This month I want to focus on the importance of progression.  In my thirteen years as an amputee, I have progressed immensely.  When I think back to when I was a new amputee, I remember seeing advanced individuals who could do amazing things.  I wanted to be just like them and be like them NOW!  So, why couldn’t I?  Simple: because your body needs to learn and adapt to it’s new equipment, specifically your prosthesis.

When you first go through amputation, your body is in shock and automatically starts acclimating to limb-loss in many ways.  At this point, we must begin to prepare ourselves, and our limb for whats to come.  Muscles will atrophy, we can gain weight, lose range of motion, and lose mental focus just to name a few of the changes we can experience.  It is very important to continue to use those muscles even though there is no limb attached.  You must keep them firing so that when we do get our prosthesis, it will be easier for the body to adapt to your prosthesic device.

I learn though my mistakes and I share them with you guys so that you can hopefully avoid these mistakes too.  I am bull headed and impatient so when my physical therapist told me that I would have to progress from a walker to crutches, then to a 4-point cane, then on to a single point cane, all before I could walk unassisted; I thought he was crazy.  Told him that I am 23 (at the time) and will not use a walker.  I never went back to physical therapy.  Please, don’t do take that same attitude; he was right.  I stormed out of there and learned the hard way.  I went straight to a single point cane and walked like horribly just to prove I didn’t need any assistive devices.  Heck, I used a device for 3 years prior to amputation and you are telling me now that I now have 2 legs to stand on, I still need to use an assistive device?  My point is: aside from looking silly, I was creating damage I would have to overcome.  I didn’t progress properly so my body was trying to compensate for what it didn’t know how to do.  I was now using different muscles to pick up and move the prosthesis than I did on my sound leg.  I developed a limp and my gait was off.  My body got used to walking incorrectly and started causing damage to my hips, back, and other joints because I was too stubborn to take the time to do it properly.  Once again, I had to start over with pain in all kinds of areas, not just my residual limb.  See how much time I could have saved myself if I would have just listened?  I had to learn to undo unhealthy habits and begin new ones.

I found this awesome article that really explains the importance of why we need to use progression and what your physical therapist guidelines are.  It is very extensive so I am going to give you my version and what I have learned as an amputee and personal trainer.  Remember when I said I don’t listen well? Just like any other therapy or activity, you have to want it to work in order for to work.  So, throw away the “I can’t” thoughts floating around in your head and just try.

You must trust your therapist, prosthetist and anyone else who is truly trying to help you.  Make sure you are open and honest.  Being too proud to admit when something doesn’t feel right or you’re in pain can lead to further injury to your residual limb or else anything connected.

After amputation and for the years that follow, try to stretch every day.  I did a blog on the importance of stretches, take look and try to incorporate this into your daily routine. Even though that limb is no longer there, the brain still knows how to squeeze those muscles. Try to wiggle your toes, flex your calf muscle, or rotate your ankle. If you’re an above-knee amputee try to extend your knee.  If you keep these residual muscles moving it will be easier for your body to use when adapting to a prosthesis. Sensitization training is another thing I failed to do.  Gently rub, poke and prod your residual limb.  It will help condition your limb, you are desensitizing it.  Learning balance and stability as an amputee is very important!  Improving balance will help speed along your progress faster than any other exercise. Make sure you are caring for your limb properly. The last thing you need is a wound to set you back, we need to keep moving forward!

First learn the basics: balance, stability, and ambulation without an assistive device.  In the video accompanying this blog, I show you the basics of mastering the stairs.  I am a personal trainer and am available to answer your questions and offer advice. You can contact me through any of email, social media, or my website, all of which are linked below; don’t hesitate to reach out!

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