Why might someone need a prosthetic?
For some people, a prosthetic limb can provide mobility that's somewhat comparable to what they would have with their arm or leg.
Oklahoma has one of the highest rates in the U.S. for diabetes-related amputation. People with diabetes can suffer from problems with circulation that can lead to the amputation of part of their leg. Other reasons that might cause a person to lose a limb include traumatic injuries, such as being in a car accident or in military combat. Cancer and birth defects are other reasons a person might have a limb amputated.
What happens when you're fitted?
After your surgery, you likely will have to wait until the swelling in your limb goes down before you can be fitted for a temporary prosthetic. This usually happens once your bandages are removed and the wound is healed. After about six weeks, you will begin the fitting process.
The first prosthetic you receive will be temporary. You'll receive a permanent prosthetic months after your surgery, once your residual limb has taken a more final shape. Even though most of the swelling from your surgery goes down after about six months, about 20 percent of swelling takes a few years to work itself out.
During the temporary prosthetic fitting, you will meet with a prosthetics specialist and discuss what type of prosthetic is best for you. The specialist will want to know what types of activities you do on a day-to-day basis. For example, if you work outdoors, your needs would be different from someone who has a desk job. The goal of the prosthetic specialist will be to help you find a prosthetic that is most functional for you.
The prosthetics specialist likely will make a cast of your residual arm or leg. The specialist will use the cast to make a temporary socket for your arm or leg. That is how your residual limb connects to the prosthetic limb.
You will have a strap or harness that attaches to your prosthetic that allows you to use body movement to move the prosthetic. The specialist will make adjustments to these straps to ensure that you can move without having to make movements that are painful or too difficult.
If this is your first fitting, you will wear the temporary socket for a few months. Otherwise, you will wear the temporary prosthetic up to a few weeks.
Does it hurt?
Some people who have had a limb amputated suffer from phantom pain. It's a pain you could feel from the area of your body that's no longer there. Medical experts say these sensations originate in the spinal cord and brain. The amount of phantom pain felt varies person to person.
Also, if your socket is fit wrong, you could feel pain, especially if it's too tight and restricting blood flow.
Some patients develop neuromas in places where a nerve was cut during amputation. Neuromas are little balls of nerves that can be quite painful when touched. The pain can be similar to the sudden pain felt when a dentist hits a cavity.
What's the recovery time?
It could take anywhere from a few months to several months to feel comfortable functioning with your prosthetic. Before, during and after you're fitted, you likely will see an occupational or physical therapist to help you adjust to using your prosthetic limb. The amount of time it will take you to get used to your prosthetic partially will depend on which limb you lost and how much of it was amputated. Also, it will depend on how comfortable your prosthetic fit is and also your attitude and the support around you.
People who lose a part of their body might suffer from grief and depression. Most insurance providers cover counseling sessions, and there are also counseling clinics for people who are underinsured and uninsured.
What's the follow-up?
You might need a new socket sooner than you need a new prosthetic. During the first few years, your residual limb likely will undergo various changes. Depending on your age, body changes and activity level, your prosthesis can lasts several months to several years.
Sources: Chuck Anderson, an upper limb specialist at Hanger Clinic; Hanger Clinic; Capt. Jon White, 40 Commando British Royal Marine; MedLinePlus; The Mayo Clinic; The Amputee Coalition.