Adjusting to a prosthetic is a process that takes perseverance and a lot of help. With the use of prosthetic limbs on the rise, it’s more important than ever to understand how prosthetics work and how to best help loved ones adapt. One thing is clear: experts agree that a top-notch rehabilitation program can make a big difference in helping patients move forward with their new limbs.
What are Prosthetics and Who Uses Prosthetics?
Prosthetics are artificial devices that replace body parts–usually lost limbs, including arms and legs. Limb loss can result from an accident or injury, congenital conditions, or disease. According to the non-profit Amputee Coalition, there are nearly two million people living with limb loss in the United States. Many people may not realize that vascular disease (generally linked to diabetes) is the main cause of limb loss, accounting for over half of all amputations. Trauma or injury come in a close second, and cancer patients represent a small percentage of amputees. There are around 185,000 amputations in the U.S. every year, so living without a limb may be more common than we think.
How Do Prosthetics Work?
A prosthetic is made up of an artificial limb and a socket. The prosthetic connects the limb to the patient’s residual limb, which is the part of the arm or leg remaining after amputation. The socket is molded to fit the residual limb; a good fit is essential to avoiding pain and damage to the limb. Prosthetics are then attached with a plastic casing, an elastic sleeve, or straps.
In recent years, new technology has brought about big changes in the look and use of prosthetics. Old-school prosthetics designed to imitate natural limbs have been replaced by higher-tech models with exposed metal and plastic designs. Patients have embraced enhanced mobility of these newer, lightweight components. Prosthetic technology has also introduced new limbs that are battery powered and more responsive, including using electrodes to sense muscle impulses in the existing limbs.
What Are The Main Types Of Prosthetic Limbs?
There are four main types of prosthetic limbs differentiated by where they are attached.
For legs, prosthetics are categorized as below the knee, attaching to the full upper leg, or above the knee, which includes a prosthetic knee joint. For arms and hands, the distinction is similar: below the elbow or above the elbow.
For patients with leg prosthetics, the main challenge is learning to swing and balance the leg using the existing limb. For patients with arm prosthetics, a key element is learning to operate a hand pincer using the opposite arm. In all of these cases, a carefully developed program of physical and occupational therapy is key to adjusting to life with a new prosthetic.
Why Is Prosthetic Training So Important?
Experts agree that high-quality rehabilitation is important to regaining independence. Physical and occupational therapy are important parts of prosthetic training, helping patients regain strength and ease of movement and relearn routine tasks. According to the Amputee Coalition, physical therapy can help decrease pain and help wound healing shortly after amputation in addition to regaining mobility, strength and endurance.
Some of the areas your physical and occupational therapists, working in cooperation with your doctors and prosthetist, can help with include:
- Teaching patients to care for the remaining limb to avoid pain and swelling
- Helping patients manage their prosthesis, learning to take it on and off with ease
- Gait training for lower limb amputees to help regain balance and movement
- Learning to walk on different types of surfaces
- Learning to fall safely and get up easily
- For upper limb amputees, occupational therapy to relearn basic activities like personal care, eating and writing is essential
- Preparing to resume sports and other activities once the basics have been covered
How Long Does Prosthetic Training Take?
According to the Amputee Coalition, most patients get their prosthesis two to six months after surgery, and patients should get back to a normal level of functioning within a few months. Patients often spend six months to a year with their rehabilitation team, helping recondition muscles and adapting to changes in the residual limb. According to the coalition, patient determination is a big factor, along with a committed rehab team.
Rehab Is Key
Prosthetic limbs can be lifesavers for patients, allowing them to regain movement, return to day to day life and in many cases go on to achieve things they would never have believed possible. But the process is both physically and emotionally draining for patients, so having a committed rehab team behind you is key. Physical and occupational therapists are important partners in helping patients set goals.
If you or someone you know needs assistance with prosthetic training, call Evergreen Health & Rehab today. We are here to help patients remain positive and focused on resuming the activities that matter most.