Some frequently asked questions about amputations and prostheses:
Q: WHAT IS A RIGID DRESSING?
A: The rigid dressing is a sterile dressing combined with a
plaster cast. Your doctor may prescribe a rigid dressing which is
applied, usually by your prosthetist, to the residual limb immediately
after surgery. A tube or pylon and an artificial foot or hand may be
attached to the cast so you can begin using the residual limb soon after
surgery. Dressing changes usually occur at two-week intervals.
Q: WHY IS THERE SO MUCH SWELLING?
Swelling is a natural reaction to the trauma of surgery and
will continue throughout the healing process. There is also a tendency
for fluids to build up as a result of less muscle activity in the
Q: HOW DO I REDUCE THE SWELLING?
Wrapping with elastic bandages or using elastic "shrinkers"
decreases the swelling and helps shape the residual limb. It is
important that you keep your residual limb properly wrapped or within
the shrinker at all times. The swelling will continue to decrease over
the next several months as your residual limb shrinks significantly from
both fluid loss and muscle inactivity.
Q: HOW SHOULD I TAKE CARE OF MY RESIDUAL LIMB AFTER SURGERY?
After the first dressing is changed, an elastic bandage should
be used to wrap the residual limb. This bandage should be removed and
rewrapped several times each day so it will continue to provide adequate
support as your limb shrinks.
Q: WHAT IS PHANTOM PAIN?
Many people experience the sensation that the amputated limb
is still present. You may have the sensation of tingling, itching, or
movement, as well as fleeting episodes of sharp, squeezing, or burning
pain. The causes of phantom sensation are not clearly understood, but
the experience usually disappears within a few months after surgery.
Inform your doctor and prosthetist of any discomfort that you may
Q: HOW SOON AFTER SURGERY WILL I GET MY PROSTHESIS?
Many factors determine when you are ready for your first
prosthesis. Your residual limb must be well-healed with no tenderness
and minimal swelling. Generally, if there are no complications, the
first fitting occurs approximately four to five weeks after amputation.
If you have poor circulation, the fitting may be delayed an additional
two to three weeks to allow for adequate healing.
Q: HOW SHOULD I CLEAN MY RESIDUAL LIMB?
Wash your residual limb daily with soap and water. Avoid
lotions, oils, or creams because they tend to soften the skin and make
it more susceptible to skin breakdown. Always check your residual limb
thoroughly for any scrapes, cuts, sores, or reddened areas.
Q: HOW DO I PREPARE MY BODY FOR WEARING MY PROSTHESIS?
Exercise is important in increasing your overall strength and
flexibility and preparing your muscles for the prosthesis. A physical or
occupational therapist assesses your overall physical condition and may
prescribe an exercise program. Isometric exercise, which involves
tightening and relaxing the muscles, helps you maintain good muscle tone
and can be started while you are still in bed. Along with exercise,
gradually desensitizing your residual limb is an important step in
preparing for your prosthesis. Begin by massaging your limb, then work
up to patting it, rubbing it with a towel, and even lightly slapping
your residual limb. Preventing contractures (the tightening of the
muscles and joints) also makes wearing your prosthesis easier.
Q: WHAT PROSTHESIS IS BEST FOR ME?
Your prosthetist consults with your physician regarding the
prescription for a prosthesis. There are many individual factors to
consider in prescribing the right prosthesis for you. Some of these
include the shape and condition of your residual limb, overall medical
and physical condition, previous activity level and lifestyle,
commitment, and financial situation. Discuss your interests, lifestyle,
work and goals with your prosthetist, so he or she can design a
prosthesis that provides the highest level of function and independence
Q: HOW IS MY PROSTHESIS MADE?
Your prosthesis is made up of many different components
selected specifically for you and your lifestyle. Your prosthetist
begins by taking a series of measurements and a cast of your residual
limb. From the cast, a mold is made and used to design a custom socket.
Your residual limb fits snugly in the socket which is attached to the
other components that make up your prosthesis. There are also a variety
of skin-like coverings that can be used to resemble your other limb as
closely as possible.
Q: HOW DO I LEARN TO USE MY PROSTHESIS?
During the initial fittings, your prosthetist guides you
through the basic principles of using your prosthesis, fine-tuning the
fit and alignment as needed. For lower limb amputees, more extensive
training (walking on different terrains, climbing stairs, getting in and
out of a car) is provided by a physical therapist. If you have an upper
limb prosthesis, an occupational therapist helps you perform daily
living activities such as grooming, eating and handling various objects.
Q: HOW MUCH WILL MY PROSTHESIS COST?
Your prosthesis is custom-designed to meet your specific needs
using advanced and expensive materials and components. Insurance
coverage varies widely, but most private insurance plans and Medicare
pays large portion of the charges.
Q: HOW LONG WILL MY FIRST PROSTHESIS LAST?
Your first prosthesis is usually worn for about three to six
months. During this time, your residual limb continues to shrink and
becomes less sensitive. Your prosthetist also makes many adjustments,
and prosthetic socks may be added to help the socket fit properly as
your limb shrinks. You learn to walk and balance on your new prosthesis,
which helps shrink the residual limb faster. If you've lost an arm,
your first prosthesis allows you to pick up objects and regain daily
Q: WHEN WILL I BE READY FOR MY DEFINITIVE PROSTHESIS?
As soon as your residual limb is healed and the size and shape
have stabilized, you are ready for a more complex "definitive"
prosthesis. Your definitive prosthesis can last for many years
especially if you take proper care of it and have it periodically
"checked and serviced" by your prosthetist. Also, it is very important
that you maintain your weight. Even a ten-pound weight gain or loss
could affect the prosthetic fitting, which requires adjustments or a new
You will probably have many questions before and
after your amputation. We encourage you to talk to your physician,
therapist, and prosthetist, and discuss your concerns and receive
answers to your questions.