Rehabilitation After a Lower Extremity Amputation

There are currently about two million people in the United States living with limb loss. Every year, 185,000 people undergo an amputation, with below-the-knee amputations most common. With that number expected to double over the next few decades, the need for rehabilitation after a lower extremity amputation is likely to grow.

Why are amputations becoming more frequent?

There are several factors contributing to the increased frequency of amputations. One of which is the result of medical advances. Such advances in surgical amputation have saved the lives of many patients with life-threatening infections, such as sepsis.

However, the most serious factor involves diabetes. Foot ulcers precede about 85% of lower extremity amputations. This wound on the foot starts a cascade of events leading to an amputation. This occurs most commonly in diabetics. Statistics paint a sobering picture, with amputations caused by diabetes increasing 25% from 1988 to 2009. That number isn’t expected to decrease, either.

How does rehabilitation help after an amputation?


If you or a loved one are facing a lower extremity amputation, your physician might recommend rehabilitation. Inpatient rehabilitation hospitals are uniquely positioned for recovery from a lower limb amputation. As a new amputee, there are two key goals to focus on in rehabilitation.

The first is to regain function. This includes the ability to manage your own daily self-care without the benefit of both of your lower extremities. This can be very difficult for a new amputee. Inpatient rehabilitation provides techniques and interventions to help you become successful and independent. The second is to prepare your body, including the amputated lower limb, for use of a prosthesis.

This process takes time and specialized care. In a rehab hospital, you will be seen by a physician and participate in three hours of therapy each day. Your physical and occupational therapists will work on addressing your unique needs for returning to your home and community. Medication management, pain control and healing of the incision are all priorities for your interdisciplinary care team.

During your stay, objective information is obtained and documented. This information goes with you for consultation with a prosthetist. The prosthetist can use this information to help make the right decision on your individual prosthetic limb. This level of communication is important to ensure you get a prosthetic limb suited for your individual case, and to help you transition to a productive life following your amputation.

Kevin Nicholson, PT is the Director of Therapy Services at Vibra Rehabilitation Hospital of Amarillo. He is passionate about stepping out of the normal “therapy box” to help patients improve and return home. He has also worked as a PT assistant prior to becoming a PT, and has a combined 31 years of experience in the field of physical therapy. In his off time he enjoys watching professional basketball and mixed martial arts, and he enjoys barbell training.