How Does Winter Affect My Prosthetic?

It is the time of year where temperatures can stay below freezing for long periods of time; the winds are colder and stronger, and the ground can be coated with ice and snow. All of these factors pose a challenge to anyone with mobility limitations who must go outside, but this is especially true for lower extremity amputees. Regardless how long you have had your prosthesis, there are serious risks associated with the winter season. Our practitioners are here to help you make it through the season safely.

What can I do to stay safe when traveling outside?

Surfaces that are covered in ice or snow are a challenge for everyone. If you wear a prosthetic, even less traction is available. Here are just a few tips to enjoy a safe and stable winter:

  • Choose winter boots wisely: Talk with your physical therapist or prosthetic team to decide on the right winter footwear. Some winter boots restrict prosthetic movement and can lead to an increase risk of falling, slipping, or general pain.
  • Use extra tread: Some footwear allows for extra traction, such as rubber or non-slip soles. Wearing cleat-like shoe covers can also improve traction.
  • Use handrails: Keeping your stability and balance is key to avoiding slips and falls. When using up ramps or stairs, make sure you keep a firm grasp on handrails.
  • Walk slowly: When walking on ice or snow, walk slowly and keep your feet flat on the ground. Taking smaller steps will also help minimize risks of slips and falls.
  • Use assistive devices: Although you may not need assistance when walking normally, some canes or walkers can be altered to include an ice spike to keep traction on slippery surfaces.
  • Fall gracefully: For prosthetic users, the risk of falling is natural. Talk to your physical therapist or another member of your care team to learn how to fall carefully and minimize injury to other parts of your body. Always avoid hitting your head if you slip and fall.

What activities should I avoid?

The most basic way to stay safe in the winter is to be aware of your surroundings. Like driving on black ice, some challenges are unavoidable. P&O Care practitioners do not recommend going outside into the wintery weather unless it is necessary, but here are some activities you should avoid at all costs:

  • Walking on slippery surfaces without something to stabilize yourself.
  • Running errands or going to doctor appointments alone.
  • Walking on ramps or stairs that are not properly salted or cleared of snow.
  • Trying to fix your prosthetic device yourself. If something feels wrong or you begin to experience sudden pain or complications, make an appointment with your prosthetist as soon as you can.

Some of the most dangerous surfaces in the winter are stairways, wheelchair ramps, balconies, porches, parking lots, and sidewalks. Pay attention to these surfaces before walking on them and proceed with caution.

In the event your lifestyle or career requires you to spend extended periods walking or traveling outside, talk with your prosthetic team about the best options for you.