Musculoskeletal Rehab

Going forward after limb loss

Are you working through having lost a limb? Learning more about what you might experience may offer support. 

Dr. Amanda Mayo is a physiatrist who specializes in amputee care at St. John’s Rehab. Todd Domingo is an active amputee and a certified peer visitor who offers support to other amputees. Both share insights to help you along your journey.

A life-changing event

Says Dr. Mayo, “It is important to recognize limb loss is a life-changing event. Limb loss affects how you move and many aspects of your life. It is common to go through a period of grieving after loss of a limb, and you may have a period of developing a new self image. Having a good support network of friends, family, and/or healthcare providers can help with these transitions.”

Says Todd, “When it comes to body image, keep reminding yourself that value is about who you are and what you can do – and less about physical appearance. Though it takes a lot emotionally the goal is to try to get to a point where you can say, let me make something better of this. People will always stare: it is human nature. Use it as a positive teachable moment.”

Last year Todd had to have a left below knee amputation. “Losing a limb is similar to losing loved one – believe it or not,” he says. “Everyone experiences the process of dealing with limb loss differently.”

Recovery takes time

Dr. Mayo: It is a long process to recover from amputation. Be patient with yourself. It takes time to regain your strength, emotional recovery and for the residual limb to heal.

Patients have to wait at least 4-6 weeks after amputation before being measured for their first prosthetic device by a prosthetist.

Be open to new experiences

Todd: Over time it is then good to get to know the things you can do and to remain open to new experiences. I found it helped to accept that my prosthesis was not replacing my limb. It’s a ‘tool’ to help me do things.

Don’t be discouraged

Todd:  During fittings and adjustments, try to stay positive and get to know the differences between pain, soreness, discomfort and pressure. Acknowledge and address the discomfort and find a way to trust that your device will support you.

Seek support about the financial aspects of a potential device

Dr. Mayo: Patients also often face financial stressors at this time. Talking with members of your medical team – the social worker, the physiotherapist, the occupational therapist – can help you learn more about potential device options and how to navigate assistive devices funding.

Todd: Find out what your options are, and aim for a device that can help match the activities you want to do.

Become adaptive and active

Todd: Learn what being adaptive means. Ask yourself, how am I going to do this? in a strategic way to safely do it.  For example, instead of asking, how am I going to get in my car with my leg prosthesis on since it is low to the ground? Start by thinking how you can physically get into your car. Whether that is by holding on to the car as you sit down and swinging your legs over, it is all about taking that first step. You’ll soon figure out that adapting simply means doing things in a different way, but still getting to the end goal. 

Todd: Be active and involved. Be aware of the community of amputees around you. Advocate for yourself and have good, regular exchanges with your medical team.

About the author

Natalie Chung-Sayers

Natalie Chung-Sayers is Sunnybrook's Communications Advisor for the Holland Bone and Joint Program and the St. John's Rehab Program.

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