Adjusting to Life with an Artificial Limb - and Thriving
As you go through this journey, these steps will enable you to adjust in a healthy, positive way:
1. Learn As Much As You Can. Knowledge is power.
It empowers you to plan and prepare for life with an artificial limb. Knowing what to expect clears away confusion and can help you anticipate areas in which you may have challenges.
For example, what will your artificial limb look like? Each device is different - because you are different - and a device will be custom-fit for you depending on your type of amputation/loss of limb and your activity level. From purely functional to those made to mimic a limb, there are a lot of options today. Knowing what you want, and what will work best for you, is important.
You will also want to know if you’ll need to use other mobility devices (e.g. crutches or a wheelchair), if your insurance will cover all or part of the cost, how long your prosthesis will last, how to take care of it, when you can return to activities you previously engaged in, etc. Talk to your medical team and your orthopedic appliance company to ensure that all of your questions are answered.
2. Build Up Your Muscles.
Ask your doctor or physical therapist about exercises to build up the muscles that will help with balance, coordination, and mobility. With proper body positioning and strengthening, you can build muscle tone and prevent stiffness and constriction in the connective tissues of your body.
You will also need to take care of the residual limb to maintain the proper shape and to ensure an optimal - and comfortable - fit for your artificial limb.
3. Work on Your Emotional and Mental Strength.
You are undertaking a physical journey, to be sure, but your emotions play a central role in your results. Maintaining mental health is as essential as taking care of your physical health. Feel what you’re feeling, and if you need help, speak to a counselor. There is no greater show of strength than seeking assistance when needed. You do not have to go through this alone.
While an artificial limb is a great step forward, literally and figuratively, it is also an adjustment. Remember to give yourself time to work through this mentally.
4. Set Realistic Goals.
There is no reason that you cannot achieve your dreams and live a terrific, exciting life. That said, adjusting to an artificial limb does take time. For example, if you are using a leg prosthetic, you will need to re-learn how to walk. A wonderful goal is to run a 5k, 10k, marathon. But not on your first day, week, or month.
Talk to your team and set realistic goals. You will get where you want to go, but you often have to put in some time learning, practicing, and, yes, stumbling and picking yourself back up before you cross that finish line. You can get there but you have to start at the beginning and work your way to more advanced exercises.
5. Speak to Others Who Use a Prosthetic Device.
While people can sympathize, empathize, encourage, and support you while you’re adjusting to life with an artificial limb, do they really know what you’re going through? Perhaps not. This is why it is so important to talk to others who are dealing with the same situation. Support groups, online chat forums, and other peer networks can help you connect with others who understand the physical and emotional side of limb loss.
An artificial limb may be the key to helping you live the life you want and achieve your most deeply held goals. Taking the time to adjust is important. Take advantage of all the knowledge and support you have in your network (friends, family, doctors, counselors, etc.) and take it one step at a time.