In the heat of the summer, there's nothing quite as refreshing as splashing around in the water. Fortunately, people living with lower limb amputation have options for making that happen.
Extensive exposure to prosthetic components usually results in premature corrosion. Devices like the Aulie knee, the X3 microprocessor knee, and the Aqua-Foot., to name a few, are designed for complete submersion in water. Other components, like the C-Leg 4, are 'water-resistant', meaning they can tolerate brief, light exposure to water (think walking in the rain). Plastic components, protective coatings, and galvanized parts can be incorporated into the overall prosthetic design, so that the entire prosthesis resists corrosion and can be easily rinsed after use in the bath, salt, and chlorine water.
Many people consider it to be easier to transfer in out of water with a prosthesis. There’s no question as to where the prosthesis should stay when the user is swimming (prosthetic limbs should never be left in extreme heat for prolonged periods) and the ability to wade in the water is priceless.
Most insurance companies exclude coverage for ‘water legs’ and, though these devices resist corrosion, additional care must be taken to preserve the condition of the prosthesis for as long as possible. Also, water resistance may make it more difficult to control the flexion and extension (bending and straightening) of a prosthetic knee.
Old or ‘Back-Up’ Prostheses
Many people decide to use an old or ‘back-up’ prosthesis in the water.
This option is simple and low cost.
Chances are, the old prosthesis was replaced because it did not fit or there was a problem with the components. Using such a prosthesis may not be advised. Few people have a functional, properly fitting ‘back-up’ prosthesis because most insurance companies only cover the cost of a primary prosthesis for everyday use.
Dry Pro is a waterproof cover for above and below knee prostheses, as well as limb casts. This cover slips over the prosthesis, or cast, with a ‘water-tight’ seal at the thigh.
This is an easy, low cost option that uses the existing primary prosthesis.
The cover is designed to fit a variety of limb lengths and may be considered too bulky for some prosthetic users. If the integrity of the seal is jeopardized, so is the prosthesis inside of the cover.
Lower extremity amputees may choose to abandon the use of a prosthesis in the water. Crutches or a wheelchair may be used during transfers.
Cleaning the residual limb during showering promotes good hygiene. This can be done more effectively when the user is sitting and the prosthesis is removed. Some people living with limb loss prefer swimming without a prosthesis. Avoiding water and other harmful conditions, such as sand and saltwater, will preserve the condition of the primary prosthesis.
Crutches can be slippery on tile and a standard wheelchair can be a nightmare in the sand - though there are wheelchairs specifically made for the beach.
Picking Up Speed in the Water
For those wanting to maximize speed in the pool, foot and hand flippers can help increase speed during lap swimming.
“Trying new physical activities in public can be nerve-wracking, especially if you have that extra layer of a body difference. When I go to a public pool or the beach and make the move to get into the water, there is the moment of, ‘Ugh, I know people will look’. I take a deep breath, head towards the water, and some people do look. Some people smile. And some people don’t notice me at all - because we’re all having too much fun. Being at the pool or at the beach with my family is one of my favorite activities. I don’t want to miss it.”
Bio-Tech Prosthetics & Orthotics
Director of Business Development
Congenital Above Knee Amputee/Prosthetic User
Call a Bio-Tech prosthetist at 1-877-471-4994 to discuss swimming options for people living with lower limb amputation. Have a comment, idea, or suggestion? Please share here!
As always, discuss any new exercise regimen with a physician.