Losing a leg is a very emotional and life changing experience. It is only natural to be anxious to start the process of being fit with a prosthetic leg and begin the process of learning how to walk again. However, it’s important to remember that learning to walk with your new prosthesis is a new skill that will take some time to become comfortable with. After you are fit with your prosthesis, your doctor may refer you to a physical therapist that specializes in prosthesis gait training. The process requires time, patience and a good attitude. It can take several months to regain the strength, flexibility and confidence to be comfortable with using a prosthesis in your daily life.
The prosthetic leg is designed for your specific level of amputation. These include amputations at the hip, above the knee, knee disarticulation, below the knee, symes or through the ankle and partial foot amputations. In order to have success with using a prosthesis, it is very important to have a comfortable fitting socket and gait training by a physical therapist.
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.
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 you’re 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 master walking again. Most people have trouble feeling secure enough to put their full weight on their 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 aid 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.
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. It will take time for your body to become accustomed to using 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.