Your Residual Limb And The Cold

residual-limb-winter-weather

Winter is finally in full swing in the South, and this weather change brings a new set of challenges to amputees. While most people know about the dangers of ice and cold weather to your prosthetic devices, not everyone realizes that the chilly temperatures also put your residual limb at risk for some unpleasant complications. 

Limb Volume Loss 

The fit of your prosthetic onto your residual limb is an art and a science. It’s why every New Hope clinic crafts our devices by hand. The perfect fit is paramount to your comfort and the longevity of your device. During the cold winter months, your limb becomes vulnerable to limb volume loss which greatly affects the fit of your device. 

Cold weather means shrank blood vessels, leading to reduced blood flow. Reduced blood flow can mean significant changes in your limb volume. Even the smallest change in your residual limb size can change how your prosthetic fits, especially if your prosthetic is a suction fit. Loose prosthetics lead to a whole other set of issues and problems as well, so making sure you’re ready for the possible change in volume is important. 

THE FIX: 

Sometimes, a thicker sock can solve your problem for you, especially if your limb volume loss is caused by the cold and will return to normal in the Spring. Always talk to your prosthetist about your best option, and ask them if a thicker sock would fix the issue before it causes other problems. 

Dry Skin 

During the winter months, a lot of people experience dry skin, especially on their extremities. This common problem is often exacerbated in residual limbs because of the sensitivity of the newer skin and how much friction occurs between your limb, socket, and device. Dry skin makes everything uncomfortable and can lead to cracks and other skin irritations. 

THE FIX: 

Most of the time, unscented lotions you can find at the drugstore work wonders. Once you’re sure you aren’t allergic to the lotion, massage a healthy amount into your residual limb after you bathe, right before bed, and anytime you take off your prosthetic and sock. For extremely sensitive skin or dry skin that has begun to crack, consult your doctor or a pharmacist about the best way to treat the area. 

Aches and Irritations 

Cold weather is rough on joints and bones. A lot of people get aches and pains during the winter, and amputees are not exempt. The bone in your residual limb is not genetically prepared to be an extremity. It’s less protected by fat and muscle because of limb compression to fit into the device, and that makes the limb more susceptible to the cold.  

Aches and pains are an issue no matter what, but for amputees, it can make mobility an issue. If your bones are aching and your muscles are cramping, it’s going to be a struggle to get comfortable in your device socket to move around like normal. 

THE FIX: 

Keep a low-temperature heating pad around for the winter! Spend 15 minutes before you leave the house in the morning getting your blood flowing and your limb warmed up. You’ll be less likely to develop aches and pains throughout the day while you’re out and about. If you’re feeling sore or cramped up when you get home, curl up with a heating pad for 15 minutes before you go to bed. If you’re feeling immense pain throughout the day, make sure to talk to your doctor and prosthetist about what could be causing it and how you can treat it. 

Winter can be an amazing time of year filled with fun and adventures! Never let the cold stop you from living life like you would during the summer. Simple preventative measures and discussions with your prosthetist can help make sure your limb stays warm and healthy throughout the cold weather this season!


Here at New Hope Prosthetics and Orthotics, we want every new patient to know that they will receive top-of-the-line care from our excellent and experienced staff. We offer custom prosthetic and orthotic services as well as diabetic shoes and inserts. Our mission is to help patients reach their maximum recovery potential-- physically and emotionally. All patients are family here! We are available to discuss all parts of the recovery process, from pre-operative consultation to the patient receiving their new prosthetic.