A below-the-knee amputation, where the lower portion of the leg is removed, may be performed because of disease or severe injury that eliminates the function of your lower leg. Rehabilitation following such an amputation is a long process that requires a great deal of strength and dedication. In addition to addressing physical issues, rehabilitation help a patient overcome the stress and emotional hardship caused by an amputation.
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Taking proper care of yourself following amputation surgery is the first step in your rehabilitation process. Proper care can help reduce swelling and prevent infection from occurring at the site of your incision. A below-the-knee amputation requires several layers of stitches to hold your incision together, which means that you cannot bathe, swim or otherwise submerge the stitches in water until indicated by your doctor. You may shower quickly. Clean any dried blood or drainage from your incision site using soap and water, then gently pat the incision dry using a towel. Do not cover the incision, apply any lotions or creams to the area or get your incision dirty.
Activity at Home
Move around as much as possible immediately following your surgery. If you do not know how to use crutches or a walker, a physical therapist can teach you prior to leaving the hospital. Avoid sitting with your legs crossed and refrain from placing pillows underneath your stump. This may reduce discomfort but it can lead to muscle shrinkage in the rest of your leg.
Recovery and Prosthetics
Recovery from a below-the-knee amputation generally requires a few months. As part of your recovery, you may choose to learn to walk with a prosthetic leg. For a below-the-knee amputation, you may opt for a trans-femoral prosthetic, which is used for general walking. It includes a socket placed at the knee and a prosthetic shin and foot. More advanced devices -- called C-legs -- allow amputees to run, cycle and participate in sports. Made with hydraulics, these prosthetic legs are lightweight and easy to maneuver in. Your age, current fitness level, other medical conditions, the complexity of your amputation, your progress in physical therapy and the level of activity you want to reach with a prosthetic leg all influence the length of your recovery.
Physical therapy before you receive an artificial limb focuses on strengthening your lower body to ensure that you will be strong enough to use one. Functional exercises will enable you to balance and perform your daily activities. A physical therapist will help you strengthen your knee and hamstrings on your residual limb, as well as increase the strength of your opposite leg and upper body -- which is important for the use of crutches and walkers. Exercises may include pushups, situps, balancing and hopping exercises.
The loss of a limb is a life-changing event, physically and emotionally. Amputees may feel depressed, concerned and anxious about the quality of their life. Amputees may also experience phantom pains -- which are pains that occur where a limb used to be. Psychological counseling can be beneficial for patients recovering from an amputation.
Once your incision has healed and your doctor and physical therapist feel you are ready, you will be fitted with an artificial limb. Rehabilitation will help you learn to walk and carry out functional tasks while wearing your artificial limb. You will learn how to care for your artificial limb and how to properly wear your artificial limb. You will also work with a physical therapist on balance or coordination. If you want to learn to run or play sports while wearing an artificial limb, you will undergo more intense, sports-specific physical therapy and training.