How to Take Care of Your Residual Limb
The skin is the body's first line of defense against external invaders that can be detrimental to our health. Caring for the skin is a must which is why developing proper and healthy prosthetic habits is essential. The socket of your prosthesis tends to drown out air circulation and stock up sweat, creating the perfect condition for bacteria to breed. When left alone for too long, this can lead to bacterial and fungal infections that will irritate and break down your skin. And when bacterial and fungal infections are left untreated, they could lead to severe infections that may render you without a prosthesis for many weeks.
(courtesy of @AmputeeOT)
Caring daily for your residual limb, the skin around it, and your prosthesis doesn’t take a lot of time. But incorporating this daily care regimen can save you from a lot of pain. So, we compiled some tried and tested care tips for you.
Your Residual Limb
New amputees are advised to take nightly showers to avoid swelling of their residual limb caused by hot water or when it's left dangling while you shower. The swelling makes donning the prosthesis a bit problematic. And before you go to sleep, make sure to use a shrinker; letting your limb hang out for too long will cause swelling, which will make it difficult to put on your prosthesis in the morning.
For those with amputations located below-the knee (BK), avoid sitting down or sleeping with a pillow under your knee. Doing so leads to contractures—a permanent shortening or deforming of a muscle or joint. Meanwhile, those with amputations above-the-knee (AK) are advised not to sleep with the limb above a pillow because this leads to hip flexion contractures. They also must not sleep with a pillow between their legs.
Furthermore, limbs should not be rested over the handle pieces of crutches. Instead, it should be stretched daily to maximize comfort when walking and lying down.
Make sure to wash your residual limb with a pH-balanced prosthetic soap and water every day. Pat it dry before putting your prosthesis on to avoid chafing. You can also apply prosthetic moisturizers or chafing cream to prevent friction that can irritate your skin.
Whenever you remove your prosthesis, make it a habit to check for red pressure patches on your skin. This habit ensures that you catch a skin irritation even before it has fully developed. Do not use softening cream unless your skin is dry. You should also stay away from talcum powder as well as alcohol. Also, avoid shaving the hair on your residual limb because this can cause ingrown hairs that may get infected.
If you have an open wound, call your prosthetist and physician immediately.
Anything that makes contact with your skin--ie socket, liner, sleeve and socks--should be washed with mild soap every day. You should also be patient in letting these dry completely to protect your skin from possible irritations or infections. Prosthetic deterioration can also be avoided by this simple practice.
A properly fitting prosthesis is essential for your health. It’s imperative that you know where and how your socket is supposed to fit. Also, remember what the proper shoe height is for your prosthesis.
Caring for your prosthesis, residual limb, and skin can be made easy by always bringing a "leg" kit with you. The kit should contain essential care items—from extra socks to ointments—so you can quell a budding infection wherever and whenever.
However, when in doubt, don't do it yourself. Call your prosthetist immediately. What do you keep in your leg or arm kit?