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What are the unique needs of female veteran amputees?

Women in the military have come a long way, increasing in both numbers and job roles. According to the Department of Defense, women today make up around 20% of the Air Force and Navy, 15% of the Army, and almost 10 percent of the Marines. Women are also increasing their ranks, especially in combat-related positions, which means greater risk of combat-related trauma leading to limb loss.

While the growing number of female veteran amputees, the Veterans Administration (VA) is focusing more research on both the unique physical and mental aspects of limb loss for women veterans. As Joy Ilem, National legislative director of Disabled American Veterans, said in an interview with, “It’s critical to remember that women aren’t just small men. Women’s body proportions and hormonal makeup are different.” This is especially true for working with female amputees.

A 2013 presentation at the State of Science Symposium entitled the “Unique Considerations for Women with Extremity Trauma and Amputation” outlined several key differences in treating female amputees in the military versus males. While the presentation was geared to female service members, the findings can be applied to women amputees in general. Here are some of the key findings:

Physical Considerations for female amputees

  • Women with lower-limb amputations generally demonstrate significantly lower bone mineral density (BMC) values than men. This is particularly true for individuals (both men and women) who have traumatic amputations. Lower BMC can lead to increased risks for osteoporosis and fractures.

  • Women with lower-limb amputations report more skin issues than men.

  • Female amputees may have greater overall pain intensity.

  • Women are more likely to reject upper-limb prosthesis.

  • Females are slightly more likely to endorse the use of pain medications.

  • Pregnancy requires more frequent prosthetic alignments and the need to check for abnormal wear and tear.

  • C-Section incisions should be made higher to prevent irritation by the socket brim.

Mental Considerations for female amputees

  • Female veterans are twice as likely to develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) than men.

  • During the evaluation process, women consider things like privacy, modesty, and being treated with dignity to be more important than men do.

  • Females often prefer to work with a prosthetist.

  • Females also generally prefer to have female peer visitors.

  • Females reported greater use or resting, relaxation, and social support as coping mechanisms.

The Importance of Cosmesis

One of the biggest differences between men and women amputees is the concern over body image. While men generally are more likely to be mentally comfortable with a more technological, “robot looking” prosthetic that is functional, women want choices.

For women who can afford more than one prosthetic, many want to have both a functional limb that allows them to be active, as well as a more realistic-looking limb that lets them wear whatever they want, including heels. For realistic-looking prosthesis limbs, matching skin color and adjustable heel height are important. For those who can only afford one prosthetic limb, most women choose the more functional options. However, women are more likely to want to have their prosthetic limbs made with a unique design to show off their personality.

Fortunately, campaigns over the past few years have helped change the attitudes towards women with prosthetics, reducing body image concerns. Many female veterans and others are now proud to show off their prosthetics because it helps remind others of just far women have come in both the military and the workforce.

While women still represent a smaller percentage of overall amputees, the numbers are growing as today’s women take on more dangerous jobs and hobbies than ever before. The more prosthetics for women continue to evolve to provide better fit and better function, the faster female amputees can return to being their strong, amazing selves, which leads to both improved physical and mental outcomes.

Ortheco Prosthetics now has clinics in Springfield Illinois, St. Louis Missouri, and Cape Girardeau Missouri

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