I have learned several interesting facts concerning amputees during the past few weeks, and I want to share my new discoveries. Perhaps I am not the only amputee who was unaware of this information.
I suppose I always assumed that my bone in my residual limb would weaken over time due to muscle loss. To be honest, I never really gave it much thought. I considered bone loss to be an issue for the elderly, a result of the naivete of youth.
Recently, I have learned that an estimated 40% of bone density is lost in a residual limb within 10 years of the amputation. I was 29 when I had my amputation. According to this study, my bone density in my left leg would lose 40% bone strength by the time I am 39. I was shocked to realize that I may face a problem as I enter middle age that I had assigned to the elderly.
In an attempt to strengthen my bones in my residual limb, I have embarked on a regimen of calcium and magnesium. I have also started strengthening exercises to rebuild the muscles surrounding my stump. Hopefully. I haven't started too late to rebuild my bone mass.
In spite of all of my efforts, I have not been able to fully eliminate my limp. I have been told that I walk well and that I have a comfortable and natural gait. I think that people are merely being nice. Perhaps I am being unrealistic, but I want my gimpy limp to be non-existent.
A brief interaction with a physical therapist revealed that I have been committing two common mistakes. Firstly, my stride length has been uneven. It was determined that my stride length should be approximately 11 inches long. My stride with my prosthetic leg was 13 while my stride with my "real" leg was only 9.5 inches.
The disparity in stride lengths is a common occurrence with amputees. Although the reason for the difference is not absolutely known, there are several possible explanations ranging from balance issues to insecurity. Although I can never know definitively, I believe my uneven stride length stems from the nearly 5 years I spent on crutches and in a walking boot. Due to the pain during this time, I consciously sought to keep pressure off the injured limb.
Regardless of the reason, I need to focus my efforts on the result. I bought a treadmill off of Craigslist for $20. I was looking for a treadmill back in January, and the prices ranged between $200 to $400, so I was thrilled to find a cheap, electric, fold up model that was so inexpensive. If you are looking for a bargain, apparently this is a good time to get exercise equipment!
Despite his griping, Scott set-up the treadmill. We took tape and marked 11 inch intervals along both edges of the moving belt. Now I can practice walking with an even stride for short spurts throughout the day.
I also learned that I have not been utilizing my "rear" to its full potential. In other words, I've only been firing my right butt cheek when I step with my sound side. When I would step with my prosthetic side, the power from my swing was coming from my hip and thigh. I've started to deliberately squeeze my left butt cheek when I walk on my prosthetic, and my gait instantly becomes less noticeable.
So, let's review. I've started taking calcium to prevent further bone loss in my residual limb. I am also starting some limb strengthening exercises to work on increasing muscle mass. I am also concentrating on an even stride length as well as squeezing my butt appropriately when I walk. Who would have thought after 6 years of being an amputee, that I would have learned so much in a few short days! Off to go get coffee... even step, squeeze... even step, squeeze....