Those with leg amputations can turn to prosthetic legs, or prostheses, to get around more easily and improve their quality of life. A prosthetic is designed to mimic the function (and oftentimes, the appearance) of a real leg. Despite the positives associated with this type of prosthetic, there are also above-the-knee prosthetic problems to factor in. Let’s first delve into the types of above-the-knee prosthetics that are available today.
Above-the-Knee Prosthetic Types
You’re likely wondering “what kind of prosthetic leg do I need for an amputee above the knee?” There are different types of above-the-knee prosthetics to consider, and PrimeCare Orthotics & Prosthetics team work with the following technologies:
- C-Leg, Genium, X3 knees, Power/Rheo knees
- Propio Foot
- I-digits Quantum
- Be-Bionic Hand
Your doctor will work with you on choosing the best type of prosthetic for your individual needs.
What Type of Prosthesis Replaces the Leg Above the Knee?
Those who need an above-knee prosthesis (also referred to as a transfemoral prosthesis) usually consist of a custom-made socket, a knee, a pylon, afoot, and some way to suspend the prosthesis from the body. It’s common for patients to be fitted for a prosthetic within a few days of surgery.
Immediately following the procedure, you’ll receive an Immediate Post-Operative Prosthesis (IPOP) to help reduce swelling, protect wounds, and speed up the overall healing process. In some cases, you might receive an AK shrinker, a device that helps to shape your limb for the prosthetic and also desensitizes the limb to make the prosthetic more comfortable.
The process of getting a long-term prosthesis shouldn’t be rushed. It’s important to get both the right type of prosthesis and the right fit. During the process, you will:
- Receive a liner that cushions your limb
- Receive a cast made out of your limb
- Try a diagnostic socket to ensure alignment for the final prosthesis
- Receive subsequent diagnostic sockets to achieve the right fit
- Get a final version of the socket to start gait training
- Finally, select the knee and prosthesis that is best for you
How Does an Above-Knee Prosthetic Work?
There are different parts of an above-knee prosthesis — a socket, knee joint, ankle joint, and foot components. As we mentioned above, you’ll first receive a temporary prosthesis while your residual limb heals, shrinks, and changes shape over a few months of healing. Your prosthesis will be modified to fit your residual limb.
Here is additional information on how the parts of a prosthesis work together:
- The prosthetic leg is made from durable yet lightweight materials. The leg may or may not include functional knee and ankle joints depending on where the amputation occurs.
- The socket is made from an exact mold of your residual limb and it’s designed to fit snugly. The socket helps to attach the prosthetic to your body.
- The suspension system, or how the prosthesis stays attached to the limb, could include sleeve suction, distal locking, or vacuum suspension.
During the rehabilitation process, you’ll begin to learn to function first with a wheelchair and walking assistance devices such as crutches or a walker. Before you learn how to walk with an above-knee prosthetic, you’ll work closely with your physical therapist to learn the necessary skills to use your prosthetic limb in addition to learning how to care for it. This includes skin checks, hygiene, contracture prevention, exercise, and positioning.
Everyday Routine with Above-Knee Prosthetics
Once you have your prosthesis, you’ll need to put time into ongoing therapy and at-home exercises under the guidance of your doctor. Through time and consistent effort, you can learn balance and coordination. It’s not uncommon for rehab to last up to 1 year. You’ll also want to check the remaining limb daily for any irritation, skin breaks, or redness.
Just because you have a prosthetic, it doesn’t mean that you can have an enjoyable and fruitful life. At home, make sure to discuss with your doctor what you can do. When you get the okay, you’ll be able to wash the remaining limb with soap and water. It’s also possible that you’ll be able to drive depending on your specifics. Some people can return to work as soon as 4-8 weeks following surgery although it could take longer.
How Do People with Above-Knee Prosthetics Walk?
Can you walk normally with a prosthetic leg? As above-knee amputations make it harder to bear weight, the risk of falling is higher. First, those with an above-knee prosthetic leg will use a wheelchair until the risk of falling is low. During this time, you’ll use physical therapy to build up strength. You’ll also be fitted with short prosthetic training feet that help to re-learn balance. Gradually, you will increase the height of the prosthetic leg to build the strength needed for a full-length prosthetic. Over time and with practice, you’ll be able to walk without the assistance of any devices.
How Far Can You Walk with a Prosthetic Leg?
The distance that you can walk depends on your specific injury and overall healing process. Some people are only able to walk a short distance before getting too tired or feeling too much pain while others can get around as they did before surgery.
How to Play Sports with a Prosthetic Leg
Different sports have unique requirements. There are many popular sports for those who have a prosthetic leg including cycling and swimming. These are popular as they are non-weight-bearing sports. Other people with a prosthetic leg may be able to walk, run, dance, or even garden or practice yoga. Think outside of the standard sports and consider trying something you haven’t tried before.
How to Safely Fall with an Above-the-Knee Prosthetic
Learning how to fall properly can help keep those with a prosthetic safe. Your therapist will practice falling with you. If you are falling, make sure to immediately release any assistive devices you’re using and allow the body to be flexible. Absorb the impact with your hands by using slightly bent elbows and immediately roll to the side to minimize impact. Tucking your chin to your chest can avoid hitting your head.
How to Sit with Regular Above-Knee Prosthetics
When sitting, keep your shoulders back with your pelvis beneath you. Your limb should be aimed at the floor and hang close to your other leg.
3 Tips to Feel Comfortable with a Prosthetic Leg
- Start slowly: Take your time and be patient when you’re learning to walk with your new prosthetic leg. Parallel bars are helpful in keeping you secure and building your confidence without the risk of falling.
- Shift your weight: As you take steps, it becomes an unconscious movement for you to shift weight between your legs. Make sure to practice this shift in weight when you’re learning to walk.
- Build confidence through repetition: Once you’re comfortable using the basic walking mechanics, practice them repeatedly to build your confidence. The more confident that you feel, the better you’ll navigate the world with your artificial leg.
Problems with Above-the-Knee Prosthetics
We’ve outlined some common above-the-knee prosthetic problems.
What Are the Negative Effects of Prosthetics?
It can be physically and mentally challenging to adjust to a prosthetic leg. Here are some common obstacles:
- Excessive sweating may affect how the prosthesis fits, resulting in skin issues
- Changing residual limb shape that often occurs in the first year after amputation
- Residual limb weakness makes it difficult to use the prosthesis for a long period of time
- Phantom limb pain
Does Leg Amputation Shorten Life Expectancy?
There are prolonged physical and psychological stressors that can impact the life expectancy for lower limb amputees. There is an increased morbidity and mortality rate from cardiovascular disease. Stress, insulin resistance, and behaviors including alcohol use, smoking, and physical inactivity are all prevalent in lower limb amputees. There are other health complications including infection, excessive bleeding, muscle shortening, and pulmonary embolisms.
How Long Is Rehab after Leg Amputation?
Every patient is different, however, the rehabilitation process can last as long as one year.
PrimeCare Orthotics & Prosthetics Can Help!
If you need guidance on above-the-knee prosthetics, our team is here to help! We have a team of caring and qualified practitioners who are dedicated to helping patients thrive. Contact us at PrimeCare Orthotics & Prosthetics today!