What You Need to Know About Prosthetics as A New Amputee
You might be reading this article as you wait for your residual limb to heal to get your first prosthesis, or you may be researching about life after an elective amputation. No matter where you are in your amputee journey, getting a prosthetic device can be exciting, scary, and frustrating all at the same time.
It's easy to get overwhelmed with all the information out there, so we took some of the commonly asked questions to help you decide whether you want to get a prosthesis and what to expect once you have your device.
Why get a prosthesis?
Choosing to use or forego a prosthesis depends on your goals. Consider the following questions: What do you want to do with a prosthetic limb? What activities do you want to do after limb loss? Do you want to run or resume playing a sport?
After carefully answering these questions, work closely with your healthcare team. They can address your concerns and guide you to a device that will help you meet your goals.
How does a prosthetic limb work?
A prosthesis is an extension of your body. It's a tool that helps you regain mobility or independence after limb loss. Individual prostheses differ depending on a person's physical abilities, level of amputation, and needs and goals.
Upper- and lower-limb prostheses have similar essential components. However, upper-limb prostheses will have a "terminal device" such as a hand, hook, or a specialized tool. The focus of upper-limb prostheses is on functional enhancement. Meanwhile, lower-limb prostheses feature a foot and focus on walking.
Both upper- and lower-limb prostheses have a prosthetic socket. This is the receptacle into which the residual limb will fit. A prosthetic liner, socks, or both are first worn over the residual limb, followed by the socket.
The prosthetic limb must also be suspended or held with a suspension sleeve or a locking pin attached to the liner. Your prosthetist will be able to discuss the many socket and suspension options with you.
How much will a prosthesis cost?
Prostheses have a wide price range. It depends on your limb loss level and the type of device best suited to you and your needs. Insurance plans typically cover the partial cost of the device. Some plans may even cover the entire cost of the prosthesis.
Work closely with your insurance company to understand the types of devices and the services covered by your policy. Be prepared to make several calls and provide documentation. You are your advocate in this case.
Find out if working with your prosthetist on the fit and alignment of your device is bundled with the total cost of your prosthesis. Typically, prosthetists continue to work with you until you're comfortable with your device's fit and alignment.
What is a K level?
The K level is a rating from 0 to 4. It is used to predict your potential success with your prosthesis. Medicare uses this system to rate your rehabilitation potential. And many private insurance companies also use this system to establish coverage guidelines.
To determine your K level, your doctor will assess your cognitive and physical abilities.
The individual doesn't have the ability or potential to ambulate or transfer safely with or without assistance. A prosthesis will not enhance the person's mobility or quality of life.
The individual has the ability or potential to use a prosthesis for transfers or ambulation on level surfaces at fixed walking speeds.
The individual has the potential or ability to overcome low-level environmental barriers such as uneven surfaces, curbs, or stairs.
The individual has the ability or potential for ambulation at a changeable measure. Most people under this classification can overcome most of the environmental barriers mentioned above. They may also have activities that demand prosthetic limb use beyond simple movement.
The individual has the potential or ability to use a prosthesis beyond basic ambulation, exhibiting high impact or energy levels. A child, an active adult, or an athlete will typically fall under this classification.
When can I get a prosthesis?
It depends on how quickly your residual limb heals from the surgery. Some receive a temporary prosthesis immediately after amputation or within two to three weeks. Fitting for a prosthetic device usually begins two to six months after surgery when the incision has completely healed, the swelling has gone down, and your physical condition improves.
Meanwhile, the rehabilitation process begins soon after surgery with physical or occupational therapy. You learn how to move with a wheelchair, walker, or crutches and exercise and stretch to avoid contractures. These exercises keep you as mobile as possible and prepare you for wearing and using your prosthesis.
How soon can I go back to what I used to do pre-amputation?
Your new normal depends on your amputation type, rehabilitation process, and health and well-being. Expect the first year to be challenging. There will be changes in the shape and size of your residual limb, and you will work with your healthcare team to recondition muscles. Your body will also need to relearn activities, coordination, gait, and balance. You will continue to improve with time and effort.
What if the device doesn't fit?
Fitting for your prosthesis involves several visits to your prosthetist. Some amputations can be challenging to fit, requiring multiple fittings. And even when your device fits properly, it takes some time to get used to the sensation of having extra weight through your residual limb.
Although some initial discomfort is expected, pain is not part of the process. If you feel pain, be as specific as possible in describing the pain and where you feel it. This allows your prosthetist to address your concerns accurately.
As your residual limb continues to change and heal, make sure not to miss any follow-up appointments. Your prosthetist must make adjustments to ensure your comfort and avoid significant problems.
How long does a prosthesis last?
Depending on your activity level, growth, and age, a device can last anywhere from several months to years. In the early stages after limb loss, many changes occur in the residual limb, leading to shrinking. This may require changing your prosthetic socket, getting new prosthetic liners, or even a different device.
If your activity level increases or you want to do more activities, you may need to change your device or some of its components.
Is it challenging to use a prosthetic limb?
It can be a challenge. It takes time, effort, determination, and patience. However, you have nothing to worry about. Prosthetists typically offer some training on how to use and take care of a prosthesis. It's also helpful to work with a physical or occupational therapist. Working with a therapist will make prosthesis use tolerable for first-timers.
Can the prosthesis break down?
Yes, your prosthetic limb may require repair or replacement so take note of warranties. Get minor problems fixed right away. Waiting may lead to a more complex repair job or severe skin problems. Waiting to get your prosthesis fixed will not only harm your residual limb but other parts of the body as well. Unsolved issues will also affect your posture and the performance of the device.
If you have more questions, we highly suggest consulting with your prosthetist. But if you don't have one yet, we also have a guide to choosing the right prosthetist for you.