At the time you are fitted for your prosthetic leg, it may be difficult to imagine what you will be able to do with this device. In reality, after a successful fitting and training period, many people find themselves taking trips downstairs and hiking long distances without pain or difficulty.
Now that you have prosthesis, how do you actually walk with it? Walking on a prosthesis is more difficult than without one. It’s hard to remember to pick up your foot and take a step. Even if your leg had been amputated below the knee, you’ll need help at first from crutches or another person who can hold onto you for balance.
You may be surprised to learn that most people spend months learning how—and most importantly, practicing—how to use their prosthetic legs before leaving the hospital or rehabilitation center. A physical therapist will teach you what exercises to do and how often in order to strengthen your muscles quickly and safely. Most physicians recommend that you be seen by a physical therapist at least twice a week for four to six months after learning how to walk.
As you practice and learn how to use your new leg, you will become stronger and more confident in what it can do for you. While learning how to walk may seem frustrating at first, most people are surprised at the difference they feel within themselves after just a few weeks of using their prosthesis on a daily basis.
“I felt like I was stronger immediately,” reports one man who had his leg amputated below the knee because of cancer. He says he “walked right out of the hospital holding onto my wife’s arm.
Most people can learn how to use a prosthetic leg within five months after the surgery. This is only an average, however; some may take longer than that. You’ll get faster and more confident with practice. If you feel discouraged, don’t stop practicing—you will get better!
“I learned how to walk on it in about three weeks,” says another man who had his leg amputated above the knee because of cancer. “After I came home from the hospital, I did exercises for almost four hours every day until my wife said she wouldn’t let me do anything else!” For him, the hard work paid off. After he had practiced for about three months, he was able to walk down the street without crutches or any help.
Many people say that learning how to walk with a prosthesis is harder than learning how to do it without one. They say they fell on the ground dozens of times before mastering it. “It took me almost two months to really feel good walking on my leg,” says one man who lost his leg below the knee in an industrial accident. “But now I can’t believe what I could do with it! It feels like part of me.”
Ensure a Proper Fit
The most important part of any prosthetic leg is the design and fit of the socket. A secure, comfortable fit between the residual limb and prosthesis is important for proper control and comfort. Your Alcam “Prosthetic Doctor” aka Prosthetist will your prosthetic fits properly.
Proper maintenance of your prosthesis should also be done for maximum comfort. This means regularly cleaning the socket area to prevent any skin irritation. Discuss the specific cleaning process with your clinician during the fitting of your prosthesis. We recommend you see your prosthetist at least twice a year.
Starting on Parallel Bars
Once your socket is properly fit and comfortable, you’ll need to learn how to transfer some of your weight onto the prosthesis. We naturally shift the weight of our bodies when we walk, and proper weight transfer is vital to mastering walking again. Most people have trouble feeling secure enough to put their full weight on the prosthesis, making this the most difficult transition. With proper instruction from your physical therapist and lots of practice, you will begin to trust that you can safely put more weight onto the prosthetic leg, and over time, your confidence will improve.
You’ll begin between two parallel bars and use both arms for support. Over time, you will be able to walk with only one arm on the parallel bar when walking. Finally, you should be able to walk comfortably with little or no support from your upper body. If your amputation is very high at the hip level or above the knee, learning how to walk with an artificial knee joint will be an additional challenge. If you have amputations involving both legs, the process of learning to walk can take a little longer as you will have to adapt to using two prosthetic legs. Just remember to take it slow at first, and practice frequently for short periods of time.
Tips for Walking
When you start walking on your own, it’s important to use any aides your therapist or doctors recommend. You don’t want to rush the process and injure yourself.
Once you are walking in everyday situations, you will again need to take it slow and become comfortable with being in new surroundings. You will encounter a lot of situations that may be challenging at first such as, stairs, curbs, hills and uneven surfaces. Depending on the amputation level and the type of prosthesis, your therapist will guide you on the most efficient way to navigate through these daily life situations.
You should also pay attention to the width of your foot placement and step length when you’re starting out. The width should be about two to four inches heel to heel. Any wider will make you more stable but requires more energy. For step length, heel to toe is a safe starting point. You’ll gradually increase this as you become more comfortable and confident.
When you wear the prosthesis, you’ll need some type of aid until your leg has built up enough muscle strength. Alcam Prosthetist recommends using a cane first before moving on to crutches or a walker. If you had an above-knee amputation, this may require some additional balance training as well before using two canes or crutches for support, but it is more likely that your therapist will introduce these devices early on in your recovery process.
Balance is an important factor when walking with any prosthesis. The key lies in keeping the center of gravity directly over the foot itself, rather than throwing it forward or backward while walking. When you first receive your new prosthetic leg, there is a lot of learning and adjusting to do. You will need to find the best way to walk with your new leg and learn how to use it for the activities you enjoy. With time and practice, you will be able to walk comfortably and confidently on your new prosthetic leg. Here are some tips to help you get started.
Once you’re comfortable walking again, you’ll need to continue developing your skills. Make sure you start by using something to hold onto for support until you are confident with each of these exercises. You can try:
Bouncing a ball standing in place and then walking
Balancing on one leg
Balancing a tall stick on your hand
Later, you’ll want to experiment with more practical exercises. You’ll want to practice:
Walking on different surfaces such as carpet, pavement, and uneven terrain
Falling down and getting up
Getting in and out of a car
Carrying items while walking
Remember, while progress may be slow, don’t get discouraged. It is only natural to have some muscle soreness when you begin using the prosthesis since your body will be adapting to a new way of walking. That is why it is best to start slow and monitor the skin of your residual limb as it will take time for your body to use a prosthetic leg for extended periods of time. As you are learning to walk, if you experience any pain or serious discomfort, always consult your clinician.
Watch for signs of poor fit
Proper fit of your prosthesis is key to its comfort and good function. Watch for signs that your prosthesis needs adjusting. Contact your Alcam Prosthetist if you notice:
Your prosthesis feels heavy or hard to move. This may mean it’s too loose.
Blisters or open sores on your residual limb. The prosthesis may be too loose or too tight in certain places. If this happens, stop wearing the prosthesis until you see the prosthetist. You may also need to see your healthcare provider treat wounds or skin problems.
Your residual limb moves up and down within the socket as you walk. Called pistoning, this means your prosthesis is too loose. Your limb should fit snugly into the socket of the prosthesis.
Alcam Medical Orthotics and Prosthetics is committed to helping you regain your mobility. You may be able to tell that your prosthesis is not fitting well by the way it feels too tight or too loose, but there are some other signs you can look for as well. If any of these apply to you, schedule an appointment with one of our practitioners today!