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Limb Loss and Sports: How to Get Active and Find the Right Prosthesis

Limb Loss and Sports: How to Get Active and Find the Right Prosthesis

For individuals with limb loss, activity maintains mobility and, ultimately, independence. That doesn’t mean you have to run marathons or run at all. Staying active can be as simple as taking a daily walk. But your body needs to move on a regular basis to maintain the fit of your prosthesis and to keep the body strong and balanced. Advancements in prostheses and the growing availability of sports and activities for those with limb loss have opened new doors. It’s now about finding which one you want to walk (or roll) through.

Inspiring Paralympic Athletes

Sometimes you need a little inspiration (or motivation) to try something new. The 2020 (2021) Paralympic Games have gotten more press and attention than ever before. The participating athletes have devoted their lives to their sports. A few you might want to check out the next time you need a little inspiration to get moving include:

  • Hannah McFadden: This track and field star competed in her first Paralympic in 2012 when she was only 16-years-old. She’s medaled in both the 100 and 200-meter T54 and now competes against her sister, Tatyana, in three events.
  • Jessica Long: Voted as one of Sports Illustrated’s best female athletes in 2006 and 2011, Long began her Paralympic career at the age of 12. She’s collected over 15 Paralympic medals and holds 20 world records.
  • Nick Springer: This impressive athlete lost four limbs when he contracted a rare form of meningitis. He made a mark in the sport of wheelchair rugby, where he was a four-time national champion and a force to be reckoned with, having won two Olympic medals before he passed away in 2021.
  • Tucker Dupree: Dupree lost his eyesight due to a rare genetic condition, but that didn’t slow him down in the pool. He holds 43 American swimming records, 2 world records, and 9 Pan-American records.

    Girl with prosthetic legs in park with wheelchair

    How to Get Started

    The unique location and conditions surrounding each amputation make it difficult to make broad, general statements about what kind of amputees should do which activities. Instead, what appeals to you? If you played a sport before your limb loss, there’s a good chance you can return to that sport or something similar with a few adaptations.

    If you’re not sure where to start, there are activities that act as gateways to other activities and sports. Keep things simple if you’re new to limb loss. Take a walk every day. Walking keeps you mobile and builds strength and endurance.

    As you get in better shape, head to the hills for a bigger challenge. Hiking gets you outside, offers different locations, and challenges your body in different ways every time you hit the trail. Even flat trails will challenge you at first as you learn to navigate over rocks, roots, and uneven terrain.

    There’s another great gateway sport—cycling. Give yourself time to adapt by using a stationary bike first. Use it to build strength and learn how to balance and coordinate your limbs. Once you’ve gotten more comfortable, try out a road bike on a flat surface. Have a friend hold the bike for you when you get on the real deal for the first time.

    These three activities (walking, hiking, and cycling) build strength, coordination, and endurance, which can open doors to more demanding sports. They contribute to the core strength and balance needed to try kayaking, horseback riding, or wheelchair rugby, any of which could turn out to be your favorite way to stay active. 

    There are organizations all over the United States that provide opportunities and run camps or leagues for people with disabilities. Check out the Amputee-Coalition’s adaptive sports program list. Programs cover everything from cycling and hiking to canoeing and swimming.

     

    Man with prothesis in locker room

    Do I Need a Special Prosthesis?

    Once you try a few activities, it will probably become pretty clear what works for you. At that point, you might wonder if you need a special prosthesis to progress in your sport. That comes down to a few factors.

    How serious are you about the sport? Prostheses designed for sprinting or jumping are expensive fine-tuned tools. These prostheses come in different designs, like the three variations of Ossur’s Cheetah line. For those with upper limb amputations, Mert Lawwill makes hand prostheses to help grip bikes, snowmobiles, and motorcycle handles. In these cases, it might be safer for you to participate in motorsports with a specialized prosthesis.

    If there’s a sport or activity you can’t get enough of, chances are there’s a prosthesis to help. They can be expensive, but if it’s your passion and keeps you active, they’re often well worth the price. Talk to your prosthetist for recommendations and to discuss if it’s worth investing in specialized equipment.

     

    Man running with prosthesis

    The Takeaway—Be Prepared and Have Fun

    Before starting a new sport or heading out for a day of activity, take care of your skin. The use of a prosthesis puts it under heavy strain and tension it wasn’t designed to take. Your skin acts as the first line of defense against infection. To keep it strong, always start with cleanwell-moisturized skin. Manage sweat inside the prosthesis’ socket with liquid-to-powder product that creates a protective friction barrier.

    From there, start moving. Take family or friends along and use activities to connect with others. A life of activity will keep you mobile and let you lead a life full of adventure. 

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