Rehabilitation for Amputees

Amputation is the removal of a limb or extremity: arm, leg, hand, foot, finger or toe. Amputation is a treatment of last resort, performed only after all other forms of treatment have failed. It is used to treat severe infection, disease progression, removal of a tumor on a bone or muscle, or persistent pain. Before undergoing an amputation, a thorough physical examination is performed to verify that amputation is the only feasible option. The most common type of amputation is removal, either above or below the knee, of the leg.

Recovery from Amputation

Although the hospital stay for an amputation may be relatively short, the recuperative period is longer, involving as it does both physical and psychological rehabilitation, as well as adjustment to altered mobility or dexterity. In most cases, amputation also requires post-surgical adjustment to a prosthetic device. At times, due to the trauma of having a body part removed, the patient has a severe psychological reaction. Because emotional issues can interfere with healing and overall health, psychotherapy or psychotropic medication may be necessary.

A hospital stay of 1 to 2 weeks is usually required after an amputation. During these weeks, the site is monitored to verify that proper healing is taking place. Prescription painkillers are administered as necessary during the recovery period. As soon as sufficient healing has taken place, the patient begins physical therapy to learn how to perform the day-to-day tasks that involved the amputated limb. In many cases, the patient, when sufficiently healed, is fitted with a prosthesis, a device that replaces the amputated limb, and then given therapeutic instruction on how to use it.

Physical Therapy After Amputation

The wound on the amputated limb will commonly heal in about four to eight weeks. A physical therapist may help to the patient manage pain after an amputation through the use of massage, electrical stimulation and and joint manipulation to improve circulation. Physical therapy initially includes gentle stretching and range of motion activities but will progress to a full rehabilitation program that will include:

  • Muscle strengthening exercises
  • Training to perform daily activities
  • Use of artificial limbs and assistive devices
  • Emotional support and counseling

A physical therapist will teach the patient how to put a new prosthesis on and take it off, as well as how to perform all regular activities with the new limb. Prosthetic training is a process that may take up to a full year.

The goal of physical therapy is to help patients gain independence, fully function, and return to many of the activities they participated in before the amputation.

Additional Resources