Individuals with Limb Loss: How to Increase Strength and Range of Motion When it’s Cold

Individuals with Limb Loss: How to Increase Strength and Range of Motion When it’s Cold

Strength and range of motion (ROM) keep your gait strong and improve your mobility. However, every residual is unique. The location of your limb loss will greatly determine the areas that need focused strength and range of motion work.

Lower limb amputations, for example, need to work on gait, glute strength, and hip mobility, while upper body limb loss focuses more on the shoulders and back. The only universal truth is that most people need to work on their core strength no matter where on their body they’ve lost a limb. We’ve got some exercises that can help you maintain your strength and ROM even when you’re stuck inside because of cold temperatures.  

Before exercising, always prep your residual skin to reduce wear and tear. Keep the skin well moisturized with a moisturizer, like VitalFit Daily Moisturizer, that helps prevent fungal and bacterial infections. You can also use the VitalFit Liquid-to-Powder Plus to prevent chafing if your skin is sensitive to friction or if you’ve got a heavy workout planned. 


Upper Body Strength and Range of Motion

The back, shoulders, and core get special attention with upper body limb loss. Remember, even casual exercise can make a difference in mobility, so don’t think you need to spend hours working out. 

 Man performing shoulder shrug exercise.

Shoulder Shrugs

This simple but effective exercise strengthens the shoulders and back. 

  • Sit or stand and bring the shoulders up toward the ears. 
  • Hold for three seconds. 
  • Slowly release back to the starting position. 

That’s it. You can do this exercise while sitting at a desk or watching television. 

Superman or Swimmer’s Stretch

This exercise targets the lower back, upper back, and shoulders. 

  • Lie on your stomach with your arms in front of you and palms down. 
  • Gently raise your arms and feet at the same time, being careful not to lift too high so as not to strain the lower back. 
  • Hold for three to ten seconds and release. 

Repeat for a set of ten. Add more reps and sets as you get stronger.


Arm Rotations

Depending on the location of your limb loss, you may experience loss of ROM in the shoulder or elbow. Arm rotations can help both. However, be gentle and patient. 

  • Sit or stand and tighten the core by pulling your belly button toward the spine. 
  • Slowly make wide circles with your arms. 
  • Make sure to extend (straighten) the elbow to work against the natural flexion of the muscles. 
  • Do ten forward circles followed by ten backward circles. 

It’s okay if the circles are small. Even small circles can activate the scapula muscles and extend the elbows. 


Woman lying on back performing a bridge.

Lower Body Strength and Range of Motion


This classic pose is great for building strength in the glutes, hamstrings, and lower back. 

  • Lie on your back. Place the feet underneath the knees about hip-width apart.  
  • Gently flex the glutes and press the heels into the floor as you raise your hips until there’s a straight line from your shoulders to your knees. 
  • Slowly release and bring your hips back to the floor. 
  • Repeat ten times, holding for three to ten seconds at the top of the bridge. 

Modification: You can make this exercise harder by extending one leg so that all of your weight is held on the opposite leg. Be sure to do it on both sides to evenly build strength.


Limb Lifts

These basic stretches are an excellent way to maintain hip mobility and build strength in different planes of motion. 

  • Lie on your back.
  • Keep one leg on the ground while slowly lifting the other leg. (Lift the leg as high as possible but not until it’s uncomfortable.)
  • Return that leg to the starting position and repeat on the other side. 
  • Do ten repetitions per leg. 

Now, turn onto your side, stacking your hips on top of each other. Lift the leg that’s on top for ten repetitions. 

Turn onto your stomach. Tighten the glutes and lift one leg as high as you can without straining the lower back. Lower the leg and repeat on the other side. Do ten repetitions per leg. 

Turn onto your other side (the opposite of the side you already did). Stack the hips and raise the top leg for ten repetitions. 


Man performing side crunches.

Core Exercises

No matter where you’ve lost a limb, you need core strength for all kinds of daily movements. 

Side Crunches

  • Lie on your back and bring the heels underneath the knees. 
  • Straighten your arms in front of you, and clasp your fingers together as though you’re pointing forward. 
  • Using only your abdominal muscles, try to bring your hands to the side of your right hip as far as you can. (Keep the arms straight and fingers pointed in the direction you’re going.)
  • Come back down to the floor. 
  • Using only your abdominal muscles, do the same motion over the left hip. 
  • Do ten repetitions on each side. 

Dead Bug

  • Lie on your back with your legs straight and arms straight above your head on the ground. 
  • Raise the right arm and left knee, using the abdominal muscles to touch the left knee with your right hand. 
  • Return both to the ground. 
  • Repeat on the other side, raising the left arm and right knee and touching the knee with the left hand. 
  • Do ten repetitions on both sides. 

Final Thoughts

When the temperatures drop, it’s easy to spend more time on the couch. A few simple exercises can help keep your body strong and joints mobile so you can enjoy daily activities to the fullest.

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