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Amputation: Causes and Resources

UPDATED: March 11, 2015

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Simply put, amputation is the loss of a body part. But there is nothing simple about this type of injury.

Amputations can occur after trauma, as in factory, farm machine, or vehicle accidents. Some 22 percent of amputations in the U.S. occur as a result of traumatic injury. Four percent are performed surgically when congenital deformities or birth defects are present. Another four percent are performed in order to prevent bone or muscle tumors from spreading through the body.

Trauma is the leading cause of amputation throughout the world. But in the U.S., most amputated limbs are removed because of vascular disease, such as diabetes, hardened arteries, blood clots, or osteomyelitis (an infection in the bones). Eighty-two percent of the 185,000 amputations performed each year are due to a compromised system for carrying blood through the body. Insufficient blood supply to the extremities can lead to infection and ulcers, making amputation more likely.

About 1.2 million Americans are living with an amputation, the vast majority having lost part of a leg. Most amputees are in their sixties or older and, if circulatory illness led to the amputation, are likely to experience other health problems.

Amputation is a radical procedure for the body. Several complications can arise:

  • Bleeding
  • Shock
  • Infection

Most people who lose a limb experience a little-understood phenomenon known as phantom limb sensation or pain. Even children born without a particular limb have described having sensation in that missing body part, leading experts to speculate that perception of extremities is “hard wired” in our brains. Many mechanisms may underlie phantom limb sensation or pain, but damaged nerve endings are one very likely cause.

Long-term outcomes for amputees have improved greatly in recent times, with better understanding of the management of traumatic amputation, early emergency and critical care management, new surgical techniques, early rehabilitation, and new prosthetic designs.

Surgeries have become less radical in recent years. Where below-the-knee amputations were once common for diabetic people with infected foot ulcers, some patients now have the option of a more limited removal of only the front portion of the ulcerated foot.

Following accidental amputation, the severed part sometimes can be reattached, especially when proper care is taken of the injured limb and stump. New limb replantation techniques have been moderately successful, but incomplete nerve regeneration remains a major limiting factor. Often, the traumatic amputee will have a better outcome with a well-fitting, functional prosthesis than a nonfunctional replanted limb.

Prosthetic technology has advanced to a remarkable degree in the past two decades. Otherwise healthy people with mid-calf amputation can participate in a full range of normal activities and walk without any perceptible limp. The single most critical breakthrough is an improved connection between the socket of the prosthesis and the stump.

If you or a loved one has suffered injuries severe enough to cause an amputation through no fault of your own, contact an experienced personal injury attorney right away. If you would like a free case evaluation, simply fill out our case evaluation form and an experienced personal injury lawyer will contact you for a no cost, no obligation consultation.

Amputation Resources on the Web:

EurekAlert!: An informational site sponsored and operated by the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

University of Virginia Health System – Amputation: The University of Virginia Health System’s health information resource site.

The Wellcome Trust - Phantom Limb Pain: An informational site about pain management sponsored by the British Wellcome Trust. This page focuses on phantom limb pain.

British Medical Journal – Artificial Limbs: Information about prosthetic innovations published by the British Medical Journal.

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