Updated: Apr 9, 2021
What is a shrinker anyways?
A shrinker is a medical compression device that applies pressure to your residual limb to reduce swelling, reduce the size of the limb, and promote shaping of the limb for your prosthesis. They are made of an elastic style material that when stretched over your limb provides just the right amount of pressure to help your limb heal. They are also designed to be the shape that best fits a prosthetic socket. Swelling occurs after you have an amputation because it is your natural response to healing. The shrinker helps make this swelling manageable and malleable. Shrinkers change the shape of your healing limb to become more rounded and symmetrical to promote a better fit in the socket of your prosthesis.
What exactly is being shrunk?
Following an amputation, you will experience changes in the size and overall shape of your limb. This is normal! While your body is healing, there is an increase in fluid and inflamed tissue in your limb. Your body is also adapting to the change in the musculature of your limb. One of the jobs your muscles have is to help pump the fluid in your arms and legs back into circulation. Because the musculature of your limb has changed this fluid has a harder time getting back into circulation. The shrinker provides just the right amount of pressure to help your body push this fluid back into circulation and this also helps in reducing the size of your limb.
Your scar is also being shaped by wearing the shrinker. As your scar is healing your body sends collagen to help your skin and tissues heal. Sometimes your body goes a little overboard with the collagen it is sending to help heal your scar which can result in the scar having a puckered appearance. The pressure the shrinker provides helps slow down how much collagen is being made while also shaping the collagen fibers to promote a flatter smoother scar shape.
Here is a picture of a patient who is healing from their amputation and is ready to start wearing their shrinker. You can see that the limb has a slightly more squared-off appearance. Wearing the shrinker will help the limb have a more rounded shape allowing for a better fit in their prosthesis.
Other Benefits of Wearing a Shrinker
Not only does the shrinker help prepare your limb to fit into your prosthesis it can also desensitize your limb, help alleviate phantom limb pain, and reduce the time it takes for you to get your prosthesis. The shrinker helps desensitize, or make less sensitive, your limb by touching and providing feedback to the nerves in your limb. Research has shown that reducing swelling as well as desensitizing your limb can decrease phantom limb pain.
Our team of skilled prosthetists requires that you have stable measurements of your residual limb before you are casted for your socket. This is to ensure that you can continuously fit into the socket that is custom fabricated for you. If the general shape and swelling of your residual limb is not stable this can lead to pain when trying to put on your prosthesis and inability to use your prosthesis.
How to put on a shrinker
Putting on a shrinker is similar to putting on a sock. You will want to line up the end of your shrinker with the end of your residual limb. You will then pull the shrinker over the limb. Make sure that there are no folds or wrinkles in the shrinker as these can cause unequal amounts of pressure to be applied to your limb.
How to Put on Your Shrinker Video
When do I wear my shrinker?
Once you have been cleared by your physician and your wound or incision is fully healed you can visit your prosthetist to be fitted for a shrinker. It is important that you go to see your prosthetist as soon as you can to get your shrinker because the sooner you receive it the sooner it can start shaping your limb and getting you ready for your prosthesis. At your visit, your prosthetist will evaluate and measure your limb to determine what size and type of shrinker is best for you. For more information about the timing of wearing your shrinker and getting your prosthesis, you can check out our post "How Long Does it Take to get a Prosthesis". Your shrinker should be worn all day and then removed at night to allow for it to be cleaned and dried. When you remove your shrinker before bed be sure to gently clean your limb and check your skin for any redness that lasts longer than 45 minutes, changes in color, and/or open wounds. If you notice any of these changes, please notify your physician.
How to wash the shrinker?
You can handwash your shrinker with whatever detergent you typically use at home and cold water. Hang your shrinker overnight to allow it to dry before you place it back on in the morning. You will want to wash your shrinker every day! We suggest that you wear your shrinker during the day and then you wash it before bed to allow the shrinker to dry overnight.
Wearing your shrinker plays a very important part in getting your limb ready for your prosthesis. It benefits you in so many ways including making sure your limb is the appropriate shape for your prosthesis, reducing the sensitivity of your limb, and reducing phantom limb pain. If you have any questions about your shrinker please feel free to contact us!
Kelly, B. M., & Leonard J. A. (2014). Postoperative residual limb management and therapy. In Stanley, J.C., Veith, F., & Wakefield, T.W. (Eds.), Current therapy in vascular and endovascular surgery e-book (654-656). Elsevier Health Sciences.
Mueller, M. J. (1982). Comparison of removable rigid dressings and elastic bandages in preprosthetic management of patients with below-knee amputations. Physical therapy, 62(10), 1438-1441. https://doi.org/10.1093/ptj/62.10.1438
Sanders, J. E., & Fatone, S. (2011). Residual limb volume change: Systematic review of measurement and management. Journal of rehabilitation research and development, 48(8), 949–986. https://doi.org/10.1682/jrrd.2010.09.0189
Soft, A. D., Care, A., Bite, A. P. F. D., & Pyoderma, P. S. (2017). Wound Management [pdf]. Retrieved from https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Joey-Ead/publication/328561417_Charcot_Foot_An_overview_of_the_pathophysiology_and_conservative_treatments_Current_Dialogues_in_Wound_Management_Spring_2017/links/5bd9b770a6fdcc3a8db3af1b/Charcot-Foot-An-overview-of-the-pathophysiology-and-conservative-treatments-Current-Dialogues-in-Wound-Management-Spring-2017.pdf#page=13