Types, causes, recovery tips, etc.
An amputation is the removal of all or part of a limb. A doctor may recommend this surgical approach due to a chronic illness or traumatic injury.
Advances in preventive techniques have led to an overall decrease in the rate of amputations in the United States, according to
Although amputations are sometimes difficult to imagine, they can save lives. Keep reading to learn more about amputation types, risks, and recovery.
Doctors usually divide amputation types first into upper amputations and lower amputations. Upper amputations involve the fingers, wrist or arm. Lower amputations involve the toes, ankle or leg.
Ideally, if you need an amputation, a doctor will discuss the need for a certain location and prosthetic options with you.
Here are the medical terms for some types of amputation.
- Transcarpal. An amputation of a finger or part of the hand.
- Disarticulation of the wrist. An amputation through the wrist.
- Transradial. An amputation below the elbow.
- Elbow disarticulation. Amputation by the elbow or at the elbow.
- Transhumeral. Amputation above the elbow.
- Shoulder disarticulation. Shoulder amputation.
- Toe amputation. Removal of one or more toes.
- Midfoot amputation. Removal of the toes and half of the foot, with the remaining heel and ankle joint. Also called transmetatarsal amputation (TMA).
- Transtibial amputation. Also known as below the knee amputation.
- Disarticulation of the knee. Also known as knee amputation.
- Transfemoral amputation. An amputation above the knee.
- Disarticulation of the hip. An amputation in the region of the hip joint.
- Hemipelvectomy. An amputation of the whole leg and part of the pelvis up to the sacrum.
Amputations related to blood circulation conditions
Chronic illnesses and infections can lead to an interruption in blood flow that endangers a limb. When this is the case, a doctor may recommend an amputation to preserve as much of the limb as possible.
Chronic diseases are one of the main causes of lower limb amputations. The American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation (AAPMR) estimates that 93.4% of all lower extremity amputations are related to vascular disease. This includes conditions such as diabetes and peripheral arterial disease.
The most common lower limb amputations related to blood flow conditions are:
- toe (33.2%)
- transtibial (28.2%)
- transfemoral (26.1%)
- foot amputations (10.6%)
Amputations due to chronic disease are associated with
Cancer-related amputations represent 0.8% of all amputations. This is often due to bone cancer or cancer that has metastasized to the bone. However, cancer is the most common cause of amputation in people between the ages of 10 and 20.
Injuries and trauma can lead to amputations. An estimated 5.8% of lower limb amputations are trauma-related. This can include injuries from car accidents and work-related accidents.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that 6,200 work-related amputations occurred in the United States in 2018. More than 58% of these involved the use of some type of machinery, specifically metalworking machinery and to wood.
While you’ve already read some statistics related to amputation, here are a few more to consider from the Amputee Coalition, a non-profit organization for amputees. They illustrate that if you or a loved one needs amputation, you are not alone.
In the USA:
- An estimated 2.1 million people live with limb loss.
- More than 507 people lose a limb every day.
- It is estimated that 3.6 million people will be living with limb loss by 2050.
- The most common age range for amputations is 45 to 64 (46% of Americans). The second most common range is 65 to 84 (36% of Americans).
- Men experience limb loss in significantly higher numbers than women – 69% of amputees are men, while 31% are women.
- Amputations of the upper limbs are less frequent than those of the lower limbs (35% of upper limbs against 65% of lower limbs).
According to the AAPMR, people with diabetes are 8 to 24 times more likely to have a lower limb amputation than those without diabetes.
There are also significant racial disparities related to amputations. The Amputee Coalition says African Americans are four times more likely than white Americans to have amputees. Experts aren’t sure why African Americans might have a higher risk, but it’s likely due to social conditions rather than biological factors.
Because amputation removes a part of the body that was naturally present, it’s easy to wonder how this affects your overall health. There are undeniably effects that can occur due to amputation. It is important to work with your doctor and physical therapist to minimize these effects as much as possible.
- changes in your center of gravity and balance
- increased risk of arthritis in your remaining limb (if present) because they often have to increase their workload
- back pain due to changes in body positioning for lower extremity amputees
Often the effects of an amputation are related to where it is and your general health.
Amputations are surgical procedures that carry risks. Additionally, if the amputation is the result of trauma or infection, you may also have other health issues that you need to recover from. This can complicate recovery after amputation.
According to the AAPMR, some of the most common amputation complications include:
- pinched nerve
- phantom limb sensation and pain (feeling that the limb is still there, even though it isn’t)
- residual limb pain
Another complication is joint contracture. This is when the remaining muscles, tendons, and other tissues tighten so much that you can’t move the remaining joint.
Amputation healing times can vary depending on the event that caused the amputation and the amputation site.
For example, amputations due to chronic conditions such as diabetes or peripheral arterial disease may take longer to heal. Blood circulation and wound healing are already impaired by these conditions, which can prolong recovery times.
A small 2018 study suggests that it probably takes less time to recover from a toe amputation than a leg amputation. A surgeon should help you determine your expected recovery period.
Some tips to make the recovery process easier:
- Follow wound care instructions carefully. Most surgical incision sites should be kept clean and dry. Tell your doctor if you have significant signs of drainage or infection.
- Take medications such as antibiotics as prescribed. This can help prevent surgical site infections.
- Participate in physical therapy because you are able to keep muscles strong and tendons and other tissues mobile.
It can take time to regain function after an amputation. Some people undergoing leg amputations have reported that it took them up to 6 months to regain functional independence.
If you’re wondering where amputated limbs go, you’re not alone. Especially if you are about to have an amputation, it is quite common to ask questions about how and where these limbs are removed.
A 2019 study describes
- sent to a biohazard crematorium where it is destroyed
- donated to a medical school for use in dissection
- sent to a pathologist for tests, such as cancer cells or infection
- returned to you if you have a proven religious need to retain the member
If you don’t know where your limb is going, you can ask your surgeon.
Amputations can happen for many reasons, but most are related to chronic medical conditions that affect blood flow. If you need an amputation, your surgeon should explain the type and recovery expectations to you before the procedure.
There are many support groups available for those who have had an amputation. Many of them offer free resources online or in person.