Almost two million people in the United States have suffered from losing a limb, and that number is expected to double by 2050. Although 45% of amputations are due to traumatic injuries, remarkably 54% are due to vascular disease from diabetes. Certainly the removal of a limb can create significant challenges to living a fulfilling life, but with modern treatments and training, the impact can be minimized.
Limb loss / Amputation:
- Back Pain
- Phantom limb/Phantom limb pain
- Balance, movement, and gait training
Back pain is the number one symptom experienced by patients with lower extremity amputation. In fact, 25% of those with lower extremity amputations experience severe lower back pain. A significant component of recovery is improving mobility by strengthening basic body mechanics. This includes decreasing response time to falls, utilizing core muscles to take the burden off other limbs, and ensuring flexibility for specific motions. Much of this involves retraining the brain. Amputation that is a result of diabetes or another disease may involve complications that are unrelated to the extremity removal. These additional issues can impact recovery time. Each patient’s path will be unique.
Phantom Limb Pain
Most people with limb loss have the feeling that their limb is still there. This sensation, known as a phantom limb, is often painful. Sensations reported include burning, crushing, or shooting pains, pins and needles, and electric shock. Other feelings described involve vibration, movement, temperature, and itching. It appears that areas of the brain, spinal cord, and sensory nerves re-map, and signals are mixed up after limb loss, like tangled wires. Treatment of phantom limb pain is directed toward enhancing the neuroplastic ability of the brain to adapt and reorganize its perception of the lost limb.
Balance, Movement, and Gait Training
How does a patient walk normally again after amputation of a leg? After being fit with a prosthesis, the body must adapt by regaining balance and learning new movement patterns, while the brain must re-map its wiring to accomplish this task. The body must also build the appropriate muscle and support. Gait training is an important part of recovery for the patient with limb loss. Since the gait may alter with time and with the introduction of new prosthetics, it is wise for amputees to periodically return for reevaluation of their gait and balance. In fact, amputee boot camps are a good option for those who would like to periodically reestablish a baseline of proper gait and balance.