Above Elbow Amputation Rehabilitation

Rehabilitation for an above elbow amputation will start 48 hours post-operation.  A physiotherapist will teach a gentle range of movement exercises to promote the healing process. It is vital to start moving the amputated limb as soon as possible after the operation as this will improve the outcome of function with a prosthesis. The physiotherapist will try to re-train the muscles to carry out normal functions aiming to achieve the goals set using the prosthesis. Success will often depend on adherence to physiotherapy.

An above elbow prosthesis is designed to carry out the function of a missing arm. The prosthesis can vary from a functional arm to a cosmetically appealing arm depending on patient choice. The multi-disciplinary team is made up of a variety of healthcare professionals including doctors, nurses, prosthesis, physiotherapists, and occupational therapists. Your rehabilitation may be carried out by either a physiotherapist or an occupational therapist.

The physiotherapist plays a key role in the rehabilitation of an amputee. Rehabilitation will either be carried out by an occupational therapist or a specialist hand physiotherapist. Rehabilitation with a prosthesis will start when the stump has healed sufficiently, with the duration varying amongst individuals. The swelling around the stump will need to be minimal to fit inside the prosthesis and to prevent the breakdown of the wound site. Normally you receive your prosthesis 8 weeks post-operation which should be sufficient time to allow the stump to heal.

The physiotherapist will:

  • Teach donning (putting on) and doffing (taking off) the prosthesis.
  • Build up muscle strength and power.
  • Teach coordination skills that will assist with activities of daily living such as dressing and washing etc.
  • Try to address any obstacles that may prevent a return to work and previous hobbies.
  • Teach new skills enabling particular tasks to be completed using one hand or they will modify activities making the best use of the prosthesis.
  • Progress learned skills with the prosthesis and also performing vocational tasks aiming to return to previous employment if realistic.
  • Teach exercises to stretch the muscles around the shoulder and elbow joint as it can take up to 6 weeks for physiological changes to occur.
  • Progress strengthening exercises, aiming to optimize function with the prosthesis.
  • Continue to build up overall body strength and fitness levels to minimize the effects of the missing limb.

Oftentimes these therapies are combined with counseling to maintain the patient’s mental health while processing the amputation and rehabilitation journey. Not only is the patient retraining their body but they are also working to cope with this new lifelong change that can affect every aspect of their life.

Learn more about what to expect in rehabilitation here.

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