Recovering from Amputation Surgery


After your amputation surgery, your doctor will provide specific instructions for your post-op care. Because each person is unique, your personal treatment methods, post-op healing regimen and rehabilitation experience may vary.

If you have not already met a prosthetist – a certified medical professional who is specially trained to help people with limb loss be fitted for artificial limbs – you may receive a referral to one during this time.

Throughout your recovery, it is important that you stay connected to your clinical team. Continue asking questions, requesting assistance and following their guidance.

Recovery from amputation surgery of a lower limb such as leg, ankle or foot typically involves four phases: Wound Healing, Shaping of the Residual Limb, Mobilization, and Reintegration.

Wound Healing

Immediately after amputation surgery, your treatment is likely to focus on wound healing and pain management. Be sure to proactively communicate any time you feel pain or discomfort. Your doctor may dress your residual limb with a removable rigid dressing after your surgery. This kind of dressing has been shown to help with wound healing time and pain reduction, and to provide some protection for your residual limb if you fall.

Shaping Your Residual Limb

When your surgeon is satisfied with how your wound is healing, you may receive compression therapy to reduce swelling and promote blood circulation in your residual limb. You may be fitted with a shrinker sock, an elastic compression bandage that is placed your residual limb. Or you may receive a post-operative silicone liner that will be worn over your a residual limb. Your healthcare team and prosthetist will determine the correct compression therapy method for you. They may also recommend that you continue wearing your compression therapy for an extended period of time. The ultimate goal is to create a well-shaped, even and uniform limb, which can later impact the fit of your future prosthetic or artificial replacement limb.

Mobilization

Some people experience issues with strength, balance and stamina after amputation surgery. Be sure to communicate with your doctor if this is your experience to see if they can recommend methods to help you. For example, if you have had lower limb amputation surgery, such as amputation of the leg, ankle or foot, you may be prescribed specialized exercises or physical therapy to help you regain your mobility. Examples of some exercises that have been specifically developed to help people with lower limb loss or limb difference are available here.

Reintegration

How long your rehabilitation will take is typically based on several factors, including the cause of your amputation, your level of amputation and your overall health and physical condition. If you have had amputation surgery of a foot, knee or portion of your leg, your doctor may recommend exercise therapy to rebuild your core, leg and arm muscles. These specialized exercises can help you improve your mobility and also begin to prepare you for wearing a lower-limb prosthesis. You may be encouraged to continue these exercises until you are ready for the fitting of your first prothesis.

Recovering from Amputation Surgery

After your amputation surgery, your doctor will provide specific instructions for your post-op care. Because each person is unique, your personal treatment methods, post-op healing regimen and rehabilitation experience may vary.

If you have not already met a prosthetist – a certified medical professional who is specially trained to help people with limb loss be fitted for artificial limbs – you may receive a referral to one during this time.

You may want to visit our specific content on Living With Lower Limb Loss and Living With Upper Limb Loss for more details about what to expect during surgery and recovery from these types of amputation surgery procedures.

Recovery

The primary goal immediately after amputation is healing and protecting your residual limb. Volume fluctuation is common for months to years after amputation so the goal of a care team working with a new amputee is managing the volume of that healing limb.

Rehabilitation

At this point, you’ve healed from surgery and are ready to begin rehabilitation and learn how to adapt to life with a prosthetic limb. The care goals in this phase are simply to don and doff (put on and take off) your prosthetic limb safely, to learn how to sit and stand with your prosthesis, and to learn how to ambulate without falling. It’s easy to get caught up in the end goal at this phase but the habits you develop during rehabilitation set you up for success and health in the future so it’s ok to take your time, be patient, and always listen to the advice of your physical and occupational therapists.

Maintenance

It’s maintenance time! You’ve gotten back some old independence, are moving comfortably about in your community, and adjusting to life with a prosthesis (or prostheses). The goals of this phase are focused around being aware of your skin health (i.e. are you experiencing hot spots or discomfort), is your prosthesis operating like it should (i.e. are things loose or clicking?), and are you as mobile as you usually are (i.e. are you getting tired more quickly or just walking less than usual?). It’s important to check in with yourself so you can catch small problems before they become big problems.

Working with a Prosthetist

A huge part of life with your prosthesis is life with your prosthetist: when to call them, how to communicate with them and work with them while also advocating for yourself, and how to appropriately rate and express if you are in pain. Last post, we talked about being aware of your prosthesis, skin health, and overall mobility, and these are great starting points for being able to say to your prosthetist “I used to be able to walk x number of steps comfortably and now I’m at y” which gives them data points to try and work with you to improve your experience. Finding a prosthetist who you feel comfortable with is so important to staying mobile and independent as an amputee. Find more resources on finding a prosthetist from Amputee Coalition. Here are other helpful resources on questions to ask when interviewing a prospective prosthetist from Amp'd.

Returning Home After Amputation Surgery

When you return home from the hospital or rehab facility, be gentle with yourself and allow yourself some time to acclimate.

Many people experience backtracking or pain, especially during the first few months after their amputation surgery. Be sure to keep communicating with your healthcare team about any pain or discomfort, and try to keep a positive outlook and stay consistent with any recommended exercises.

You might find that friends or family members have questions or are uncertain about how to talk with you about your amputation surgery.

Open communication can be an important aspect of healing, but remember, you can go at your own pace in opening up and disclose only as much as you feel comfortable sharing.

You also may want to contact the Amputee Coalition, which can provide resources, including connections to local support groups and volunteers who are willing to share their experience of living with limb loss to help you.