Veteran's Health Library Menu

Health Encyclopedia

Related Reading

What to Expect: The Months After Amputation Surgery

Your recovery will progress in stages. This sheet tells you what to expect during each stage. Keep in mind that not everyone follows this exact timeline. Your progress depends on your overall health and age.

The 5 basic stages are:

  • Recovering in the hospital

  • Preparing for your prosthesis

  • Getting fitted for your prosthesis

  • Learning to use your prosthesis

  • Returning to routine activities

Recovering in the hospital

After surgery, you will stay in the hospital while the surgical team works to manage your pain and your residual limb health. Typically, the stay in this stage is about 3-7 days but can vary based on your age or other health problems you may have. The main goals of this stage include:  

  • Managing your pain

  • Learning how to care for your wound as it heals

  • Stretching and strengthening your muscles and learning proper positioning when sitting in a chair and lying in bed

  • Learning to move safely between your bed and other surfaces (transfers)

  • Learning to use walking aids as you are able

  • Learning to manage daily living skills, often from a wheelchair

  • Learning to use your wheelchair safely and manage in your environment

Preparing for a prosthesis at home

After you arrive home, the goal is to focus on preparing for your prosthesis fitting. This stage may take 3-4 weeks or longer depending on how quickly your residual limb heals. During this stage, the main goals are:

  • Caring for your wound (with sutures or staples still in)

  • Keeping your residual limb in a straight position when not exercising

  • Continuing exercises learned in the hospital

  • Moving safely at all times to prevent falls

  • Keeping all follow-up appointments

Getting fitted for a prosthesis

Once your wound has healed, your first visit to the prosthetist may take place. He or she will start fitting you for a prosthesis. About 3 weeks after the first fitting, you’ll receive a preparatory (initial) prosthesis. During this stage, the main goals may include:

  • Daily care of your residual limb

  • Daily use of a shrinker

  • Desensitization and scar massage

  • Continued stretching and strengthening of muscles

Learning to use a prosthesis

You will use the preparatory prosthesis until your residual limb has reached a stable size. This can take 3 to 12 months. Then you may receive a definitive (permanent) prosthesis. This prosthesis may have a more natural look or more advanced parts.  During this stage, you’ll learn how to:

  • Don (put on) and doff (take off) the prosthesis

  • Adjust sock ply (thickness)

  • Follow your wearing schedule to gradually increase the amount of time you wear the prosthesis each day

  • Walk with your prosthesis using parallel bars

  • Use a walking aid (such as a walker or cane)

  • Walk without an aid, if possible

  • Prevent falls

  • Care for and clean the prosthesis

Returning to routine activities

When you’re ready, you may resume many activities that have been part of your life. But life may present new challenges. As you become more active, keep these goals in mind:

  • Work with your healthcare team to maintain your health

  • Develop a support system of family and friends

  • Return to meaningful activities such as a job, volunteer work, or social activities

  • Practice coping techniques, such as meditation and relaxation to help you deal with new challenges as they arise.

When to Contact Your Amputation Team

During recovery, you may need to contact members of your amputation team. Call your:

  • Amputation doctor, surgeon, or primary healthcare provider if you notice signs of infection in your healing wound. Watch for sores or wounds that appear on your residual limb. And call if you fall or injure your limb.

  • Physical therapist if you have trouble walking, notice a change in balance, or have difficulty doing exercises

  • Prosthetist if your prosthesis feels loose, rubs, or pinches your residual limb

  • Social worker if you need home assistance or help with insurance

  • Psychologist or peer counselor if you could use more emotional support

For more information

See the following Rehabilitation After Lower Limb Amputation workbook developed by VA and DoD.

Author: StayWell Custom Communications
Last Annual Review Date: 4/1/2020
Copyright © The StayWell Company, LLC. except where otherwise noted.
Disclaimer - Opens 'Disclaimer' in Dialog Window | Help | About Veterans Health Library