Every season creates unique issues for the amputee. In the winter there is often a struggle to keep the residual limb warm. Although the limb may feel cold within the prosthesis, most amputees complain of the frigid sensation at night. A cold residual limb can range from being uncomfortable to painful. Many amputees report an increase both in the frequency and the intensity of phantom limb pain when their limb is cold.
Investing in a few items can make the frigid temperatures more comfortable for the amputee. After the prosthesis and liner are removed, it is helpful to slip a soft tube sock over the residual limb. Keeping the limb covered in a breathable fabric will help to maintain heat.
If the tube sock is too small or constricting, you might want to try using a child's ski mask hat. The fabric can be stretched over the limb and the makeshift cover will typically stay in place while sleeping.
Although wrapping a heating pad around the limb can make the you feel more comfortable, it is not always practical. It is not advised to utilize a heating pad for more than 20 minutes at a time. Keeping the limb warm throughout the night using a heating pad not only becomes cumbersome because of the cords, but dangerous.
On occasion the sock alone doesn't provide enough warmth. If your limb continues to feel cold despite being covered, you might want to try using disposable hand warmers to provide extra heat. Once activated, the hand warmers generate heat for up to eight hours. Now when the limb is extremely cold, try pulling on a tube sock, hold a warmer on the tip of your covered limb and then slip another sock on top to hold it in place.
A WORD OF CAUTION: it is imperative that the hand warmer never be placed directly on the skin. Because the residual limb has nerve damage and compromised circulation (a natural result of the amputation) the skin may not react normally to burning heat. When using heat or cold therapy, always utilize a barrier.
If you are not bottoming out in your prosthesis, you might benefit from placing a hand warmer in the bottom of your socket in the morning. The warmers need oxygen in order to generate heat, so some space is necessary for them to work. Many amputees have a sufficient void in the bottom of their prosthesis for the hand warmers to work, creating a warmed prosthesis during the frigid temperatures.
Keeping the limb from becoming chilled during the winter is a common struggle for amputees. Hopefully some of these ideas will help to make you more comfortable whether you are playing in the snow or watching it fall from inside your home. Do you have any other cold weather tips?