Traveling Tips for Amputees

Even a short get away can cause a shift in your daily routine.

As an amputee you should also take into account that unforeseen things can happen to your residual limb or prosthesis, so always be prepared. For instance, a humid climate can lead to increased perspiration; likewise, arid conditions can cause skin to dehydrate and become dry. Even changes to your diet can affect your residual limb. High contents of salt in restaurant food can cause swelling. You may walk more frequently and for longer periods of time than you would in your usual day. So, what can you do to avoid some of these problems? Try keeping an amputee emergency kit handy when you travel and be sure to plan ahead.

Planning Ahead

Champs with reduced mobility might find it helpful to inquire about accessibility during your actual travel and at your destination. For example, does the hotel have elevators or does the campground have clear pathways? You can contact a travel professional to help you find the means of travel that will accommodate your needs (transportation within the airport, help with a wheelchair, or renting a car).

Prostheses can wear and break over time, so attention should be paid to each of its components before you head out on a trip. Always check for cracks, tears, or loose parts that can impact function and listen for abnormal sounds. If you notice any problems, visit your prosthetist to have them remedied before your trip. If your trip is outside of your local are or in a remote location it will be difficult to get help with your prosthesis.

Items to Consider for Your Amputee Travel Kit

Anti-perspirants: Controlling perspiration is a large part of preventing abrasions and reducing odour. It becomes a greater concern especially in warmer climates (like in many vacation hot spots). However, products like baby powder or Natural Liquid Body Powder (that can be obtained through your prosthetist), can be used to help absorb sweat and keep the stump dry. Some CHAMP members use an anti-perspirant roll-on or cream such as De-hydral to help control perspiration too.

Creams and lotions: Travelling to dry areas can cause skin on the residual limb to become dry and cracked. This problem can be avoided by packing moisturizing creams and lotions such as EDAP (available through your prosthetist) or any number of off-the-shelf products (e.g. Uremol) recommended by your prosthetic team or pharmacist. Additionally, amputees can develop sores from excessive activity and increased stress on the stump. To lessen the likelihood of developing these problems, lotions can be used such as ALPS Skin lotion or Derma Prevent - just two examples of products that make a protective coating over the skin.

Cleansers: A trip can be ruined by a skin irritation. To limit bacteria buildup that can cause abrasions, you should follow a strict cleaning regimen even while on vacation. Pack an antiseptic cleanser or a mild fragrance-free soap, whatever product you've been using successfully. Relying on hotel soap, which is usually harsh and perfumed, can lead to adverse skin reactions. Cleansing the residual limb is best done at night. Morning washes are not advised unless a stump sock is worn because the damp skin can swell and stick to the inside of the socket. Some Champs use products available at the drugstore like Tersaseptic and pHisoderm. Some prosthetic manufacturing companies also have cleansers for their products. The key is to stick with what works for you at home.

Handi-wipes: Sockets, liners and suspension sleeves should be cleaned daily, especially in warm weather, to reduce the accumulation of dried perspiration. When you are away from home, ready-to-use cleansing wipes can make it easy to do quick cleanings throughout the day too - consult your pharmacist or prosthetic clinic before using them on your components as some products can harm certain materials.

Topical antibiotics: Bring a medicated ointment to treat and heal any minor sores that can develop during a trip. Prosthetic manufacturers have their own products and there are many off-the-shelf options at pharmacies. Your physician or amputee clinic team can help you determine which product is appropriate for you (e.g. Bactroban, Polysporin, and Ozonol -each differing in healing ingredients).

Skin dressing: Abrasions or blisters can occur while travelling, particularly if the limb is under increased stress. Some of our CHAMP members use Second Skin or Cica-care products which promote healing and protect the skin through a combination of medicated gel and adhesive bandage. One Champ parent shared this great tip - "Normally it is painful to pull off the adhesive bandage that covers the gel, but soaking it under water loosens the adhesive, making it painless to remove."

Medications: If you are on any kind of medication that needs to be taken regularly, you should bring two sets and pack one in your carry-on and one in your suitcase. You should also pack enough medication to last a few days longer than your trip in the event that your trip is unexpectedly prolonged. To be safe, bring your physician's phone number in case you need to have your prescription refilled or need advice in an emergency.

Extra stump socks and/or liners: Amputees can experience loss of volume in their residual limb when travelling because of air travel, additional walking, changes in climate and irregular eating habits. Packing extra socks of different plys and/or liners (or suspension sleeves as noted below) can help prevent many problems that can be caused by such volume change (e.g. pistoning that leads to skin abrasions, loss of suction in the prosthesis, and the increased effort to control a loose prosthesis).

Elastic sleeve or auxiliary suspension: In some cases, amputees may require additional support for securing their prosthesis during certain activities, such as when horseback riding or swimming where limb movement and rotation is greater. In these cases, a removable elastic sleeve or a temporary suspension belt is used. Don't forget to pack yours!

Stump shrinkers: When you travel, excessive activity during the day, visiting areas of high altitude, or fluid retention can cause your residual limb to swell. You should check your limb at night or after participating in an activity that is out of the ordinary. If you are prone to swelling, a stump shrinker can help reduce that swelling. Again, don't forget to pack yours!

Extra batteries and battery charger: Researching your out-of-country destination prior to your trip is a must, especially if you have an electric device! If you are travelling to a foreign country, you may need a plug adaptor for your battery charger. And, of course, bring some extra batteries. If you have a second spare charger, be sure to take it along too.

Small tool kit: Occasionally, your prosthesis will require minor repair (e.g. if a bolt comes loose or a screw needs tightening). A few tools you may want to include in your kit are a screwdriver with interchangeable bits, a small pair of scissors, a foot bolt and wrench plus universal allen keys, WD40, threadlocker and a small roll of duct tape for temporary repairs. Remember, it is always preferable to have repairs or adjustments to your prosthesis done by a prosthetist.

These are just some suggestions of what to include in your travel kit, you can certainly tailor it to your own personal situation. It is recommended to try to get all of your lotions, ointments, cleaning agents, and tools in travel sizes to lighten your load and so you can have them with you at all times. Armed with these handy travel tips and suggestions, you will be able to go anywhere at anytime!

Airport Security

In proceeding through security at airports, it is common for security or customs agents to closely inspect your artificial limb.

You will likely 'beep' going through the scanner (due to metal components in your artificial limb), and the agent will scan you with a wand to locate what the scanner is sensing. The agent may then pat up and down your artificial limb to check it. This may feel more intrusive than having your personal belongings inspected as an artificial limb is part of you. These experiences are the realities of travel in today's world, and we occasionally hear of amputees encountering different situations. The key point to remember is that any inspection done of your artificial limb should be respectful and within reason. If a child is being inspected, it is reasonable that the accompanying parent(s) be close by when this inspection is taking place.

Adele Fifield, Director of the National Amputee Centre, explains... "Once I had a security agent ask me to remove my prosthesis. As an above-knee amputee that is not an easy thing to do on the spot, and I explained that I had never been asked to do that before, and I did feel it was more than was necessary. I did not have a pull-sock with me to put my leg back on if I had in the end been asked to remove it. Fortunately a supervisor overheard the exchange and said removing my prosthesis was not necessary.

"Yes, it is warranted to have your prosthesis checked by airport security personnel, in my opinion, but it should be done in a reasonable and respectful manner."

This article is courtesy of:
The WAR AMPUTATION of CANADA CHAMP Program