Eating When You Have an Upper Limb Difference
by Amber Henson, on Jan 17, 2023
There are some things we do without thinking about it. The process of eating is a good example. Using utensils to bring food to our mouths, lifting a glass to drink, and handling food directly are all activities of daily living and essential to one’s independence. In this article, we’ll explore tools that people with amputations may need during and after their recovery. These tools may also be helpful game changers for people with a congenital limb difference. We’ll explore tools that can be used in conjunction with a prosthesis and when you’d like to eat without using a prosthesis.
Single-motor and multi-articulating hands can be very helpful, but gripping thin items is one thing they do not excel at, so picking up and using forks and spoons can be a challenge. As seen in the image above, partial hand devices may also have trouble gripping these items. Foam tubing allows you to “build up” silverware or make the handle bulkier (while not adding much weight) so that it’s easier to hold with a prosthesis. Foam tubing is available from multiple retailers by searching “grips for silverware” on the internet. Performance Health is one of those retailers that you may want to be aware of since they offer many helpful tools. An alternative to foam tubing is EazyHold Universal Cuffs, though some prosthesis users find the hold area too small for their device.
Another tip for those using myoelectric hands is trying out different ways to hold a knife. The grip that you might use with a sound hand – between the thumb and the index finger – may not be as secure as the grip between the index and middle fingers of a myoelectric hand. Our clinical therapy specialists work with each of our patients to make sure to find both the correct grips and the correct tools so that they can eat independently.
Some people may find that they don’t need any extra tools beyond their myoelectric prosthesis. You can watch our patient, Abram, cut and eat an apple in the video below using his TASKA hand. Abram benefitted from his training with a clinical therapy specialist. And remember, if you’re handling food directly with your prosthesis, don’t forget to wash your hands!
Another tool we suggest is straws. The process of bringing a cup all the way to your lips and lifting it to drink can take quite a bit of coordination. Using a straw decreases the need to bring the cup up to the mouth, and it eliminates the need to tilt the cup toward the mouth.
Keeping the plate or bowl steady while you're eating can be challenging. Dycem® is just the tool for that. This tacky material can be cut into specific shapes and placed under cups, plates and other containers to prevent slipping and spills.
Say it’s the start of the day and you’ve yet to don your prosthesis – or maybe you’re looking for a midnight snack and you’ve already doffed your device. There are simple options for people who can reach their mouth with their residual limb, especially those with a below-elbow limb difference. Cuffs can be placed on the forearm to hold a fork or spoon with a grip on it – you can watch our patient Gerry use a cuff to brush his teeth and then use the same cuff to eat:
Of course, to eat, you may have to prepare the food. We have you covered there, too! Check out these links to some of our food related articles: Kitchen Organization and Set Up, Kitchen Tips: Cutting and Chopping and Baking.
Whatever level of foodie you may be, from a takeout fan to a culinary connoisseur, our prosthetists and clinical therapy specialists make sure everyone leaves our centers ready to feed themselves independently. Our outcome measures are one way that we track how easily our patients are able to use their prostheses for activities of daily living. We spend time working with patients in our own center kitchen to make sure they can use utensils and more.
Would you like to learn more about how you or someone you know can use their prosthesis and adaptive tools in harmony to make it easier to eat? Please contact us. If you have experience with using any of the above tools, or you have a suggestion that we should add to this article, please comment below.
For more information, see related Arm Dynamics articles here: