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  • Writer's pictureGainesville Prosthetics

The Importance of Physical Therapy and Ongoing Strength Training

Updated: Feb 29

No matter where you are in your prosthetic journey, physical therapy and continual strength training are crucial to not only maintaining efficient and comfortable daily prosthetic use, but also to maintaining physical health and easing the strain on your body. Using prostheses consistently is extremely demanding on your muscles and joints, and this strain often spreads to the rest of the body. Independence is a major goal that every prosthetic user strives for, and continued independence cannot exist without continued maintenance.

One of the most important things consistent exercise provides for prosthetic users is safety. Research shows prosthetic users who get regular exercise have a reduced risk of falls, less hospital visits, increased gait speed and control, and increased power absorption and generation. All of these factors significantly affect your ability to avoid falls and safely traverse countless obstacles that present themselves daily such as stairs, uneven terrain, curbs, and changes in elevation. Even outside of regular exercise, the guidance provided by physical therapy on how to use your prostheses efficiently is integral to using them safely.

It is easy to recognize how important physical therapy is at the beginning of your journey. Using prosthetics efficiently is an entirely new and difficult task for every individual with an amputation, even if that amputation is congenital. Physical therapy helps individuals regain balance, coordination, and strength, and most importantly use these to regain their mobility through the use of prosthetics. Through a combination of targeted exercises and techniques, physical therapists provide the tools and confidence for individuals to wake up each day and feel prepared to use their prosthesis independently, no matter what their daily activities consist of.

The more difficult to recognize aspect of physical therapy is in its importance far beyond the beginning of your journey. Once you have fully gained your independence, you may feel physical therapy has nothing left to offer to you, or that you have achieved your goals and can move on. While your independence was gained off of continual hard work and cannot be devalued, having that independence does not diminish the value of physical therapy and ongoing maintenance. Without continued strength training, your body and muscles are susceptive to atrophy, or deterioration. Once this atrophy begins, it can be difficult to stop without immediate intervention, and you may find yourself back at square one. As previously mentioned, using prostheses consistently is extremely demanding in regards to the muscle and energy expenditure it requires. Unfortunately, practice and commitment is often not enough to efficiently use lower limb prostheses; strong core and leg muscles are often a necessity.

Another overlooked but essential element of physical therapy is in its collaboration with your prosthetist. The mutual communication between your prosthetist and your physical therapist provides essential information regarding your struggles, progress, and needs from your prosthesis. It is not within the scope of a prosthetic practice to determine or influence your physical rehabilitation with your prostheses, just as it is not within the scope of physical therapy to realign or modify your prostheses. Regular visits to both and the transfer of knowledge between the two is invaluable, enhancing both your physical therapy and prosthetic sessions and ultimately benefitting your physical and mental health in daily life. As prosthetists, any information regarding how you are adapting physically to using your prostheses is priceless, and will help your prosthetist to tailor your care around both amplifying your strengths and reducing the impact of your weaknesses. Ultimately, the collaboration between prosthetists and physical therapists provides patients with extremely comprehensive education, personalized treatment plans, and the clearest path

to timely and full rehabilitation.

As touched on previously, one of the most common and detrimental mistakes individuals with lower limb prostheses make is the belief that they are at some point finished with physical therapy or ongoing strength training. Physical health for individuals with amputation follows the same rules as physical health for those without: it is a lifelong process, and giving up on this maintenance can be very harmful, especially in those who consistently use prostheses and would like to continue using them.

Continued physical therapy or strength training will ensure you maintain your mobility for years to come, reduce the risk of additional health issues and injuries, successfully adapt to your prostheses and the role they play in your life, and ultimately ensure your physical and mental wellbeing are at the highest they can be. Many new challenges come with using your prostheses and with age, and regular exercise is essential to helping you adapt to these changes gracefully and ensure they do not become major roadblocks to your mobility.

We also understand that sometimes physical therapy is not an option; it may be too expensive, too inconvenient in your schedule, or may simply be something you do not enjoy or feel fulfilled by. It is crucial to recognize that while there is significant value in physical therapy and the knowledge and experience experts in the field of physical therapy bring, at its root the most important thing is that you are participating in regular and ongoing exercise, stretching, and strength training.

If regular physical therapy is not an option for you, alternative options are available as well. If you are in the Gainesville area, one alternative is the Physical Therapy Equal Access Clinic, which can be assessed with this link: They provide free physical therapy sessions for patients who are uninsured, underinsured, or struggling financially. If you do not enjoy or are unable to attend physical therapy, online options also exist that, while not necessarily being as in-depth, can still provide you with the tools to manage your physical health and strength on your own. If you are not in the Gainesville area, reach out to the Amputee Coalition or visit their website; they may be able to connect you with physical therapy resources in your area.

An additional resource comes from renowned physical therapist and author Cosi Belloso, who hosts an online live feed show called Cosi Talks every Wednesday at 8:30 p.m. EST on Facebook. The show holds a live Q&A and even hosts special guests who are either amputees or are recognized professionals within the field. If you are interested in physical therapy but do not want to make the commitment yet for whatever reason, this show is an easily accessible and free resource to get you started!

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