Five Tips for Overcoming the Challenges of Upper-Limb Loss

By Debra LaTour, MeD, Advanced Practice, OTR/L

As a bilateral upper-limb amputee, you will certainly face many challenges in your daily life. Even if you are missing only one arm, you may face similar challenges as your intact arm begins to suffer from overuse, aging, or other factors that can hinder its functional ability.

As you struggle with tasks such as finding a way to brush your teeth, take a shower, or use the bathroom, it may be comforting to know that others have already discovered solutions for most of the problems you face.

The following tips will help you find out about these solutions and develop your own.

  • Seek the assistance of occupational therapists (OTs). These professionals can advise you about adaptive strategies, including positioning, using the environment, and using assistive devices, whether or not you decide to use prostheses. OTs can also help prepare you for potential prosthesis use and teach you about proper body mechanics, joint-protection techniques, and energy-conservation strategies. They can work with other clinicians, such as prosthetists, physical therapists, social workers, case managers, and physicians, to help you understand and experience technology firsthand. OTs can also teach you to handle uncomfortable social situations, such as greetings, asking for assistance, and handling stares from others.
  • Seek amputee mentors. Other amputees who have experienced similar challenges can be critical to your attainment of independence by sharing tips and tricks and advising you on all kinds of topics, including self-care, home management, returning to work, and enjoying leisure activities. Many organizations offer training and opportunities for developing peer relationships. Recently, Skills for Life 4, a bilateral upper-limb loss workshop, was held in Houston and offered an incredible experience of peer support for participants. Skills for Life, Amputee Coalition peer group meetings, and similar events that provide a venue for sharing adaptive techniques and technologies are highly recommended as resources for success.
  • Take advantage of existing resources, such as books, magazines, websites, and online videos. Resources that share information about how to accomplish activities of daily living (ADLs) and other goals can be helpful in your search for solutions.
  • Be creative. There are many tools already available, and having an open mind to find creative ways to use them is important. Likewise, when appropriate tools are not available, try to devise new ones or come up with other techniques to accomplish a task. One well-known technique for using tools is to attach them to something stationary so that you can move against the tool rather than having to move the tool. For example, some amputees mount a hairbrush, which they can then move their head against to brush their hair. That simple idea of mounting tools has been used to solve numerous problems.
  • Ask for help when you really need it. Others are usually happy to help, and asking for assistance when you are struggling may keep you from becoming frustrated and giving up.

Regardless of the combination of prosthetic technology, adaptive strategies, assistive devices, and/or environmental modifications you adopt to deal with your challenges, practice, perseverance, and patience will be essential ingredients. Be sure to include a large amount of each in your recipe for success.

For more information about Skills for Life, visit usispo.org/skills_for_life.asp.

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