Why does my leg feel heavy? This may be a question you've asked yourself at least at one point in your journey as an amputee. Here are six possible reasons why your prosthetic leg feels that way, and what you can do about it.
Loose Prosthetic Socket
The socket is the most critical component of your prosthesis. If it doesn’t fit correctly, you can experience pain, sores and blisters, and the prosthesis will feel heavy and cumbersome," said Scott Sabolich, CP, LP.
A number of factors can contribute to a loose socket: weight loss or gain, and changes in your body alignment. Get in touch with your Prosthetist once you're unable to maintain a snug fit or you hear a whooshing noise emitting from the socket, because these are signs that your socket needs attention.
Suspension is how you connect your prosthesis to your residual limb and you want your suspension system to be in great shape to maintain your limb's good health, ensure comfort, and give you security as you move. If your suspension system fails to give you comfort and movement by constricting blood vessels or fits your prosthesis too tightly, your leg can feel heavy and restricted. Check your vacuum pump if it's clogged or if your sleeve has a hole. Ask your prosthetist if you're unsure about fixing it on your own.
Prep or Your First Prosthetic Limb
Anything that's new will always need some fine tuning and getting used to. Generally, if it's your prep or very first prosthesis, it may feel quite unnatural or unusual when you first try it on. Jamie Gane, an adaptive athlete and lower limb amputee, describes in his blog how it feels to wear a prosthesis for the very first time:
"… when you first receive your leg, it can feel extremely heavy and bulky, without even walking. This does get a lot easier with time as you get stronger and more used to your leg…".
Like all other things, it will get better in time and with more practice, you'll feel more connected to your prosthesis in the long run.
Length of Time Off
If you're not used to wearing your prosthesis regularly or haven't worn it for a while, your leg can feel heavy once you put it on again. Unless advised by your prosthetist to stay off of it for a period of time, it's best to promote consistency by practicing on your leg each day so that your body gets well-adjusted.
Shorter Residual Limb
If your residual limb is shorter, the heavier your leg may feel and an extension of your prosthesis may be required. This means you might need to use a heavier type of prosthesis so it fits better. There are treatments available that can help if this is the case for you, such as the lengthening of your short residual femur to "facilitate above-the-knee prosthetic fitting". (Source: Life Bridge Health)
The prosthetic foot's weight can affect your suspension system, as well as the connection to your socket and limb. Heavier feet can create increased energy consumption and walking asymmetries (or uneven walking).
However, you may avoid or alleviate the feeling of a heavy leg altogether by using a lighter prosthesis. Improving energy efficiency and reducing fatigue, a lighter artificial limb has the potential to allow amputees to engage in higher levels of activity and enjoy them for longer durations. Consult your prosthetist to find a limb and associated prosthetic components that are perfect for your needs.