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Recovering After Lower Limb Amputation

After your surgery

Managing your pain

You will have some pain after surgery. It may take 4 to 6 weeks or longer for your incision (the cut the surgeon made) to heal. You should have less pain as it heals.

In the hospital

You will get pain medicine in the hospital to help you manage pain.

Pain medicine may be given by mouth or by an injection. It may be injected into a vein (intravenously with an I.V.) or around the amputation area using a local anesthetic (called a nerve block). You may have a pump to give yourself pain medicine when you need it.

Tell your nurse as soon as you feel pain after your surgery. Do not wait until the pain is bad. Pain is easier to manage when it is treated early.

You may find it hard to rest or move around if you are in pain. Tell your nurse if the pain medicine does not make you feel better. Not all medicine works the same for everyone. Your healthcare team may change your medicine to one that works better for you.

Phantom leg sensation and phantom pain

After your surgery, you may still feel the part of your leg that was amputated. This feeling is called phantom leg sensation.

Phantom leg sensation may feel like itching, tingling, or even that the limb is moving. This is normal and common after surgery. This sensation may cause you to try to step on your amputated leg without thinking and cause you to fall. Phantom leg sensation feels, lasts, and happens differently for everyone.

Phantom pain is when the phantom sensations hurt. You may feel very real cramping, burning, crushing, or shooting pains. Tell your healthcare team if you have any of these feelings.

There are different strategies to help manage phantom pain. You may find one works better for you, or you may need more than one.

Strategies to manage phantom pain may include:

  • Medicines: Try to describe your pain with as much detail as you can. This will help your healthcare team recommend the best medicine for your phantom pain.
  • Relaxation and sleep: Try to limit ​stress and get enough sleep. Stress, anxiety, and not getting enough sleep can make phantom pain worse.
  • Gentle touch, massage, or desensitization: Gently rubbing the end of the limb, light and slow pressure, or gentle tapping can help with the phantom pain. This should be done over top of any dressings or compression you may have.
  • Temperature change: Placing a cool cloth or a warm blanket around your leg can help you feel the temperature change rather than the phantom pain.
  • Exercises: You may find moving your knee joint or hip joint helpful to manage your phantom pain. If you are having cramping or pain in the part of your limb that is no longer there, try “moving” that part of your limb to help release the cramp. This can allow your brain to settle the cramping feeling.
  • Mirror therapy: Mirror therapy tricks the brain into “seeing” the amputated limb, and it can help with phantom pain. Sitting in front of a mirror, you will do movements such as the following:
    • Point your ankle up and down slowly.
    • Wave your ankle side to side slowly.
    • Move your ankle in circle.
    • Bend and straighten your knee.
    • Move your fully extended leg in and out.

Ask your healthcare provider about ways to help manage phantom pain.​​​​​

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