Definition

Amputation is surgery to remove a body part.

Below-the-Knee Amputation
cropped leg

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Reasons for Procedure

An amputation may be done for:

  • Poor blood flow that cannot be fixed
  • Severe infection
  • Trauma or injury
  • Tumors
  • Problems at birth, such as a body part that has not formed properly

Possible Complications

Problems are rare, but all procedures have some risk. The doctor will go over some problems that could happen, such as:

  • Excess bleeding
  • Problems from anesthesia, such as wheezing or sore throat
  • Infection
  • Blood clots
  • Skin breakdown and swelling of the remaining limb
  • Poor healing that may result in further amputation
  • Feeling pain in the amputated body part or feeling that it is still there

Things that may raise the risk of problems are:

What to Expect

Prior to Procedure

The surgical team may meet with you to talk about:

  • Anesthesia options
  • Any allergies you may have
  • Current medicines, herbs, and supplements that you take and whether you need to stop taking them before surgery
  • Fasting before surgery, such as avoiding food or drink after midnight the night before
  • Whether you need a ride to and from surgery
  • Tests that will need to be done before surgery, such as images

Anesthesia

The anesthesia used will depend on the body part being removed. The doctor may give:

Description of Procedure

An incision will be made into the skin of the limb or limb part. If needed, the muscles will also be cut. Blood vessels will be tied off or sealed to stop them from bleeding. The bone will then be cut through. The body part will be removed.

Muscle will be pulled over the bone. It will be sutured in place. The skin will be pulled over the muscle. It will be sewn to form a stump. Drains may be inserted into the stump. It will allow blood and fluids to drain from the area in the first few days after surgery. A dressing will be placed over the area.

How Long Will It Take?

How long it takes depends on the site and the reason for surgery.

How Much Will It Hurt?

Pain and swelling are common. How long it lasts depends on the site and the reason for surgery. Medicine and home care can help.

Average Hospital Stay

The length of stay depends on the body part that was removed. For example:

  • Foot or toe: 2 to 7 days
  • Leg: 2 days to 2 weeks or more
  • Arm: 7 to 12 days
  • Finger: 0 to 1 day

If you have any problems, you may need to stay longer.

Post-procedure Care

At the Hospital

Right after the procedure, the staff may:

  • Give you pain medicine
  • Give you medicine to prevent blood clots
  • Raise the area to ease swelling
  • Apply ice to the area

Physical therapy will be started soon after surgery. The care team will teach you how to use any assistive devices.

Preventing Infection

During your stay, staff will take steps to lower your chance of infection, such as:

  • Washing their hands
  • Wearing gloves or masks
  • Keeping your incisions covered

You can also lower your chance of infection by:

  • Washing your hands often and reminding visitors and staff to do the same
  • Reminding staff to wear gloves or masks
  • Not letting others touch your incisions

At Home

It may take 1 to 2 months for the site to heal. Physical activity may be limited during recovery. You may need to ask for help with daily activities and delay return to work. You may also need to learn new ways to do daily tasks.

Call Your Doctor

Call the doctor if you are not getting better or you have:

  • Increasing redness, swelling, pain, excess bleeding, or discharge
  • Pain that you cannot control with medicine
  • Signs of infection, such as fever or chills
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Feelings of depression
  • Cough, shortness of breath, or chest pain
  • New or unexpected symptoms

If you think you have an emergency, call for medical help right away.

RESOURCES:

American Diabetes Association
http://www.diabetes.org

Ortho Info—American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons
http://orthoinfo.org

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

Canadian Diabetes Association
http://www.diabetes.ca

The Canadian Orthopaedic Association
http://www.coa-aco.org

REFERENCES:

Amputation. John Hopkins Medicine website. Available at: http://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/healthlibrary/conditions/adult/physical_medicine_and_rehabilitation/amputation_85,P01141. Accessed September 28, 2020.

Amputation. Society for Vascular Surgery website. Available at: https://vascular.org/patient-resources/vascular-treatments/amputation. Accessed September 28, 2020.

Fingertip injuries and amputations. Ortho Info—American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons website. Available at: http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=A00014. Accessed September 28, 2020.

Rooke TW, Hirsch AT, et al. 2011 American College of Cardiology Foundation/American Heart Association Focused Update of the Guideline for the Management of patients with peripheral artery disease (Updating the 2005 Guideline): a report of the American College of Cardiology Foundation/American Heart Association Task Force on Practice Guidelines. Circulation. 2011 Nov 1;124(18):2020-2045.

Last reviewed September 2020 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Warren A. Bodine, DO, CAQSM  Last Updated: 9/29/2020