A Return to Work After Amputation

How do you think you would cope with the loss of a limb?


After a major motor vehicle accident in 2018, Gordon was left to pick up the pieces – with widespread fractures across his body and the amputation of his left leg from the knee down. Over the years that followed, he did what he could to adjust to his ‘new normal’. But the loss of one of his legs meant his right knee was struggling to carry the additional loads that were required of it. This is common with amputation, given that the remaining limbs suddenly have to do twice the work! Surgery on the remaining knee in 2020 did little to help the situation. 


When he met our Exercise Physiologist Shara in 2022, Gordon was still experiencing pain and swelling in his right knee, which would get fatigued very quickly. He was able to walk for 20-30 minutes before the knee would stop him going further, and could only tolerate sitting or standing postures for 5-10 minutes before getting uncomfortable. He was also battling with depression, not surprising following a severe injury of this nature. Gordon was doing his best to hold everything together – no easy feat for a solo father of 4. 


Although he had been a keen exerciser prior to his accident, Gordon lacked the confidence and motivation to get back to the gym, for fear of worsening his right knee. With Shara’s support, they started working together to build strength and mobility in his right leg and hips, as well as incorporating a range of upper body strengthening exercises.


Shara reported in her first email update: 

“With some encouragement and guidance, he was able to complete the leg press, leg extension and leg curl exercises aimed at rebuilding the atrophied musculature. He was very excited by this, and surprised about what he was able to manage. He explained he had previously not attempted any lower body focused activity for fear of aggravating his symptoms so the fact he was able to complete gym exercises yesterday made him very pleased.”

Gordon set some goals to attend the gym 3-5 times per week, and to build up the amount of time he was able to sit, stand and walk, up to 1 hour. Shara and Gordon agreed on a plan to meet once per week, with Gordon completing independent gym sessions on his other days. After 8 sessions together, due to the progress being achieved, Shara was ready to decrease her involvement and start empowering Gordon with more responsibility and they agreed to reduce the frequency to fortnightly sessions. 


With hard work and perseverance, Gordon gradually increased the weights and complexity of his exercises at the gym. With this increase in strength, he noted that walking and standing felt easier. His knee pain improved, as did the swelling that he previously experienced. And while the physical improvements that Gordon achieved were impressive, the mental improvements were equally as valuable for him. The gym became an important part of his daily routine, with mood and body reported as feeling “lighter” after his sessions. 


When he started expressing an interest in his options for returning to work, Shara contacted his GP to request a work capacity certificate. By the end of the program, Gordon was working with a rehab provider to find suitable work and we found out soon after the closure of the program he had been successful in his job search and was due to start his new job soon!

This is a wonderful example of the life changing impact that exercise can have in helping individuals to return to function, and work, following a severe injury such as amputation.


…And Gordon’s feedback?

“Thank you sooooo much for the help, you were amazing help. I’m glad they let me see you and I thank you for that, since my accident no-one has helped me as much as you. Thank you again.”

Author: Yolanda van Vugt
Clinical Exercise Physiologist and Content Creator at Specialised

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