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What is Limb Amputation?

Limb amputation refers to the loss of a limb, typically an arm or a leg or their segments (for example a digit) either during a surgery, a traumatic event or as a consequence of congenital disease.

A surgical amputation is often performed as a last resort, to address end-stage medical conditions (diabetic foot, vascular insufficiency) or post-injuries complications. An amputation is a life-changing event and a burden to all aspects of a patient’s life. Comprehensive support and care to amputees improve their adaptation to the new situation and learning to lead fulfilling lives. Also, recent advances in medical technology and rehabilitation have been significantly improving their quality of life.

What does limb amputation feel like?

The physical and emotional experience varies among amputees and depends on the individual internal factors as well as on external environment and its support. Shock, grief, and a sense of loss often follow the amputation. The loss of a limb significantly impacts body image, self-esteem, and performance of daily activities and job, and leads to feelings of frustration and uncertainty about the future.

Physically, many amputees experience one of many types of pain. In patients who struggled with severe pain prior to amputation, the pain often persists after the procedure. Some patients might experience phantom limb sensations or phantom pain – adverse sensation in an amputated limb. This phenomenon can be distressing, but it tends to diminish over time.

It is essential for patients to communicate openly with their healthcare providers and seek psychological support and adequate pharmacological treatment to cope with complex emotional and physical distress and address it at the initial phase.

What causes limb amputation?

Limb amputation can result from various medical conditions and traumatic events: 

  1. Severe Trauma: Accidents, such as high-speed vehicle crashes or work-place accidents cause either amputation at the accident site or unsalvageable limbs’ damage necessitating amputation in the later stage.
  2. Peripheral Vascular Disease: Conditions like peripheral artery disease and peripheral neuropathy can lead to reduced blood flow, nerve damage, soft tissues compromise, making amputation necessary to prevent further complications.
  3. Neoplasm: Malignant tumours of bones and soft tissues, tumour metastases from other organs that localize in limbs, or benign but locally aggressive tumours may require amputation, to prevent the tumour’s invasion or to control uncontainable pain.
  4. Infections: Severe infections, especially in bones (osteomyelitis), chronic and extensive wounds of soft tissue envelope, that do not respond to antibiotics or local surgical treatment require amputation to save the patient’s life.
  5. Congenital Conditions: Inborn limb abnormalities that can’t be reconstructed, may necessitate surgical intervention to improve prosthesis fitting. 
  6. Limb dysfunction that compromises normal activity, either due to lack of control, severe pain, or deformity, may need amputation for function improvement.  

What are the non-surgical treatment options for patients after amputation?

Amputation is a very difficult decision not only for a patient, but also for the healthcare providers. The medical team will explore non-surgical and surgical options to address the underlying conditions, preserve the residual limb’s function, prevent complications, aid with functional and psychological improvement and pain management.

  1. Medications: For infections, management of underlying medical conditions (vascular disease, etc), severe pain or psychiatric distress, a range of medications will be prescribed. 
  2. Physical Therapy: Physical therapy will help maintain or recover your range of mobility, strength, and function in the affected limb. It will increase general fitness and aim to restore your functioning in your own environment. 
  3. Psychological support, psychiatric consultation and training sessions, as well as peer support, have been proven to have a key role in individual patients’ recovery from the psychological trauma induced by amputation.  
  4. Prosthetics: Advanced prosthetic devices can significantly enhance mobility, improving the quality of life after amputation. 
  5. Wound Care: For severe wounds or ulcers, proper wound care and management can promote healing and accelerate socket fitting. 

What are the surgical treatment options for patients after amputation?

The specific surgical procedure will depend on the level of amputation and the condition of the residual stump as well as other symptoms. Surgical techniques have advanced significantly, leading to better surgical outcomes and improved recovery periods.  

The surgical procedures available for patients after amputation:

  1. Plastic surgery for soft tissues refashioning or soft transfers for better stump coverage,
  2. Nerve surgery such as TMR or RPNI for pain management,
  3. Bone reconstruction for improvement of the stump shape or length to provide better socket fitting,
  4. Osseointegration for direct bone anchoring of the prosthesis and elimination of socket and socket-related problems.

For detailed information on the surgical procedures involved in limb amputation, please visit our Limb Reconstruction page.

Contact Us

For further inquiries or to arrange a consultation, please contact Professor Al Muderis’ office at +61 2 88829011 or book an appointment online.