How do you walk with a prosthetic leg? If you or a loved one has recently had an amputation, you might wonder can you walk normally with a prosthetic leg. Walking with a prosthetic leg looks different for every patient and depends on whether you are an above-knee or below-knee amputee. Know that our team at Prime Care Orthotics & Prosthetics is here to help every step of the way.
Learning to Walk with Above-Knee vs Below-Knee Prosthetic Legs
Walking on a prosthetic leg for the first time will undoubtedly come with a learning curve, but it is completely possible. The road to mobility looks different whether you’ve had an above-knee or below-knee amputation. How to walk with a below-the-knee prosthetic is a different experience as the amputation leaves the knee joint intact. This provides more stability and isn’t as difficult for the amputee. As you walk, your body is able to bear your body weight.
How to walk with an above-knee prosthetic is a different experience because the knee joint is removed entirely. In this case, the prosthetic leg also requires a knee joint. The knee joint helps the patient to feel like there is stability and allows them to put weight on it, although this is more difficult and can result in falling if you are not careful. You can expect to use devices such as a walker while you are learning to regain mobility and confidence.
Tips for Learning to Use a Leg Prosthesis
Prosthetic leg training doesn’t come without its challenges, but learning to walk with a prosthetic leg is completely possible! Here are some tips to keep in mind.
Proper Fit and Maintenance
One of the most important parts of how to walk with a prosthetic leg is making sure that the design and fit between the residual limb and the prosthesis are factored in for proper comfort and control. The more securely that your prosthetic fits, the more effectively you’ll be able to control your movement. Everyone has different levels of amputation, so make sure to work with a hands-on team who can prioritize the fit and comfort of your prosthetic.
Maintenance is another important part of how to walk with a prosthetic leg. You’ll need to regularly keep up with cleaning the socket area so you don’t cause any skin irritation. Consult with your team regarding specific maintenance routines.
As soon as the socket is fit properly and you feel comfortable, you’ll want to learn how to transfer weight onto your prosthesis. The first time walking with prosthetic devices should only come after you have used the support of parallel bars. As we naturally shift the weight of our bodies when we walk, it’s essential to master how to walk safely again before going straight into walking. It’s common for most people to feel hesitant about putting their full weight onto a prosthesis at first, but with careful guidance from your physical therapist, you’ll be able to put more weight onto your prosthetic leg(s).
When you begin to learn how to walk using the parallel bars, you’ll use both arms for support. Over time and as you become more comfortable, you will rely less and less on the parallel bars and feel comfortable walking with minimal support from your upper body. The process is different for everyone and it often takes more time for individuals who have had above-knee or bilateral amputations.
Focus on Balance
Walking with a prosthetic foot requires balance, and this is an essential part of learning how to walk with a prosthetic device. There are countless joints and muscles throughout the leg, ankle, feet, and toes to help balance the rest of your body, so other areas of your body will have to account for the absence of these mechanisms. Make sure to pay attention to the areas that are taking on new roles in keeping your balance as it will initially take a conscious effort to exercise these muscles. Over time, it will become second nature.
How long does it take to learn to walk with a prosthesis? As soon as you become fit for an artificial leg, you’ll feel a sense of empowerment and excitement that you might have been missing. Although it is tempting to rush into the walking process, it’s essential that you approach it slowly to become accustomed to this new way of walking. The first thing you’ll want to focus on is standing still so your body can find a new center of balance. There’s unconscious stability that’s required in walking that your body will need to achieve before you walk. When it’s time to start walking, focus on one step at a time until your comfort level increases.
Even after you’ve started to gain more confidence while walking with your prosthetic leg, you must continue to learn and implement new exercises into your routine. While you take on new skills, make sure that you are holding onto something for support until you feel confident with each new exercise.
Here are some options that you can try:
- Bouncing on a ball standing in place followed by walking;
- Balancing on one leg;
- Balancing a stick on your hand while standing in place.
Once you’ve mastered the above, you can experiment with more practical exercises that can be implemented on a daily basis:
- Walking on different surfaces including uneven terrain, carpet, and pavement;
- Getting in and out of a car;
- Falling down and getting back up;
- Carrying items while you’re walking.
Don’t be discouraged by slow progress and it’s only natural to feel sore as you adapt to your prosthesis.
Tips for Walking
As soon as you’re ready to start walking on your own, you’ll want to closely follow the recommendations of your doctor. Don’t rush into walking on your own and pay close attention to the width of your foot placement and the length of your step.
Here are some other tips to keep in mind when you first start walking:
- Walk often but only for short periods as it will take some time for your stamina and strength to return;
- As soon as you feel tired, take a break and rest - walking when you feel tired could result in an accident;
- Continue to use your aids such as crutches, a cane, or a walker until you are fully confident. If you stop using those too soon, you could develop poor walking habits;
- When you are going up the stairs or on a sloped surface, move your good leg first, however, when you are coming down the stairs, move your prosthesis first. Any aids such as canes or crutches should move with the prosthesis.
Although it can be a long and slow process, learning to walk with a prosthesis is possible! Our PrimeCare team proudly serves the Las Cruces, New Mexico community and is happy to assist you in every step of the process. If you’re interested in learning more about how we can help, don’t hesitate to contact us today.