During this time, you and your medical team will work on:

○ Pain control

○ Taking care of your wound as it heals

○ Stretching and strengthening your muscles

○ Learning to transfer safely between your bed and other surfaces

○ Learning to use walking aids as needed

○ Learning to manage daily living skills

Preparing for a prosthesis at home

Once you’re discharged from the hospital, you may return home with assistance from family or professional nursing staff, or possibly to a  short term nursing care facility where you can get 24/7 skilled care. At that point, you may start to prepare for your prosthesis fitting, which can take 3 to 4 weeks. You’ll continue to work on your recovery, including:

○ Taking care of your wound (with sutures or staples still in)

○ Keeping your residual limb straight as often as you can

○ Continuing exercises learned in the hospital

○ Moving safely to prevent falls

○ Keeping your follow-up appointments

Getting fitted for a prosthesis

Once your wound has healed, you should be ready for your first visit to the prosthetist. He or she will start fitting you for a prosthesis. About 3 weeks after the first fitting, you’ll receive a preparatory or temporary prosthesis. During this stage, your main goals are:

○ Daily care of your residual limb

○ Daily use of a shrinker sock

○ Desensitization and scar massage

○ Continued stretching and strengthening of muscles

Learning to use a prosthesis

You’ll use your temporary prosthesis until your residual limb has reached a stable size, which can take up to 6 months. Then you may receive your more natural-looking permanent prosthesis. During this stage, you’ll learn how to:

○ Don (put on) and doff (take off) the prosthesis

○ Adjust sock ply (thickness)

○ Walk with your prosthesis using parallel bars

○ Use a walking aid (such as a walker or cane)

○ Walk without an aid, if possible

○ Prevent falls

○ Care for and clean the prosthesis

○ Wear your prosthesis for gradually increasing lengths of time each day

Returning to routine activities

When you’re ready, you may resume many activities that have been part of your life, though there may be some new challenges. As you become more active, keep these goals in mind:

○ Work with your healthcare team to maintain your health

○ Develop a support system of family and friends

○ Return to your job, volunteer work, or social activities

○ Practice coping techniques, such as meditation and relaxation to help you deal with new challenges as they arise

If you and your doctor are looking at the possibility of amputation as a result of disease, injury, or cancer, it’s important to have your next steps planned out, including what type of in-home or nursing home care may be required after surgery. The team at American Health Corporation can help. Their team is well prepared to help manage the potential issues surrounding immediate care for amputations as well as physical therapy, and prosthesis procurement and training.  Our Nursing Centers specialize in short term rehab and long term care. They offer the highest quality nursing healthcare and programs to help patients recover and regain abilities to live as independently as possible.

For more information or to schedule a facility tour, contact one of our three locations in Alabama nearest you:

Oak Trace (Bessemer, AL) 205-428-9383

Colonial Haven (Greensboro, AL) 334-624-3054

Perry County Nursing Home (Marion, AL) 334-683-9696