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 postsurgical adjustment to a prosthesis. 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 this time, the site is monitored to verify that proper healing is taking place. Prescription painkillers are administered as necessary. 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 usually heals in 4 to 8 weeks. A physical therapist may help the patient manage pain and improve circulation through the use of massage, electrical stimulation and joint manipulation. Physical therapy initially includes gentle stretching and range-of-motion exercises, then progresses to include the following:
- Exercises to strengthen muscles
- Training in relearning how to perform daily activities
- Instruction in using artificial limbs and assistive devices
- Emotional support and counseling
A physical therapist teaches a patient how to put a prosthesis on and take it off, as well as how to use it to perform all regular activities. Prosthetic training can take up to a year.
The goal of physical therapy is to help patients gain independence, function fully, and return to many of the activities they participated in before amputation.