Tips and Tricks for Limb Care Post Amputation
Whether you have had an upper or lower extremity amputation, proper care and hygiene of a residual limb are essential to your health and mobility. Following your amputation, your doctor’s goal will be to quickly heal the wound and to prepare your residual limb for the possibility of a future prosthesis. As you work to strengthen, stretch, and reduce pain in your residual limb, there are a few things you can do as a patient to ensure a speedy and holistic recovery.
Positioning is Key
If you had a transtibial (below-knee) amputation, it is best to not sit or sleep with a pillow under your knee. Although comfortable, it may reduce blood flow to the residual limb and cause a contracture (shortening of a muscle or joint) leading you to be unable to straighten the knee. Similarly, If you had a transfemoral (above-knee) amputation, it is also best not to sleep with your limb resting on a pillow, as this promotes a hip flexion contracture (inability to completely straighten your hip). As a new amputee, try to reduce the amount of time you have your limb hanging or dangling as this will increase swelling. Further, try to avoid crossing your legs, as this will hinder blood flow and may lead to complications.
Keep it Clean
In addition to providing maximum blood circulation to your stump, keeping your limb clean is the best way to assist the healing process. Use a mild soap with warm water to gently wash the amputation site and pat it dry with a soft towel. Be patient and allow it to dry completely otherwise you will be at risk for fungal growth that could lead to an infection or abrasion.
Inspect your Limb
Make it a part of your daily routine to thoroughly check your limb. Twice a day, inspect for skin breakdown using a small handheld mirror to look at any sections of your amputation that you cannot easily see otherwise. During the inspection, there are a couple of things to look out for:
- Notice the color: A sign of possible infection could come from the color of your wound. If it has red marks or is darker than the skin surrounding it then consult your clinician.
- Notice the smell: Your wound should never omit a foul odor. If you start noticing a bad smell, contact your healthcare personnel for assistance.
- Notice the temperature: Amputation sites should not be hotter than the surrounding skin. If you do feel excessive heat, the site may be infected.
- Notice the appearance: Edema (swelling) is normal after your amputation, but be mindful of how much your wound swells. Report any unusual and persistent swelling to your doctor.
- If the skin is extremely dry and at risk of cracking, you can use a softening cream on a temporary basis and only if cleared by your doctor.
- Do not use alcohol or unknown chemicals/ creams on your limb as it can dry out your skin.
- If the skin of your limb opens, go straight to your doctor and prosthetist.
- Be very careful if you expose your residual limb to the sun. Use sunscreen SPF 30 or better.
- Do not shave your limb; the resulting short hairs get pushed back into your skin, resulting in ingrown hairs that can become infected.
Always consult with your team on how to best take care of your residual limb and keep that communication line open. Although it may seem tedious, all of these steps can help ensure a healthy limb and a healthy recovery. It will take time but you have a team of supportive people – professionals, family and friends – that will continue to help you set and reach new goals in your rehabilitation.