A prosthetic limb can provide you with invaluable mobility and function, but there is also the potential for problems. A poorly-cared for prosthetic will have a shortened lifespan and may contribute to medical issues with your residual limb.
Liners and Interfaces
Many amputees and prosthetic-wearers, particularly new amputees, have questions about how to care for their prosthetic leg or arm. One of the key points to remember is that care of liners and interfaces is crucial. These are flexible materials, usually silicone or a type of polymer, that go between your skin and your prosthetic and protect your skin from abrasion and irritation from your prosthetic. Liners also help your prosthetic to fit properly and help to ensure comfort.
Unfortunately, sweat tends to accumulate inside prosthetics for amputees, especially when you are playing sports or are otherwise active. This dampness makes liners a haven for bacteria— bacteria that can lead to skin inflammation or infections. To avoid these potentially serious issues:
- Wash your liners every day as instructed by the manufacturer.
- Avoid using alcohol wipes on your liner unless your prosthetist instructs you otherwise.
- Always carry extra liners and socks, especially when exercising, so that you can change out of sweaty materials when needed.
- Do not attempt to adjust your prosthetic or liner on your own. Instead, consult with your prosthetist.
Residual limb skin care is just as crucial as prosthetic care. Neglect of your skin can result in painful ulcers and serious infections.
Wash your limb at least once a day with mild soap and warm water. Pat it dry, and make certain it is completely dry before putting on your prosthetic. Otherwise, you could be encouraging fungal growth. You can wash more than once a day, but do not scrub too vigorously or use harsh soaps. Using a mild soap and gentle washing will aid in avoiding skin breakdown.
Skin breakdown can lead to possibly life-threatening infections, so it is vital that you check to make certain your skin is intact at least twice a day. Just before you put on your prosthetic and when you remove it for the day are good times for skin self-examination. If you see any signs of persistent redness, ulceration, tears, or scrapes, notify your doctor and prosthetist immediately.
Skin breakdown is especially dangerous for diabetics as high blood sugar may weaken your immune system and decrease crucial blood flow to the lower limbs, making you markedly susceptible to infection. To help mitigate this risk, work with your doctor to maintain control of your blood sugar, keep your residual limb clean, and report any compromise of skin integrity to your doctor right away.
Also, pay close attention to these other useful tips:
- Avoid shaving your residual limb near the amputation site to prevent ingrown hairs. An ingrown hair may become infected, and the infection can spread. If you do notice an ingrown hair, refrain from popping it or picking at it. Instead, notify your doctor.
- Forgo using any lotions, creams, or powders on your limb without first consulting with your physician as some of these products may irritate your skin or cause inflammation. Moisturizing lotions and ointments designed for amputees are available. If you have problems with dry skin, ask your doctor to recommend one of these products.
- Since your prosthetic covers a portion of your residual limb, the skin in this area may be particularly sensitive to the sun. Be aware of this fact, and always use sunscreen that your physician has approved when outside. You should also remember that using sunscreen on any exposed area of your body is a good practice whenever you are outdoors.
- If your limb has limited sensation, be especially careful of hot water. You can avoid scalds by testing the water temperature with your fingertips before submerging your residual limb. It is also an excellent idea to install a temperature regulator in your bath or shower. Take your limb out of the hot water immediately if your skin begins to turn pink or red. Apply cool, running water for at least 20 minutes and follow up with your doctor. Seek immediate medical attention if you notice any blistering.
For other questions or solutions to any problems you may encounter, see your prosthetist at Horton’s Orthotics and Prosthetics. You can easily make an appointment for a consultation, fitting, or adjustment by calling (501) 683-8889.