Bilateral amputation: Exploring the process of rehabilitation

An amputation is the loss or removal of a body part such as a finger, toe, hand, foot, arm or leg. This can impact a person’s everyday function, mobility and independence. That’s especially true if more than one body part is affected, which is known as a bilateral amputation. The right aftercare can make a significant difference in overall recovery and quality of life.

A bilateral amputation means that both limbs, either the lower or upper extremity, have been affected. Most bilateral amputations are resultants of a vascular disease, a traumatic injury, cancer or congenital abnormalities. 

Although a bilateral amputation will cause challenges to everyday function, the good news is that rehabilitation can help achieve a sense of normalcy and improved function.

What rehabilitation looks like for people who have undergone bilateral amputation

The unknown is always the scariest part of any experience, and the initial amputation is often just the start of the process. After discharge from acute care, patients will need to consider, “What’s next?” Often, a prosthetist will be present early to discuss the process of obtaining prosthetics if necessary, followed by inpatient therapies to help build strength and functional mobilities. Once inpatient therapies are done, learning the use of the prosthesis and further strengthening are critical to becoming an independent ambulator. Unfortunately, therapies are often missed after discharge from an inpatient setting, but this is where the rehab team at Ability KC can step in. 

Rehabilitation can seem like a broad concept. Exploring the rehabilitation process can help you understand why it can be beneficial for those who have had an amputation, especially a bilateral amputation.

There are many different aspects of rehabilitation for amputation. It is personalized to the needs, abilities and goals of each individual. The goal is to help patients improve their function to the best of their abilities. Here is what a person who has had a bilateral amputation can expect from rehabilitation:

  • Prosthetic training — Not everyone who has an amputation will have to use a prosthesis. Those who do can learn the “ins and outs” of their prosthesis to use them effectively and efficiently with the guidance of a rehabilitation team. Through training, patients can learn how to comfortably use prosthetics for everyday tasks and regain their independence.
  • Medication management — After a bilateral amputation, you’ll likely be prescribed medication for potential pain, including phantom limb pain. Medications may include nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and opioids. Nurses manage your medication during rehabilitation; they’ll also monitor any side effects on your physical, emotional and cognitive health.
  • Assistive technology — Prosthetics aren’t the only external assistive devices explored in rehabilitation. Assistive technology can play a large role in helping people who have bilateral amputations. For example, there’s technology for using computers that can be adapted for upper limb amputations. Rehabilitation can also allow patients to explore home technology for accessibility and safety.
  • Occupational therapy — Rehabilitation helps people with amputations integrate back into their everyday routines, which often means work, home and school. You’ll learn how to carry out independent tasks that need to be adapted. Occupational therapy focuses on learning adaptive techniques and strategies. The goal is to use the person’s strengths to complete tasks.
  • Physical therapy — When you have a bilateral amputation, physical therapy can help you improve the strength and mobility of your residual limbs, which is paramount for the effective use of prosthetics. The goal in PT is to provide education on your prosthetic devices, help improve overall strength and flexibility of the entire body, improve balance skills, and progress your prosthetic devices to the highest level of function. Your PT team will often have frequent discussions with your prosthetic team as well, to help build a more complete care team. PT can help you achieve goals of walking, strengthening, balance, and returning to a life full of potential and possibilities.

What to expect from rehabilitation for bilateral amputation with Ability KC

At Ability KC, we believe that amputation doesn’t mean complete limitation. With a variety of treatments, modalities and expert staff, individuals can achieve a new sense of independence following an amputation. We are here to help improve their function to the fullest extent possible.

Limb loss rehabilitation at Ability KC starts with the patient and their loved ones working with one of our expert case managers. From there, patients will be connected with a therapy team that is best suited to help meet the patient’s specific challenges and goals. That team will create a personalized treatment plan, which will be completed in our intensive outpatient medical rehabilitation day program. We also make sure to stay connected after the program. We serve as a continued care resource for patients and their families.

Ability KC is a designated Comprehensive Outpatient Rehabilitation Facility (CORF). We also have a Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities (CARF) accreditation. Contact our team today for more information or to schedule an initial appointment.