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An amputee poses happily
Life with an arm amputation

Amputation rehab: What to expect

The rehabilitation process is critical for anyone who has recently lost a hand or arm. Find out how the process can help heal your residual limb, restore your mobility, and prepare you for a prosthetic arm.


Healing, training, and preparing for a prosthesis

After your amputation surgery, recovery and healing are your top priorities. The rehabilitation process is an essential part of this time. Together with your care team, you’ll focus on rebuilding your strength, carefully caring for your residual limb, and taking the first steps toward using a prosthetic arm. 

Amputation rehab begins as soon as possible after your operation, and typically lasts about six months. During that time, your care team will create a detailed plan to heal your residual limb and get you ready for a prosthesis. You’ll also need to start preparing yourself for everyday life with your new upper limb difference. 

We've outlined some of the key steps in that process. Keep in mind everyone’s experience will be different. Your care team will help you understand which activities are most important for you. 

Recommended Steps to the Rehabilitation Process:

  • Heal your residual limb as quickly and successfully as possible

  • Strengthen parts of your body affected by your amputation

  • Prepare you to use a prosthetic device*

*These recommendations focus on devices for users who have had a transhumeral amputation. If you have had a different procedure, your prosthetist can provide you with more information on higher amputation levels.

Compression therapy

Early compression therapy

After the operation, a wound dressing is applied and changed at regular intervals. Compression therapy begins after that, for example, with a compression bandage. Your doctor will determine the exact timing. The purpose of compression therapy is to reduce the residual limb edema and prepare your residual limb for your subsequent prosthesis. Residual limb compression helps optimize the fitting of your prosthesis. Compression also promotes blood circulation in the residual limb. This reduces pain and promotes scar healing.

Two O&P professionals help an above the elbow arm amputee with their residual limb
Two O&P professionals help an above the elbow arm amputee with their residual limb
Training exercises

Preparing to use a prosthetic arm

While you and your care team are working to manage any post-surgical swelling in your residual limb, you’ll also start taking the first steps toward using a prosthesis

These steps typically include:

  • Strengthening and stretching muscles in your residual limb, shoulder, back, and torso

  • Any training you may need to use your remaining hand and arm (your “sound side”) in new ways

Here are a few key areas you and your care team will probably focus on.

An orthotics and prosthetics professional examines an amputees residual limb and arm movement

Positioning your residual limb

After surgery, you’ll naturally want to put your residual limb in the most comfortable, least painful position possible. You may rest it on a pillow or prop it up in some way.

While this may help reduce your pain at first, it can also cause your remaining arm muscles to shorten and stiffen. This can limit the amount of mobility you’re able to achieve later on. Over time, your hospital care team will encourage you to leave your residual limb extended by your side as much as possible when you’re not exercising or caring for it.

Skin & scar care

Supporting your healing wound

In most cases, amputation wounds close in three to four weeks before forming a scar. But while your scar may look like it has healed after a few weeks, the full healing process takes much longer – typically about 18 months.

During that time, caring for your skin and scar is a top priority. A few key steps can help you ensure your residual limb heals successfully, and that it’s ready for a prothesis when you’re ready to start using one.

In the hospital, the nursing staff and doctors took care of your residual limb by cleaning the wound and changing the bandages or dressings. In the rehabilitation phase, you now care for your residual limb, the scar and also your sound arm yourself. Being able to wear your prosthesis without problems requires ongoing, intensive care.

Desensitising the skin

The skin on the residual limb is often very sensitive after the amputation. You can take various steps to address this. Always use materials that are comfortable for you and work from the end of the residual limb towards the body.

Desensitizing your skin

After your amputation, the skin on your residual limb may be uncomfortably sensitive. There are a few ways you can reduce that discomfort:

  • Gently rub or tap your skin with a soft brush or a spiky massage ball. This will help slowly increase the amount of pressure your skin can take. 

  • Gently rub down your residual limb with a bath towel or washcloth.

  • Whichever you try, always start at the end of your residual limb and work toward your body.

An orthotic and prosthetic professional uses a massage ball on an amputees residual limb to desensitize their skin

Cleaning your skin

Keeping your residual limb clean is also very important. Wash it every day with lukewarm water and an unscented, skin-friendly soap. 

Ottobock offers several care products that can help you clean your skin or scar. Or, you can ask your prosthetist for recommendations.

An amputee cleans their residual limb

Caring for your scar

Regularly moisturize your scar and the skin around it. Scars can’t produce the moisture that typically keeps your skin soft and flexible, which is essential when you start wearing a prosthesis. Prothesis and rough, dry skin can be a painful combination, one that makes it much harder for you to consistently wear your device.

Unscented moisturizing creams are often a good choice. Ask your prosthetist for their recommendation. They’re always the best place to start when you need advice on how to get the most out of your prothesis!

Learn more

See what’s next for your journey with an upper limb difference

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