Rehabilitation after an arm amputation
First the residual limb wound has to heal properly. The rehabilitation phase as such begins when this healing process is completed after a few weeks. As a rule, this will take up to six months.
Rehabilitation after an arm amputation
First the residual limb wound has to heal properly. The rehabilitation phase as such begins when this healing process is completed after a few weeks. It usually lasts up to six months.
Your treatment team will decide when you can begin with intensive rehabilitation based on your recovery progress. During the rehabilitation phase, you are specifically prepared for wearing a prosthesis. The goal is to offer you maximum mobility and independence so your life can be as normal as possible in future. However, your active participation is crucial for successful rehabilitation. Your motivation and a high degree of self-confidence can be an important factor as well.
Crafting the perfect connection between you and your device
Once you’ve chosen a device, your prosthetist will start working on one of the most important parts of your prosthetic arm: the socket that connects the device to your residual limb.
Your socket will be carefully customized just for you, using detailed measurements and models of your residual limb. This helps ensure your prosthetic will be comfortable, easy to move, and stay securely connected to your arm.
The customization process may require a couple of visits to your prosthetist’s office. But once it’s finished, your prosthetic should feel like you can easily wear it all day long.
Using the prosthesis
Once your prosthetic is complete and ready to wear, your prosthetist will show you how to start using it. This training will usually focus on mastering basic movements, key grips, and everyday task you need to know how to manage.
Once you’re home, though, the real learning process starts.
Getting started with your device
When you’re just starting to use a prosthetic arm, don’t worry if some movements and activities are difficult for you. Remember: you’re relearning how to do a lot of things with a tool instead of your hand. It will take time, but if you keep practicing you’ll get more confident and capable every day!
Here are a few useful tips and tricks to help you build this important new skill.
Start simple and easy: As your prosthetist will tell you, mastering the basic functions of your new hand is the most important first step. Depending on your prosthetic arm, that may include opening and closing the hand, rotating the wrist, and flexing and stretching the elbow joint.
Practice these simple movements until you feel comfortable with them. Doing so will help you build up new skills, strengths, and instincts that will prepare you for more challenging movements and activities later on.
Start by practicing with simple, lightweight objects that are easy to grasp (and won’t break if you drop them!): a tennis ball, shoes, a remote control, or a cup. Once you can confidently pick them up, turn them over, and put them down, you’ll be ready to try some more advanced activities.
Use the 5-try rule: Any time you’re learning a complex new skill, practicing it repeatedly can get frustrating after a while – and that feeling can make it harder to come back and try again later.
When you’re working on any new prosthetic arm skill, don’t keep pushing until you’ve perfected it. Give yourself lots of physical AND mental breaks. A good rule: whatever it is, try it 5 times, and if you haven’t got it, come back and try again later.
Train every day: Like any new skill, learning to use a prosthetic arm takes dedication and consistency. Try to use your prosthetic every day, even if it’s just for a few hours at a time to start.
During the fitting process, your prosthetist will also give you some exercises tailored to your amputation and device. Take the time to do them every day. The more you do, the quicker you’ll achieve the control you need to get back to activities you love.
Building up to bigger challenges
Once you’ve confidently mastered basic movements and simple tasks, you’ll be ready for more complex movements and activities. Take the same smart approach: practice every single day, but always give yourself breaks to rest and reset between tries.
Here are a few good activities that can help you practice combining a few simple skills:
Folding towels or laundry
Getting dressed or undressed
Opening bottles, jars, or other containers
Using a knife and fork
When you first try out these more complicated activities, keep in mind that losing a hand or arm will also affect your balance and coordination. Your prosthetic arm won’t give you the same instinctive feedback about where it is, what it’s doing, and where it may guide the rest of your body. Practicing hand-eye coordination with your device is an important part of learning how to use it safely and successfully.
As you develop your skills, talk to your prosthetist about ways you can train yourself to “feel” what your prosthetic is doing as you use it.
Putting on and taking off your device
The skills you need for these steps will be different depending on:
The type of prosthetic you choose
The shape and size of your residual limb
Whether you’ve lost one or both upper limbs
Your prosthetist will give you detailed training on the best way for you to put on or take off your device(s). Make sure you feel comfortable and confident with these steps before you head home with your prosthetic!
If you decide to use a myoelectric device, make sure you slightly moisten the skin of your residual limb where it comes in contact with the electrodes in your socket. This will make it easier for nerve signals to travel from your muscles to the motors that power your device. If your skin is dry when you put on your prosthetic, it may take a moment before you have full control again.
Care and cleaning
Just like your natural hand, your prosthetic arm works hard every day – so it needs the same kind of consistent daily cleaning.
A few important things to remember:
Regularly wipe the inner socket with a damp cloth to remove any remaining perspiration and skin particles.
If you use a prosthetic glove, regularly clean it according to the care instructions and check it for cracks. If you find any, the glove may need to be replaced.
If you wear a liner, clean it daily according to the instructions for use.
Balance and coordination training
Since an amputation always affects your sense of balance as well, balance and coordination training is recommended. In the case of the latter, practising eye/prosthetic hand coordination is especially important, because your eyes now have to control the hand’s movements to compensate for the lack of feeling in the hand.
Advice on devices
If you find you have difficulties during certain activities with your new prosthesis in the course of rehabilitation, you can test various devices. Your therapist can evaluate whether this makes sense in your case.
However, the rule for all devices is always “less is more”. The less you need them, the more independent you will be in your everyday life. If you use a lot of devices in your home environment, you will be that much more dependent outside your home when you don’t have your special devices with you. That being said, such devices are sometimes indispensable if you have a bilateral amputation or a high amputation level.
Recreation and sports
Your prosthesis opens up new possibilities for recreational activities. Be sure to take advantage of this, because physical activity is always beneficial for your overall physical fitness. Please ask your therapist for information about this.