Love it or hate it, winter weather is fully upon us. And while snow, sleet, wind, and ice can pose challenges for everyone, being a lower limb amputee calls for extra care. Not only does cold weather affect prosthetics, but it can also impact your residual limb.

You don’t have to be stuck inside until spring, though. Find out what to expect through the winter and how to prepare yourself for harsh weather below.

How Does Cold Weather Affect Prosthetics?

Safety Hazards

Icy walkways and snow-covered surfaces make for slippery conditions. These hazards pose fall risks for everyone, including amputees. While environmental awareness is important in all conditions, it’s especially critical in winter.

Joint Pain

Many lower-limb amputees load their intact limb with more weight, even with a properly fitting prosthetic. It’s therefore an unfortunate fact that you may have some degree of arthritis in your intact limb. If symptoms feel worse during winter, it’s not just in your head. Barometric pressure changes can impact joints and make them feel stiffer or more painful than usual.

Residual Limb Discomfort

There’s less atmospheric moisture during winter, which means everything tends to feel a bit dryer. This may also be the case with your residual limb. If your skin becomes too dry, it can lead to itchiness or irritation. Chilly temperatures can also cause stiffness and pain throughout your residual limb.

Damage to Prosthetics

Many prosthetics are made to withstand a range of environmental conditions. Yet, no material will be able to endure the corrosive effects of road salt and other melting solutions for too long. Minimizing exposure to these agents is key to preserving the lifespan of your prosthetic.

4 Cold Weather Safety Tips for Lower Limb Amputees

Winter certainly brings a unique set of challenges for people who use prosthetics, but you can confront them by being prepared. Navigate the cold weather safely with these tips.

1. Increase Your Traction

While you’ll want to avoid slippery surfaces whenever possible, having the right gear can help you stay safe should you encounter them. Rubber-soled footwear is a good start, but consider adding cleats to your prosthetics for extra traction, too. If you use a cane or crutch, add a spiked bottom to stabilize it.

2. Tread Carefully

Snow and slush are easy to spot, but thin ice can be invisible. And black ice isn’t exclusive to roadways; it can also form in parking lots and other paved surfaces. Sidewalks, steps, and ramps can all become covered with a thin sheen of ice. If the temperature is below freezing (or has been recently), assume any outdoor surfaces could be slippery, and tread with extra caution.

3. Bundle Up

Keep joint and residual limb discomfort to a minimum by dressing warm. This will also prevent shrinkage in your residual limb, which could affect the fit of your prosthetic. Layer up and bring cold weather accessories like gloves and a hat to avoid getting a chill when you’re heading out.

4. Maintain Your Prosthetic

If you have any maintenance concerns, now is the time to address them. Have your prosthetist investigate any loose screws or bolts, unfamiliar sounds such as squeaks or clicks, sticking parts, or other signs of damage. Continue practicing your home care routine to keep your prosthetic performing well through winter weather, too. Be diligent about cleaning it, especially if you’ve encountered corrosive materials like ice melt.  

Schedule Prosthetic Care With Vascular Surgical Associates

Vascular Surgical Associates’ Prosthetics Center is your source for unparalleled prosthetics care in every season. From pre-surgical prosthesis counseling to follow-up adjustments, our team is committed to ensuring your comfort, and helping you reach your long-term goals. For appointments, submit a request online or call our office at 770-423-0595.